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Steve Fellner

Marrying Mom


Two weeks before Valentine's Day my mother called me up to tell me she successfully answered a bunch of trivia questions about love songs and won a trip for two to Las Vegas. The trip was for her and a "friend."

"Go alone," I said, "You'll hook up with someone."

"Come with me," she added, "Please."

Having been away at college, leaving her alone, I figured it was the least I could do. It would be nice to see her relaxed, having some fun. The station paid for the hotel and gave her and her friend $750 spending money. "I'll split it with you," she said.

On the airplane, she said, "Me and your father never traveled."


"No," she said, "Probably a good thing. We used to blame the setting for our unhappiness. If we left Illinois, we might have figured out that we didn't really like each other much earlier."

I asked the stewardess for a glass of wine.

"One thing I forgot to tell you about the trip," she said.

I didn't say anything. I needed my drink.

"You have to pretend you're my boyfriend," she said, "You could only call in to win the trip if you had a boyfriend."

"Mother," I said.

I took the drink from the stewardess, guzzled it, and then asked for another.

"Anyway," she said, "You can fake the boyfriend thing. All you'll have to do is put your arm around me."

"Like this?" I said. I plopped my arm on her shoulder.

"A little more affectionately."

"O.K.," I said, "Just as long as we don't kiss."

"Gross," she said, "How could you even think of such a thing?" It was strange. Her comment hurt my feelings.

We arrived at the Mirage Hotel. My mother told the clerk that we were the winners of the radio quiz show. The clerk's name was Larry. He spoke with a lisp. He looked at my mother and then me.

"Interesting," he said.

I put my arm around my mother and squeezed her tight. "Babe," I said and then kissed her on the cheek.

She looked like she was going to slap me.

"I'm supposed to get a picture of the two of you," Larry said, "for publicity purposes."

I sat on a bench, my mother next to me, our legs touched.

"Why don't you sit on his lap?" Larry said.

My mother sat on my lap; I put my arms around her. Within seconds, the instant camera spit out a picture that revealed our awkwardness. Larry walked over to the bulletin board and pinned our picture to it. "People will find this amusing," he said.

"How long have you been going out?" he asked.

"An eternity," I said.

"Probably want to go up to your rooms and relax?" Larry said. "Spend some time alone?"

We both nodded.

He gave us the key. We walked up to our room. Decorated in pink, red, and white, we admired our suite. The bedroom sported a heart-sized double bed. That's all there was. No cot.

"Looks like I'll be sleeping on the floor," I said.

"You can sleep on the bed," she said, "as long as you promise not to snore. Or toss and turn. Like you father did."

Half an hour later someone knocked. My mother was showering so I went to see who it was.

It turned out to be Larry. "Hope I'm not interrupting anything," he said.

"As a matter of fact," I said, "you're not."

"Didn't think I would be," he said and then put his hand on my shoulder.

"You need anything, be sure to ask me," he said.

"Sure," I said and gave him a wink.

When I shut the door, I turned and saw my mother.

"This is my trip," she said, "don't abandon me."

Promising each other we wouldn't waste more than twenty dollars, we went to the casinos. Neither of us knew how to play cards or had any desire to find out how. Our fun was restricted to the slot machines so we got bored quick.

"Let's do something wild," my mother said.

"Like?" I said.

My mother made me promise not to ask where she was taking me. It was a surprise. She made a vow that I'd be happier there. We took a cab to the address where there was a long line of women waiting outside the place.

"Where are we?" I said, "I'm the only guy."

"Here," she said, "you'll be one of the girls."

It was an all-male review. A half dozen beefy guys clad in jock straps danced on stage, bumping and grinding with women. Three shrieking gay men stood behind us. They tapped my mother on the shoulder. "Your son?" one of them said.

"How did you know?" my mother asked.

"You keep on watching him watching them," the same one said. "My mother came here once with me. She had the same look on her face."

After the show, we went to a dance club with the men. I'm not a dancer. I sat on a stool in the corner of the bar. Two of the men escorted my mother onto the dance floor. The DJ played YMCA. My mother loved making the letters, her hands formed them perfectly, straight lines, perfect slants.

"You did great out there," I said.

"That's the nicest thing anyone's said to me in about a year," she said.

That same night my mother and I walked outside. I held her hand. "Thanks for coming with me," she said.

"It's been sort of fun," I said.

"I'm afraid," she said.

"Of what?"

"This is the last time I'm going to have fun," she said.

When we got back to the room, I told her that I was going to sleep on the floor. "You deserve a whole bed to yourself," I said.

At eight a.m., Larry called our room. We had an hour to get ready. One hour exactly. We couldn't be late. The photographers were going to be there.

"Where?" I said.

"That's for me to know and you to find out," he said.

I woke up my mother, asked her what Larry meant.

"Oh," she said, "I didn't think they were going to go through it."

"Through what?"

"To win the prize, I agreed that I would propose to you."

"As in marriage?" I said.

She nodded her head.

We both got dressed and walked downstairs. A limousine drove us to the Little Chapel of Flowers. In case I said yes, they wanted to give us the option to marry right away. Even if I said no, they wanted publicity pictures to be taken in a place with a lot of floral arrangements. The pleasant scents would overwhelm the stench of bad news.

We walked into the lobby. There was only one photographer, an old man holding a video camera. He said his name was Bart. After we introduced ourselves, no one said anything.

"So," Bart said, "Do you have anything you want to say to your fiancé?"

"Me?" my mother said.

"Of course, you," Bart said, "Something about the future of your relationship."

I tried to look like I had no idea what he was suggesting.

My mother looked stumped. She had no idea how to get out of this one. I couldn't bear the idea of another man rejecting my mother. Especially when that man was me.

So I got on my knees and said to my mother, "I love you. Will you marry me?"

Bart looked taken aback, as if he expected us to confess to our charade.

But he didn't dare say anything.

My mother took a deep breath. You could feel her thinking. I felt sick to my stomach. Nervous.

She was going to reject me. I could feel it. My own mother was going to reject me.

Once again I was going to be rejected by my own mother.

She said, "Yes. Yes, I will marry you. We'll run away together."

I didn't know what to say.

She took my hand and said to Bart, "We're eloping."

"That's what I'm here for," Bart said, "That's what the Little Chapel of Flowers is here for."

"Our union is going to be on our own terms," she said, "on our terms. As it's always been."

She skipped out of the chapel, waving for me to follow. Bart said, "Something's fishy here. When I saw the photo of the two of you, I thought something was up."

I shrugged my shoulders and left.

When I made it outside, she already was inside a taxi, yelling for me to get in.

"Where are we going to go?" I said, "Bart's going to call the station. They'll cancel our hotel reservation."

She didn't say anything.

"So where are going to go?" I said.

"Who cares?" she said, "We're together."

"We are together," I said.

"And I've still got $250."

I counted my bills. "I've got $350," I said.

"You've always been better with money than me," she said. "So between us, we got $600. That's more than I ever had in my pocket when I was raising you."

"So we'll be fine?"

"We've got each other."

"But will we be fine?"

She smiled, "I don't know. We'll take it one day at a time. Like we always have."

Steve Fellner's writing has appeared in Doubletake, North American Review, Northwest Review, and Alaska Quarterly, among others.  His book of poems, Blind Date with Cavafy, will be published by Marsh Hawk Press in 2007.

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