She made him a latch-hook rug for Christmas to put in his dorm room.
He kept it under his bed and forgot about it.
When she thought of him she pictured his feet pressing into the places her fingers and hooked and pulled. The design was blue and green and she called it abstract.
If he would have pictured her it may have been with her feet on the ottoman, reclined in rocking hair with the lace drape on the back. She wouldn’t have taken off her white shoes, soled brown from shuffling around room to room all day, bending and placing and folding and hanging. She’d stay there like that watching the small television until it was time to make dinner. Chopping, stirring, bending, tasting, washing.
He was was lying on his floor looking up at the ceiling fan. Middle of May and already droplets of summer’s sweat stuck in his mustache. Smoking a cigarette. If he stayed on the floor with the window open and fan going, the RA never knew. Maybe he did, and just didn’t care. There was a lot that lethargy going around.
She smiled when she thought about her only son and imagined what it must be like for him there, surrounded by books and people talking with him about grand ideas. The way he beamed when she met him at the bus stop after school, he would read his top-marked essay as they walked across the underpass to their home. She blocked out the afternoons of bruised knees and soda can slashed cheeks.
He had been excited, when he got his acceptance letter. Noticed how his mama started crying again, but this time her face was too small for that damn grin. He told her as he wrapped her up that her face would freeze that way if she didn’t stop. She had to work that day, couldn’t help move him in but saw him off, all his stuff piled in Jerry’s hatchback, they couldn’t see her out the back window as they drove away.
She counted the days between Fall break and Thanksgiving. While she dusted under other people’s couches and matched pairs of argyle socks, she thought of each meal she’d make for him. His favorites of course: her poc chuc with mango juice, hot friojoles con puerco – “nobody knows spices like you, mama” – he loved it all so hot! She’d chuckle to herself remembering his own way of shoveling through their meals, he always had something he had to get working on. And there would be cakes! Maybe she’d bake him some sort of cheesecake in honor of his new Wisconsin home. He had said in his last letter that they had a lot of cheese around and some people even wore hats that looked like cheese on Sundays. She didn’t pretend she knew the world he lived in, but she liked planning his return to theirs.
The ceiling fan spun around, it’s drunk arms keeping it balanced. He wondered if it’d ever spin itself right off the ceiling, hitting his chest, splintering into a thousand pieces on impact. It wasn’t what he pictured, any of it. The people especially. It was high school all over again. It was kick down and dirt rubbed. It was you can’t make it here, nice try. It was even if you try harder you just weren’t born right. No one’s fault and no one’s making excuses. You got here, right? Ain’t that enough? You’ll get your paper and go back home and them do what they were born to do. Raised to do. Told every day that they were on top. Easy. Natural. White bread with the crusts cut off and too much milk. He didn’t even like the cheese out here. He let the smoke slip out of his mouth in a cloud, covering his face and blurring his sight, if just for a second.
She had all his pictures on the mantle. She said a prayer for him and touched the crucifix on the wall everytime she passed. Protect my baby. Bring him back in one piece. He’ll be good at whatever he does, only you know where he got those brains. My baby, the first one to go to college. Papa would be so proud to see him all grown up with his textbooks. They taught him how to use the computer, too. Everyone has to learn, they said. As long as he comes home. She made sure to wash his bed clothes once a month just to keep them fresh, just in case.
He didn’t want to go back. But he didn’t want to stay. Stuck there like a fly on paper for everyone to pass by, no one taking the time to peel him off and either let him go or throw him in the trash can. Too much of a not-matter to notice. Only thing waiting for him was his mama, only thing keeping him there was some belief it’d be different. But that was dimming faster than Mexican sun sets and he knew his Mam’d be fine. She’d got along without men most of her life. He took one more puff of his cigarette, turned his cheek and saw the latch-hook rug dusty under his bed. His eyes stung from what he knew wasn’t smoke.
She checked the mailbox twice a day. He’d be home for summer soon, but what day? What time? Why hadn’t he told her yet. Sometimes having a smart son was hard work. She’d smile, he’d just show up and surprise her. Maybe with a cheese on his head.
He rolled over onto his side. He pulled the corner of the rug towards him and felt the yarn between his fingertips. His favorite colors, the colors of his little room at home, were blue and green. Sea and sky. He stuck his cigarette into the rug and let it burn a hole. He watched as the red rim curled the orange paper and bled into the green string. Then the blue. A pattern of color. Burn hole set burning as he closed his eyes.