“Transactions”

My mother stands outside the extended stay hotel with her enormous dog as I pull into the parking lot. She’s short on rent. Eight hundred dollars this time.

A few dozen words in almost as many years, and she left a voice mail message saying she was worried about me. “I can’t get a hold of you. Everything okay?”

She requested I leave the cash loan in an envelope at the hotel’s reception. Just write her name on it. The money would be safe, she said. All this to avoid looking me in the eye.

I won’t let her off so easily.

Walking the dog is her next best defense. She hopes I’ll produce the money though my rolled-down window. She’ll repeat that somebody else is to blame. I’ll say, don’t worry about it. I’ll drive away.

But I ask to use her bathroom.

Following her up the stairs, I see how much her hair has thinned. The dog lumbers up the steps between us, its size impossible, like Paul Bunyan’s ox.

Her apartment smells like dog and urine, hopefully also dog.

“I’m going to try to sell that table,” my mother says. “It’s real heavy. It’s good quality.”

The table in question is stone—meant for a patio, not indoor dining. Catalogs, advertisements, and credit card applications blanket its surface. On top, a jug of fruit punch and a bag of sweetened corn puffs, junk food marketed to children.

“Unless you want it,” she says.

I don’t want any of this. What I want is as realistic as a pumpkin carriage.

She points me to the bathroom.

Atop a tower of plastic drawers stuffed with cosmetics sit two bald Styrofoam heads and a pile of wigs, each one inside out. The mirror is cloudy and scratched as though something clawed its way inside its own reflection. Or maybe the reflection clawed its way out.

“Keep being bad, Buddy, and you’ll earn your way back into the cage,” my mother says in the other room.

A voice on the radio exalts heartbreak.

I write down everything. Details are my inheritance.

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About Michelle Ross

Michelle Ross's fiction has won prizes at Gulf Coast, Sixfold, and Main Street Rag. Her fiction has also appeared in The Nervous Breakdown, Blue Lake Review, and other journals. She earned her MFA from Indiana University. She's originally from Texas, but now lives in Tucson, Arizona with her husband and son.