She was flat on her belly, naked in a tangle of dirty sheets.
“Come here,” she said, over her shoulder. “I want to see you.”
He didn’t move. The room stank of her cigarettes, sweat, and wine. An ashtray was on the bed, close to her elbow. The deep gray smudges on the sheet around it said that it wasn’t close enough.
“Ronnie Baptiste, you look so much like your father it breaks my heart.”
She reached over to the bedside table, fumbled at her wine glass and drained it. Shifting over, she reached down to the floor and he heard the thump as the jug tipped over. She swore loudly. He hurried around the bed and righted it. He found the metal cap among the soiled clothes, started to twist it on, and then thought the better of it. He picked it up and filled her glass.
“You’re my sweetie,” she slurred.
He held the base of the glass for her while she drank. Wine dribbled down her chin and soaked into the bedding. When she was done, he put the glass back on the table, and watched her fumble out another smoke and light it. She set the cigarette down in the overflowing ashtray and reached for him. He took a step back.
“Little bastard. You’re a tease.”
She buried her face in her pillow and kicked the sheet free from her legs. Her voice was muffled.
“Stop torturing me, Ronnie.”
Her shoulders shook. He couldn’t tell if she was laughing or sobbing. He looked at the line of vertebrae marching down her back, and thought that she was getting thin. After a minute, she turned her face away and lay still. He didn’t move, even after she began to snore. Her forgotten cigarette smoked in the ashtray, and the acrid smell of burning filters began to overpower the other smells in the room.
He considered things for a moment, and then reached across his mother’s bare back. He picked up the ashtray and dumped it out onto the mattress beside her. Oxygen found the blackened butts and they began to smolder a little more vigorously. He shook his head, unsatisfied, and picked up the gold-colored package beside her pillow. She snorted in her sleep, and her breath was warm on the back of his hand.
He put a cigarette in his mouth. It was somehow softer than he expected. He sparked the lighter and tentatively touched the flame to the end. He had seen her do it thousands of times. The smoke surprised him, and he coughed. Recovering, he puffed rapidly until the coal was established and then dropped the smoke onto the other side of the mattress, his once-upon-a-time father’s side.
He repeated the process for the remaining seven cigarettes in the package. By the time he dropped the last of them, he was dizzy and lavender-colored spots gloated in his vision. The mattress was beginning to burn in a couple of places, and the room was getting hazy. His mother continued to snore.
Walking up the hall, he went into his room and retrieved a few things. Her purse was on the kitchen table, and he added the few bills he found inside it to his pockets. By the time he reached the apartment’s front door, smoke was beginning to collect in the hallway. He picked the keys from the small dish on the table by the door and went out into the corridor. He carefully twisted both the door lock and the deadbolt above it. At the end of the hall, there was a chute for garbage, and when he went by it he paused to drop the set of keys down.
Out on the street, it was still dark, and the early morning air was cool and smelled fresh. He sat on the curb across the street from the apartment building. Looking up, he could see the third floor window that his mother slept behind. The drapes were open, and he saw light beginning to flicker and dance on the ceiling.
There was no traffic on the street. He sat patiently, a small boy alone, and waited for the sirens.