“Aaaah.” A softness had breezed into her mother’s voice, and as he felt her pudgy arm reach across the back of his shoulders, Charlie let his body sag against hers, as they sat on the bed in what used to be his room.
He felt her asking if he was OK, not even listening to the words coming out of her mouth. Charlie nodded, the papers from his dead friend still in his hands, as he stared blankly out at the cluttered remnants of the half-abandoned room.
Her mother squeezed his shoulder. “You ‘membuh Josie Altenburgh, right?” Charlie only recognized the name, but nodded as if a picture of this Josie person had just been set in front of him. “You know she had a daughter, died ‘fore she moved here?”
Charlie looked at his mother, shook his head. She looked down, nodded, squeezed Charlie’s shoulder again. “Tol’ me once, she did, ‘course I didn’t ask, it jus’ come up un day when we wuz eatin’ lunch, downtown — can’t remember where . . . ” But before her voice completely trailed off, she shook her head. “Doesn’t matter. What Josie said is, when a child of yours dies, it’s not something you can ever get over. It’s lika hole, she said, and it’s so big in your life, that there ain’t no way you can avoid it, you’re gonna hit it, a lot. But — and this is the thing that stuck with me — after a while, hitting that hole don’t hurt as much. She said it’s not all about getting stronger, but smarter, learning how to hit that hole in a way that doesn’t leave you all broken.”
Charlie snorted. “So death’s a pothole, onna road a life?”
His mother chuckled, stood up swiftly. “We all mourn in our own way, is what I’m saying.” She looked down, placed a gentle hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “I know how much Mike meant to ya. What happened was — terrible.” She squeezed, lowered her voice to a whisper. “But all I see you doing is wallowing, like you wanna keep hearing that awful news over ‘n over.” She drew back her hand, then folded her arms in front of her. “Heard you’ve been at Jack’s Joint every night.”
Charlie winced. “Ma — ”
“Don’t know why he allows all you underage drinkers, with your silly fake IDs.”
“He sez — ”
“I know — ” she lowered her voice in mock imitation — “if yer old enough to vote, should be old enough to drink. Drinkers can’t do much worse than everyone else does.“