Someday, I’ll Tell You Why She Left
by Patrick Donovan
His mother has not packed much, which concerns N but not greatly. N’s mom says she wants to dress like the locals and does not care if the clothes seem scratchy or that she and he look too pale to fit in. Besides, his mother says, your father bought most of these clothes. N makes certain to pack jeans and t shirts, thick khakis and sturdy boots for hiking to ruins up worn and stony treads. He packs two dress shirts and his nice shoes. N has not vacationed with his mother since he turned eighteen three years ago but assumes he will be expected to take her out for a nice dinner at least once.
N loads the car as his mom prepares some breakfast snacks they can eat on the drive to the airport early the next morning. N’s mom falls to sleep quickly while thinking about her plans for the trip. N cannot sleep. He gets up for some water, turns on the TV, then sits on the couch, flipping through the channels before moving to his father’s chair. He does not fill the cushion’s dent. In the kitchen, he mixes himself a whiskey sour before sitting back in the abandoned recliner. N sips at the whiskey and thinks, his posture held at a slouch. The TV still bores him. He believes he hears his mother crying from her bedroom, so he shuts off the TV, uses the toilet, and goes to bed, sleeping until his mother wakes him over the alarm.
N’s mother is dressed and ready to leave. She smells the whiskey lingering on N’s tongue and decides she should drive to the airport. The flight to Lima is nonstop. N sleeps against the window the first few hours while his mother chats with the man next to her on the other side of the aisle and works a crossword puzzle. She occasionally glances at her son, then asks the man across the aisle for puzzle advice even though she already knows what fills in the spaces. The man across the aisle seems eager to help and comments on how young she looks to have a son already in college. N’s mother laughs like butterfly wings cut the air. She tells the man across the aisle that he is far too kind. He asks if they are meeting N’s father in Peru, to which she says that the old sock got lost in the dryer, and the rest now hung on a line. A stewardess pushes a food cart up the aisle as the man responds. N’s mom does not hear him and begins waking N, who she knows, as a mother always does, is hungry.
After eating, N and his mother watch the in-flight movie together. Neither of them finds it enthralling, and both grimace a little at the end when the hero realizes the error of his ways and makes a heroine out of the female lead. The man across the aisle—who has been watching the film as well—lets out the smallest cry of delight, to which N’s mom nudges N, indicating this absurdity. The rough touchdown in Lima bounces N awake to find that his mother has filled in all his entry forms and has fished his visa out from her purse. They transfer to a plane bound for Arequipa, then to a bus towards the ocean.
Once off the bus, N’s mom begins to suggest a bite to eat, but N is standing with his three large suitcases to her one, so she changes her suggestion to the hotel first. They catch a cab, and N gives the driver the address in broken Spanish. The driver takes them to two wrong hotels before N’s mom says this one looks fine and points at a restaurant across the street. A concierge comes out to take N’s bags which N tries holding on to while explaining that this isn’t the right hotel. N’s mom comes around the taxi after paying their fare and gives the address of their hotel to the concierge, along with a five dollar tip, asking N to tell the concierge they are going across the street for lunch and if he could please order them another taxi for an hour later to the address of their hotel. The concierge smiles and nods, then takes the money and bags inside. He comes quickly out and says in English, Ok, one hour.
N orders coconut shrimp and beer. His mom orders guinea pig and a larger beer. The restaurant has lamps with yellow bulbs and windows coated in cigarette smoke that dims the sunlight. Between sips of cold beer, N and his mother talk about what they want to do. He has considered switching his major to archaeology. Machu Picchu, a two-day trip even with an hour plane ride to Cusco, tops his list. N wants to see the sand and the dirt, he says. But don’t worry, he says, smiling, and between chewing battered shrimp, we’ll have plenty of time to go shopping; the bazaars are supposed to be wonderful. N’s mom asks why he thinks that is what she wants to do. He has no idea what his mom wants to do. I thought you might want to relax—see some sights, read, maybe shop, he says. N says that is what she has always done on vacation. She says she has never had a vacation.
N’s mother orders them each another beer, both big ones that drip beer foam on the tablecloth. N heads for the toilet at the sight. People are smoking in the restaurant which finally irritates N’s nose enough that he sneezes on his way back to the table. Eventually, the concierge comes into the restaurant to inform N’s mother that their taxi has arrived. She gives the concierge another five dollars and has N ask about any vacancies at this current hotel. He insists it is not as nice, but N’s mom says she likes it anyways, so they check in while the taxi idles and the concierge brings their bags up to their room.
In the taxi, N and his mom ride around town while the driver explains in basic Spanish where everything is. The driver eyes his meter and keeps talking. N asks the driver if he ever read any Dickens, to which the driver scoffs and says he can’t read westerners—only southerners. Eventually the driver lets them off where N’s mother can buy some clothes. She wants to walk around a bit without the weight of shopping bags, so they head up the street not talking. The town surprises N with how put together it appears, that only infrequent debris on the paved road catches his notice as they head down a cul-de-sac. He had been expecting a film of dust on his teeth to wash back with the beers instead of the mix of newer buildings and freshly painted old.
Do you want to talk about dad?
What is there to say?
I know it must be hard for you.
I can’t think of anything easier.
N’s mom sees a little café they had passed on the way up the street that she wants to try. They continue on towards the shops instead. N is happy his mom appears happy and offers to buy her whichever shirt and pants she likes best from the different stands they look through. She refuses, insisting that she is the one who will wear the clothes.
Over dinner, back at their new hotel, in the middle of explaining to his mother about how exactly Machu Picchu lines up with the stars from thousands of years ago, N loses his place and asks his mom what she wants to see. N’s mom laughs and takes a bite of her turtles’ eggs. I thought you were all into semiotics before the dust of archaeology, she says, and he’s surprised she knows about symbols even though they are older than the steps at Machu Picchu. You should keep studying English, she says, explaining how it lights a fire in a man’s heart. He asks her again what she would like to see anyways. She says his father only looked, and then she orders a flight of tequila. Fine, says N, let me rephrase. But he asks an entirely different question, and his mom says that she wants to go dancing, though not tonight. She needs to rest first. In their room, N showers and dresses to go back out while his mother lies on the bed, flipping through the TV channels.
N drinks a beer at the first nightclub he finds. He looks around, holding his bottle, not talking to anyone as his hands become wet with condensation. After his beer he considers dancing. Everyone is grinding pretty close, so he leaves and walks farther up the street to a café where he orders tea. A brunette with lavender eye shadow and bright green lashes takes a seat next to him. They talk about literature. She grows bored when he starts on with Machu Picchu. He realizes he should have begun kissing her earlobe after she has left. But anyways, he preferred discussing the ruins. And she reminded him of his ex-girlfriend. N does not understand women—most especially his mom. He orders coffee and thinks about his parents’ relationship until the liquid turns cool and he has made his way back to the bar down the street. He orders three shots of good, American whiskey, shoots them, stomps onto the crowded dance floor, starts dancing with the first available woman he sees but loses interest before she notices him. N relieves himself in the restroom, then exits the club and walks the streets until the whiskey has kicked in. He heads back to the hotel room to sleep.
N’s mom is not on her bed. She comes into the room after N has started dreaming. He half awakens to the smell of beer and weed but falls back to sleep against the sound of her bumping off the chest of drawers and down onto her bed. The next morning, he sits drinking coffee and struggling to read the Spanish-language newspaper while he waits for his mother to wake. At breakfast N’s mom asks what he did the night before. He responds with half the story, explaining how he checked out what kind of nightlife the town offered. She asks him if he will take her dancing. He says he does not think she will like the way they dance.
N’s mom had not been able to sleep, she tells him, so after an hour she went out and ran into the concierge at a bar. He invited her to join his friends at their table. They are all either drug runners or strong-arms; however, N’s mom does not know this yet. N asks if they were the ones smoking weed. His mother is surprised he had smelled it. At first it was them, she says, pulling a cigarillo from her purse and lighting a match. Don’t worry, she says, this is only tobacco.
You don’t smoke.
No, but I used to.
Are you starting up again?
What does it look like?
After eating, N’s mom sips coffee between soft drags on her little cigar. She pushes an envelope retrieved from her purse towards N which he starts to open. She stops him and sends him to their room with the marijuana. You need to relax a little, she says, setting down her coffee cup. N smokes half a joint on the toilet and the other half out the room’s window before coming back down about thirty minutes later and standing behind his mother’s chair a bit dazed. Are you thinking about Machu Picchu, N’s mom asks without turning to look at him. No, and then, I’m thinking of a woman I met last night who reminded me of Linda.
Someday I’ll tell you why she left.
I’m your mother.
Later they walk along the beach flying kites, then eat lunch in a restaurant overhanging the ocean. N orders more shrimp. N’s mom orders something neither can pronounce. They sit in the hotel room with beers, smoking pot out the windows and watching Spanish soap operas with the volume off so they can both understand. He has not mentioned Machu Picchu, but N’s mom says they will go. She asks him to take her dancing, and he says sure although he’s not much of a dancer, and wouldn’t she like to go by herself, but apparently that is not the point.
N and his mom go out dancing to a club she suggests. The concierge finds them at their table and takes N’s mother to the dance floor while his friends sit and chat with N. They are the drug runners. One of them, the concierge’s brother, has taken a liking to N’s mom from when he talked with her the previous evening. N does not know this, though the concierge does. Eventually, after N’s whiskey is drugged, and with N’s mother still dancing, the concierge’s brother tells N that N’s mom now belongs to him. This sobers N enough to understand, but now he is blacking out. His mom is drugged too.
N finds himself tied up when he awakens on a plane heading for Columbia. His mother sits on the concierge’s brother’s lap, twisting his mustache with her fingers and whispering against his ear. N blacks back out, waking this time when his mother opens the plane’s emergency hatch. He is standing and can feel the heft of a parachute against his back. His head buzzes and he is not sure what is happening as his mother walks him towards the open hatch. She has a parachute on as well. He looks around the plane and sees the drug runners sprawled and unconscious on the cabin floor. N’s mom says not to worry; she has taken care of everything. She asks her son if he has all he needs before pushing him out over Machu Picchu.