Once upon a time, I bought these three colored pencil portraits at a yard sale. I felt like they had a story.
This is it....
The girls all chased him on the playground in elementary school. He was the first boy in his class to get a kiss from a girl in junior high. He didn't have to do much to convince her. The girls were practically lined up around the block for their first kiss with him.
He enjoyed the attention he got from all of the girls, but it never went to his head. He was never arrogant or boastful about it and that just added to his charm and made him even more desirable. He also never got too serious with any girl, even when he got older and went to high school. This was something that made his mother very happy.
Her son was a very special boy to her. He was, sadly, her only child. She had wanted to have more children, but complications with her second pregnancy, also a boy, led to the baby being stillborn and her unable to have any more children. It was very depressing for her, but she got through it by doting even more on her only son. Her husband proved to be a great support for her as well, until he died in a terrible train accident just one short year later. She never remarried and never desired to. Her son became the only man in her life and her entire world.
As Johnny went through high school, he excelled in every subject and every sport he played. He longed to make his mother happy and proud of him. He knew how hard it was for her to go on after the death of his brother and father, so he devoted all of his free time to her. If he wasn't studying or practicing, he was taking care of her in every way he could. He focused very hard on his studies so he would be able to get a good job out of school and take care of her financially as well.
He went on a few dates to some of the school dances, but he never took any of the girls seriously. He never gave anyone his class ring or his letter-man jacket. He never wanted to have a steady girl, because he knew it would take time away from his mother and that might destroy her. No other girl would ever get his love besides his mother. That is, until the new girl came to school.
Her name was, Kate. She was, in a word, gorgeous; a stunning blond girl with a twinkle in her eyes. Not only was she physically beautiful, her personality was so endearing that even if she had three eyes and green skin, she would still be beautiful. The way she moved when she walked, the way she looked people in the eye, the way she talked to people and her ultra kind demeanor made her positively radiate with beauty. Every girl wanted to be her and every guy wanted to be with her. She had a way of making every person she talked to feel special, even if she was just saying "hi." And the moment she first spoke to Johnny, everything changed.
Mother could sense something was different about Johnny that day he came home from school. It wasn't something he said or did, but she could sense something was amiss. It was her mother's intuition at work. Although she didn't want to admit it to herself, she knew it was because of a girl. Her worst fears were confirmed when that Friday, Johnny told her he was taking the new girl out for burgers and shakes.
Johnny was concerned about telling Mother about Kate. He knew she wouldn't be happy and he feared she might fall into a depression again. However, his infatuation with Kate was too strong. Nothing would stop him from pursuing her. He also felt that once Mother met her, she would approve whole heartedly. Kate was exactly the type of girl that his Mother would hope for him to have. She was perfect in every way. So much so, that Mother would love her too, just as everyone else did. At least, that's what Johnny thought.
In Mother's eyes, no one was good enough for her Johnny. Not even Kate, who was a model of beauty and good upbringing. A girl who was, in many ways, the female version of Johnny. No. The only girl good enough for Johnny, the only woman who should ever be in his life, was Mother. No one could take her place. No one would.
Two weeks had passed since Johnny and Kate's first date. In that time, he had taken her out again to the drive-in and had given her his letter-man jacket. It was official. They were an item. Mother could feel her Johnny slipping away, little by little, each day. As if her heart were a leaky container and Johnny was drip dripping out slowly until soon it would be empty. Then she would be alone, with no more love left in her heart and no one to call her own. Truly alone.
She hid the pain from Johnny. He couldn't know how devastated she was that he found someone. Her only hope was that Kate would break his heart and he would come running into her arms, sobbing and finally realize that Mother was the only one who would ever truly love him. Mother was the only woman that he could ever love.
She insisted he invite Kate over for dinner.
The table was set as beautifully as if it were Christmas dinner. She carefully laid out her antique lace table cloth and set out her finest china dinnerware. She polished her silver set that she received as a wedding gift and served chilled drinks in her prized crystal glasses. For hours she worked in the kitchen making a pot roast with roasted carrots and potatoes. She harvested fresh green beans from her garden to make Johnny's favorite casserole. Beef gravy simmered on the stove to the perfect consistency. And for dessert, she made apple pie from scratch with her Grandmother's perfect pie crust recipe. Everything was perfect.
"It's so nice to finally meet you, Mrs. Gardner. Johnny has told me so many wonderful things." Kate's dazzling smile flashed before Mother's eyes.
"Yes, dear. Nice to meet you as well. Let me take your jacket and Johnny can show you to the dining room." As mother reached for the sweater, she realized that it was Johnny's and her heart sank. She didn't know their relationship had gotten this far already. The smell of Kate's perfume was soaked into the fibers and it made her crinkle her nose.
Johnny was nearly tripping over his own feet with nervousness. His voice was shaky as he pulled the seat out for Kate, "Please sit. Mother made a feast for us."
Mother entered the dining room where the two were already sitting. They didn't even notice her come into the room. "I hope you two are hungry."
"Oh yes." Kate replied. "May I help you with anything?"
"That won't be necessary, dear. Thank you."
Mother dragged her feet into the kitchen. It felt as if her legs had been filled with sand. The table had been set with everything, save the roast. Johnny came in behind her. "Mother, let me carry this. I'll carve it. It looks delicious!"
"Mrs. Gardner, this smells absolutely wonderful!" Kate said as Johnny set the roast at the table.
Mother stood by her chair a moment expecting Johnny to pull her seat out for her, but he didn't do it. His face was bright red as he began to carve the roast. And as she sat down, Johnny served the first piece to Kate. A dagger straight to her heart.
They sat quietly eating for a moment. The excited nervousness of the two young, lovebirds filled the air, so much so, that Mother felt as if she couldn't breathe.
"Mrs, Gardner, everything tastes simply divine! Please don't tell my mother, but this might be the best gravy I've ever had." Kate's enthusiasm seemed insincere to Mother. She was trying too hard to please her and instead was doing just the opposite.
"Why thank you my dear, but you should never speak ill of your own mother." Mother's curtness surprised Johnny and for a short lived moment, he took his eyes off of Kate to look at his mother.
"Yes, ma'am. It is just so delicious." Kate replied in a slightly shamed voice.
Sensing the tension, Johnny spoke up, "Mother, Kate received the highest honor roll this semester and she was just made captain of the cheerleaders. Just like you, Mother."
"Is that so?" Mother peered across the table at Kate.
"Yes, ma'am. I was cheerleader at my last school, but never made captain until this year. I was very excited. Johnny told me that you were cheer captain as well."
"Yes dear, however, in my day, our skirts weren't quite as short as they are now. We were much more modest then. Perhaps that is something you could work on as captain... a more decent uniform."
Kate's face grew red with embarrassment. She wasn't sure what to say or do next. They sat in silence. The only sound was the clinking of silverware on china and the occasional knock of a glass being set down. Johnny and Kate were silently stealing glances back and forth. Whenever their eyes would meet, each of their faces would blush and they would bashfully smirk at each other. Each time they would smile at each other Mother's leaky heart would drip faster and faster.
They began discussing their upcoming finals and which classes they felt the most challenged by. They carefully tried to exclude Mother from the conversation without being too obvious, afraid of what she might say next. Afraid of her disapproval they talked only of their studies, hoping it would show her that even though they were obviously in love, they were both still very focused on their education. As they talked, Mother could feel herself backing slowly away in her chair. As each one replied to the other, she could see herself effortlessly back up another inch. Frame by frame and inch by inch her chair was moving backwards. When one of them would smile or laugh her chair moved a whole foot until she was all the way in the backyard by her garden all by herself. She was an outsider looking in at a scene she had no control over. A scene from a horror movie that was made of her own worst nightmare. Now, she was sinking into the ground. Her dripping, leaking heart was now pouring out like an open faucet, making the ground softer and making her sink faster and faster into the earth. She was up to her chest, she could feel the pressure, and soon she would be all the way underground, alone, decaying, making food for worms.
Suddenly she was back at the dining room table. In one swift motion, she was zipped back almost giving her whiplash.
"Mother. Are you OK?"
Confused and startled, "Yes. Sorry, dear. I was day dreaming for a moment." Both of them were staring at her with concerned looks. Behind their eyes, though, she could see the pity. They pitied her for being alone. They pitied her for sinking into the ground and becoming worm food. She knew that they secretly wished that she would have stayed in the ground so they could eat dinner without her. So that they could be alone together while she was alone in the earth where they couldn't see her or hear her. "What were you saying, my boy?"
"I was telling Kate about your famous apple pie. I was going to offer to serve it, but Mother, you've hardly eaten your dinner. Are you feeling alright?"
"...yes." She looked down at their plates. Johnny's was nearly licked clean. Kate's was too. A girl should never eat like a pig. Her own plate had hardly been touched, but she wasn't very hungry anymore anyway. All she could think about was worm food. The food on her plate looked like worm food. And she started to back away in her chair again, faster and faster towards the backyard.
Zip, just like that, jolted right back to her place at the table.
"Mother? Did you take your medicine today? You don't look so well. Would you like to go lay down for a minute?"
Of course they would want her to go lay down. Out of sight, out of mind. She was sure that was their hopes all along. Get rid of her, so they could dine together. Had she taken her medicine? She couldn't remember. Maybe she did. Yes, yes she did. Maybe. Yes. While she was making the pie, she took her medicine then. Yes. She was almost certain of it.
"No, honey. I don't need to lay down. I'm fine. Just day dreaming a little. I forgot to call Rose, that's all. She called while I was making supper and I told her I would call her back. I just remembered. I'll serve the pie. You wait here and keep Kate company. I'll be right back."
"Are you sure you wouldn't like some help. I would love to help you." Kate began to clear away the empty dishes.
"No!" Mother heard herself say this louder than she meant to and saw both Johnny and Kate jump a bit. "No, sorry." She calmed herself. "No, dear. Thank you. You are our guest. You needn't worry about helping. Please. Sit. I'll be right back."
This time she drifted into the kitchen. Swift and weightless, like a ghost, she floated to the counter where her pie was sitting to cool. She looked out the window towards the garden where she was sinking earlier. The worms were wriggling in the grass, waiting for her to return.
She plated one extra large piece of pie.
"Here you are, Kate." She didn't remember walking back into the dining room. She towered over Kate like a skyscraper. Kate looked like a tiny little ant from up so high.
The plate was heavy, so heavy, that the thud of it being placed on the table echoed through her ears. Over and over it echoed and vibrated through her body and her head. Her head was shaking back and forth, back and forth. So fast that it looked like the wings of a humming bird. Buzzing. Humming.
"Mother?" Johnny touched her hand and the humming stopped. The buzzing stopped. The echo stopped. "Let's go lay down, Mother. I'll get you some water."
"Yes, dear. Perhaps, I should sit down. I'd like to go sit by the garden. The breeze is so nice right now."
The last light of the day was beginning to fade. The breeze was softly caressing her cheek. The worms were at her feet. They were squirming their way onto her ankles. Hundreds of them. They were pulling her down. Slowly pulling her down into the ground that had been made soft by her leaking heart.
The kitchen light went on and she could see Johnny. He was slicing the pie.
Don't eat the pie, Johnny. Don't eat the pie.
She couldn't say the words out loud, because the worms had made their way into her mouth, filling it up. They were pulling her down faster now. She was neck deep in the earth and the worms were crawling in one nostril and out the other. They were filling up her mouth and sliding down her throat. And they were pulling her down into the ground where she would become worm food. All alone. Don't eat the pie, Johnny. I made it special for Kate.