Author: Phil Manning
My mother was a strange woman. Not strange as in, lock the children in the closet, more, strange how easily she seemed to be able to pick up new information, new things and make them work for her. She could learn almost anything but she could never fully understand how her two sons ticked.
My brother and I were always fighting, I know the cliché, but this was war, as if the very nature of each other’s existence pushed like the opposite poles of magnetic fields. Our wars were Shakespearean, biblical. Epic. No father, just mother and our war.
My mother would use adventures to cool us down, we could only go to X, Y, Z if we didn’t fight for an allotted time. We used a different word for peace, mallard. Mallard is a type of duck, the type of duck that we found dead at the side of a lake. My brother and I pushed the corpse into the water and it became our word for peace. So, if our mother, in desperation, would offer to take us to the library or the park or the bike shop, we would look at each other and decide whether the mallard would like to go, if we both nodded and spoke the word, we would hold our peace until after the adventure. If only one spoke, or neither, if the deal didn’t seem sweet enough, the war would continue and the violence of an unspoken mallard was the worst of all.
I remember the day my mother first used a computer, I still wonder how close we were to losing her. My brother and I had watched a Kung-Fu movie, we had strapped pillows to our chests with duct tape and were practicing our running sidekicks across the lounge room. No major violence, not yet, but it was escalating. The shouted threat of no trip to the library had us both mutter mallard and return the pillows to our beds. We walked to our local library. We liked to borrow books with monsters or spaceships or sex. Whatever we could get away with.
The library had received a computer the week before. I don’t think my mother had ever even seen a computer. My childhood was before the time of mobile devices and personal computers. My mother was drawn to the bone-white box the moment she walked through the library doors. People had to book time for the computer but for some reason, that day, that time, there was a free slot. My brother and I ran off to see what we could see, my mother sat in front of the screen.
I’ve never been sure how much time passed. It seemed like hours but time always seems like a strange concept to a child. I do remember the glow on my mother’s face when we went to check on her. The screen was running by itself, lines and lines of green luminous text and my mother seemed…faded. We tried to get her attention but she didn’t seem to notice us. As we watched she seemed to reflect more of the green lines and seemed to fade even further.
I’m not sure who pushed the other first but the pushing began and I shoved my brother hard toward my mother. He seemed to fall through her and into the computer. His body hit the box hard enough to turn the screen. The screen went black. My mother let out a sound, a sound that made the hair stand up on my arms. It was a moan, a wail, but it seemed metallic. When she stood she seemed solid again.
We didn’t seem to fight as much after that day, we used the mallard more and more. I’m not sure my mother ever understood what made us fight, but I’m glad we did, and I’m glad it was something she couldn’t understand.