Still, every once in a while I’d sneak away to feel sorry for myself. I took walks through the neighborhood and looked through the windows at normal families. I imagined Mom running beside me. Sometimes I even talked to her. One day, I happened to pass the witch house and I stopped in front. “See that house?” I said to no one. “A witch lives there.” I could see my Mom jogging up to the door, talking with Mrs. Morton’s daughter. But then my daydream took a turn, and I pictured her falling in the dead yard.
They told me she died of cardiac arrhythmia, but it didn’t make any sense to me. “Heart attacks happen to fat cigar-smoking men,” I thought, “not to my mom.” I needed someone to blame; I needed to destroy something, to connect a punch. I knew it was wrong as I was doing it. I knew Mom would scold me for it. I knew it wouldn’t help. But as the rock was leaving my hand, I was also hoping that maybe after I got scolded and shamed, she would be back in my bedroom, rubbing my back and telling me she loved me.
It landed with a disappointing thud a foot shy of a window. I was looked around for another rock and as soon as I found one, the porch light came on. The door opened. It was the daughter. It was a cool May evening, not fully dark yet. The air was thick and misty. Around the porch light I could see a foggy halo.
“What’s your name?” she asked me. I knew she was going to call the police on me, but I had been caught.
“Alex,” I said.
“Alex?” she said. “Are you Alex Sandoval?”
“I’m sorry about your mom,” she said. I didn’t respond. “You know, she’s okay now. She’s in a better place.”
“Yeah, thanks,” I wanted to say, “like I didn’t hear that twelve times at the funeral.” But I didn’t say anything. I just stood there.
“You know, Alex,” she went on, “it’s supposed to hurt. If it hurts, it means you loved her.”
I sniffed and blinked quickly to hold back tears. Part of me wanted to throw the rock at her, the other part of me wanted to go cry in her arms. I did neither. “Why is your grass dead?” I asked.
“My mom killed it by accident last spring. She fertilized it too soon, I think. It’s not so bad now.”
She was right. The lawn was mostly green, no browner than the other lawns in the neighborhood. Along the side of the house, there were some carefully planted hostas.
“What about the trees?” I asked. “Did your mom kill those?”
“No. Those are elms. Some bug got to them. I’ll have to get them removed.” There was an awkward silence. She walked toward me. “Did you know my mom used to sew all my clothes?” she asked. I didn’t respond. “And around Halloween, she used to make all my friends a costume? She had this great witch costume she used to wear and she would hand out these huge king-sized candy bars. She was a lot of fun.”
She was standing ten feet away from me now. I felt short. “Why doesn’t she do that anymore?” I asked. She was silent for a long time. I started to wonder if she’d heard me.
She couldn’t look me in the eye when she said it: “She died almost a year ago.”
I let the rock drop from my hand. Before I knew what was happening, tears were gushing from my eyes. Mrs. Morton’s daughter stepped closer. I began sobbing. I felt hot shame flush my face. She hugged me tight.
She hugged me tight and rubbed my back.