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CHRISTINE SCHUTT

METROPOLIS

The things my son may see living with me-the way the windows darken suddenly in our apartment, the night tipping shut, a lid, such things as have happened with me and men-shame me. Somewhere obscured in the obscuring city is his father, we imagine. My son and I stand at what was my window, my room, where now another man sleeps, if he sleeps. But he is gone too in these early, strangely inky evenings-rarely blue when we stand at the window, and my son asks, "Where do you think Dad is now?" I do not know the answer to this or to lots of other questions my son might ask me, which may be why my son is angry.

Teachers, mothers, women mostly, tell me my son is angry. They tell me this in the way women do in stories about other boys now pacified and prosperous in the alchemy of growing up. "But these boys were once angry," they say, prayered hands and lowered heads. The women carry the word angry into talk as with pincers. Bad, bad to be a boy and swinging something he is using as a weapon against a wall.

Should I start at the beginning, then, I wonder, when the rage I felt bleeding on and off for weeks made me needle myself to bleed this child out and try again? I wanted a someone committed to staying. But my son held on; I thought he had to be a girl. The boy's head lifted to view in his easy birthing, the doctor said, "I think it's a girl," and that was what we saw, the doctor, the nurses, the father, me. Before the boy part slipped out, we saw this bright girl mouth pouted for kissing. "Ah," we said.

The astonishing heat between my legs after my son was gone I remember, me on a gurney in a screened-off pen and calling out for ice.

"Do you have any thoughts?" the teacher asks me when I go to see her about my son. But the browned-leaf color of the desks, the exhausted chalky air, streaked with light as if by candles, the tallowed apprentice quality of objects, crude child maps of the explorers, catch in my throat like ash.

The dying man who sleeps in what was once my bed sleeps poorly and smokes, listens to the radio. My thoughts are of him and of what my son may hear when the dying man comes home, sanding the floor with his long and heavy feet. Up and down, up and down, past the locked bedroom where my son and I sleep, the dying man moves. He calls out from what was my room, "I am dying. I am dying in this fucking bedroom." Night after night, I hear him. Pressed against my son in my son's bed, I hear the dying man and wonder does my son hear, is he really sleeping, and how is it I have let this happen to us, opening the door to men who come in or who do not come in, threatening ruin, slapping money on my bureau, saying, "I am dying," or "This is all I have," or "This is all you want."

The teacher, I imagine, has no troubles with money or with men dying. Heavy ankles, yes, and a plainer, pulled-back face, but no debts rattling behind her; the teacher wears grown-up clothes and knows how to tie a scarf. Plump and silky, it settles at her neck; I would pet it but for my chewed-up thumbs that seem to snag whatever nice things I touch.

"Anyone would leave you," the dying man says.

I want to tell the teacher that the dying man has newsprint on his fingers, and that my son has seen things, too-the staples in my head.

"You're upset," the teacher says. "Maybe you don't want to talk."

I shake my head, saddened and amazed.

At home my son has seen me mad enough to kick in glass, blood pooling in the cuff of my shoe.

My son's wet mouth, I could drink from it still.

"I don't know what to tell you," I say to this teacher and want to hold out my hands and feel a ruler on their backs. Bad, bad to be a woman, indiscriminate and needy, linking arms with any man who promises relief.

The teacher, I think, knows this and all else there is to know about my carelessness.

Here's scary-a man downstairs in a small light, drinking-and a woman just above him waiting in a dark bed. From last summer this was or the summer before; we were in a cabin in the country. The kitchen floor was dirt. Combed, black dirt, it stuck to the wet around my son's mouth-there was no end to cleaning my son-no end to cleaning the cabin. Hypnotizing dust motes I remember and the pine furniture ablaze in the late-afternoon sun, corn silk and fruit flies, spoons stuck to breakfast dishes.

The dying man has called out for his mother in the middle of the night. I have heard him and have sometimes answered his call, banged my way through the dark to the foot of the bed where he sleeps and asked, "What is it?"

"He is angry," the teacher says, and she describes my son in the class, talking softly as he does, growing louder-the sly smiles to friends, the audacity, the tinny glare about the boy defiant. Bored or hungry, sometimes ignorant of what inspires him to speak, the boy says he does not know why he does it. "A monologue," the teacher says, "with glancing reference to the class; otherwise, just bloodshed."

My son's drawings are all of men.

Small heads, I see, squared bodies-a robotic, bolted quality about them, no knees, didactic jaws. They are armed; many of them smoke. Trails of ash and fire are the loose horizontals in these drawings of stiff men standing in air, guns pointed and firing. The blood splatter is colored in.

"Is this normal?" I ask the teacher, and she says she does not know, she only wanted me to see.

Back to back on the acrid, skinny mattress we shared in the cabin, we lie apart and still.

I want to tell the teacher I don't sleep with the dying man anymore, but that there is the night to be got through, living around the dying man, leaving something in the kitchen he may or may not eat, then locking ourselves in, my son and I, in my son's room. How still he lies when I scratch his arm, me under the covers of the boy's bed, which means I'll stay the night-tonight, the next night, and all the nights I lie in wait of the dying man's dying.

In the early morning, me in the closet, standing in to dress out of sight of where the dying man worries what I owe him-inflationary calculations, sums figured in the sleepless night, the old harangue-I like it. I feel the luck of my good health, and walk past him wearing it, walk around the bed where the dying man lies, leashed and wounded, yapping at me.

Soon, I think, the dying man will be dead, or he will be gone to wherever it is dying men go in a city-to other women, to other apartments, to other parts of the metropolis.

The beginning is always so sweet. They bring good sheets from some life before and a sauce pan, saying, "Can you use it?" Great-someone's dishes and one or two trinkets from the mother-source, which I have sold, lost, broken.

I have done much damage.

"I told whoever called for you that you were dead," the dying man says, home early and sitting on the bed.

I ask, "How are you now?"

He says, "What do you care?"

Everything in the bedroom is purely itself, doorknobs, windows, dishes of loose change-and I am afraid. I am afraid the dying man will always be here, picking at his scabs, sniffing at his farts, wiping at his face with this day's dress shirt, leaving smudge and oil and threaded juices of himself on what surfaces he passes as he goes about his dying.

This is no place for children, I am thinking when I hear my son call out, "I'm home."

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