Going in Circles
By Lady V

Shortly before the dismissal bell rang, Sister Mary Joseph handed each student his or her report card. They came in sealed yellow envelopes and the students were prohibited from opening them before their parents saw them at home. Mike Logan thought it was a dumb rule. He was the one who earned the grades, not his folks. But then, grownups made up a lot of rules that made little sense to anyone but them. The argument was pretty moot anyway, as he was certain that this semester's grades weren't going to be too good. Getting mostly F's in history, mostly C's in everything else and getting whacked on the knuckles too many times with Sister Mary Joseph's ruler for talking out of turn kind of put a damper on things.
When the dismissal bell did ring, Mike leaped from his seat and followed all of the other students out into the biting November wind. He found Billy Marino standing by the schoolyard fence and trotted over to him.
"How'd ya think ya did?" Billy asked.
"Not sure. I know I didn't do too good in history, though. I mean, who cares about stuff that happened two centuries ago?"
"Parents and teachers care, that's who."
Billy and Mike started to walk the nine blocks from school to the tenements they and their families lived. Neither of them could wait until they shed their Catholic school uniforms and were able to slip into more comfortable clothes. There were baseball cards they couldn't wait to trade when they got home. It was decided that Mike would go over to Billy's as soon as he got settled. What Mike wouldn't do for a Mel Stottlemyre!
The two friends parted ways when they reached the door to Mike's tenement. Mike watched Billy walk down the block for a while and then fished out his key chain from his pants pocket, opened the door and then closed it behind him as he entered the tenement.
When Mike reached the door to his family's apartment, he paused. He wanted to steel himself for whatever Ma might dish out. He never knew what to expect from her when he came home from school. Sometimes, she'd be all sweet and loving. Other times, she'd be so drunk that she could barely stand up. And then, there were those times when she acted all mad at everything and everybody and she'd take it out on him for no reason. Those times were the worst. Those were times when Mike wished his mother dead. He knew it was bad to think that way about your mom -- honor thy mother and thy father and all that -- but shouldn't children be honored too? He prayed Ma would be drunk, so that he could avoid showing her his potentially bad report card. Ma would blow up if she saw it.
When Mike had gathered up enough strength and courage, he inserted one of the keys on his key chain into the lock on the apartment door. When the lock came undone, he slowly opened the door, tiptoed inside and slowly shut the door behind him so that it wouldn't creak. He darted his head to the left, then to the right as he made his way inside, as if he expected someone to dart out from the shadows and startle him. Besides the cacophony of sound from the TV, the apartment was silent. All seemed calm and clear. Mike began to relax.
He headed to the bedroom he shared with his older brother Frank. He flung his books down on the bottom bunk bed and changed into a polo shirt, jeans and sneakers. He shoved his arms into his coat, grabbed some baseball cards from his dresser and started to head out of the apartment. He had nearly reached the door when he heard, "An' jus' where ya think ya goin', mista'?"
Mike froze.
He'd thought she was drunk or sleeping or something. Damn! Just a few more steps and he'd had been outside. Without turning around, he stammered, "I-I was jus' g-goin' ta Billy's."
In a sharp tone of voice, his mother asked, "Doncha' have somethin' ta give me?"
After a few seconds, Mike offered, "Y-you mean, like my report card?"
"Yeah, yer report card. Doncha' get them today? Ya think I'd forget somethin' like dat? I'm not payin' that school all dat money jus' ta be in da dark, ya know."
Mike slowly turned around and shuffled past his slightly dishelved mother. In a few moments, he came back to where she was standing, holding the yellow envelope in his right hand. When he hesitated in handing it to her, she barked, "Give it here!" and snatched it out of his hand. His mother tore open the envelope and yanked out the report card. She studied what had been written on it for what seemed to be an eternity. At one point, her mouth tightened and her eyebrows lowered. Mike must've definitely failed history, then. His insides began to tighten like screws. He knew that look. It wouldn't be too long before he got whacked.
"Ya mind explanin' yourself?" his mother finally asked.
"I-I don't know what you mean."
"Da hell ya don't! It says here dat ya failed history and dat ya talk too much in class. I'm not payin' all dat money jus' for ya to end up stupid. I don't want my money wasted."
Mike hung his head. So he'd failed history, then. He knew Ma would get mad if she knew. Why couldn't she have been drunk today? Why?
"Well, whatcha' got ta say for yourself?"
Mike remained silent. He figured that no answer could have possibly satisfied her.
"Well? Answer me!"
When Mike had still not uttered a word, his mother raised her hand and slapped him hard across his cheek. "Ya answer me when I talk ta ya!"
Mike wanted to flee, but his legs wouldn't obey. It was like they were stuck to the floor like glue. His mother's face had taken on the look of a monster. Her mouth was drawn back in an ugly snarl and her eyes had a wild, ferocious look to them. She'd taken off her shoe and had started beating Mike with it. He felt stinging on his forearms, back and ribs. She kept screaming, "You answer me when I talk ta ya!"
"Stop, Ma! Stop!" Mike cried out. But his pleas were useless against her continuing assault. She seemed to have gone deaf.
"Ya better study! Doncha' ever shame me again!"
As suddenly as the attack had begun, it was over. His mother flung her shoe against a corner and dragged Mike to his room. She pushed him down to the floor.
"Ya stay in dere an' study!" She slammed the door and left Mike all alone on the floor.
Why wasn't anything he did ever good enough for her? Why'd she have to be so mad all the time? Mike couldn't answer his questions. They'd figured out how to put man on the moon, but nobody would ever be able to figure her out, not for a million years. Instead of that astronaut leaving the American flag on the moon, his mother should be left there to rot and die. Tears threatened to spill from Mike's eyes, but he willed them back. He wouldn't give the bitch the satisfaction. All thoughts of going over to Billy's to trade some cards were forgotten. He didn't want his friend seeing him like this.
Mike wished Pop had been here. He knew how to handle Ma. But Pop worked from 3 to 11 at night and on his days off, he spent most of his free time at the bar. But whenever Pop was around, he treated Mike like a human being. He rarely screamed at him or hit him, unlike Ma. Mike thought he couldn't be a grownup fast enough. Then he'd be able to punch that bitch's lights out. Maybe then she'd know what it felt like to be treated like a damn punching bag.
By the time his mother came back to his room to tell him to wash up for dinner, he was asleep on his bed. All the troubles in his world seemed far away.


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