I stood in front of the mirror once again, nervous, practicing my smile. Polka dot tie or plain? Maybe a bowtie? My room brought back terrible memories, but for some reason, it still gave me comfort; it was the place where I felt safest, where I could be in communion with myself. The sunlight streaming through the window reminded me of what day it was today, illuminating the colors of each flower in the garden in all its splendor, as if insisting that life was full of beautiful emotions and things worth living for.
The wait was almost over. My fiancée was eager to have me in her arms and give me that kiss that many dream of. I had spent the past forty-eight hours within these walls, unsure of how to face this second marriage, uncertain of what awaited me after such a union. What I did know was that there would be no more after this. Of course not!
"Alright, bowtie," I nodded to myself as I thought out loud. It might make me look like a TV presenter at an awards ceremony, but what did it matter? It would create an unforgettable memory of my appearance on this momentous day. If I had to compare it to the first time I got married, in a ceremony where everything had to be "perfect" according to my ex-wife's family's requirements, this time I would try to take the reins myself and be true to who I am. After all, these moments should only happen once in a lifetime. If everything goes well, that is.
The clothes, ironed and laid out on the bed, awaited the moment when I would put them on. I had to hurry, there were only forty-eight minutes left. I glanced out the window one last time to see the garden altar, adorned with numerous wreaths and decorative elements with deep significance to my new fiancée. The creeping vines that played around the marquee made me realize something...
I snapped out of my reverie and continued looking out the window. The light that filtered through the bars had a slightly yellowish hue, as if the sun were filtering through urine-filled clouds. That lighting gave everything an almost antiquated appearance, like a nostalgic sepia-toned scene that turned the yard of the state prison into a tacky vacation postcard. I had been in this place long enough to know every corner of it. The carpenter had used forty-eight nails to finish that marquee that was visible from the window. It looked like an archway leading to one of the entrances to the area where my fiancée was waiting for me. Although it was some distance away, I could distinguish them perfectly by their glimmer when the sun reflected off them. Forty-eight, not one more, not one less. That cursed number had been haunting me every hour in the past few days. Was the universe trying to send me some important signal?
I returned to the bed and sat down with my arms resting on the mattress. I didn't feel like resting, but I did feel like remembering the reasons that had brought me to this point. I would do like that carpenter, except instead of nailing nails, I would try to pry them out of my heart before it was too late, even if it meant ending up bleeding. After all, was there any trace of my soul left?
It was summer, vacation time. My son had been born after numerous attempts for my wife to get pregnant. It wasn't an easy process, rather, it was a stage that I remember with bad memories. Taking advantage of a leave from work, I wanted to surprise my mother, the only relative from my past who was still alive, and whom I hadn't seen in years.
"Darling, do we have everything?" My wife, Vivian, checked the suitcases on the roof rack of the car.
"I hope so, I don't see myself coming back for the phone charger."
I was securing my son Adam Jr.'s rear-facing car seat. They said that this item had a high probability of saving his life in case of an accident or negligence, so I wasn't skimping on safety!
The journey to the house where I grew up was devoured slowly, like a stew cooked with love that should be savored with every spoonful. I was somewhat intimidated by the feeling of seeing my mother again and dispelling my last memories of her. Her face would be more wrinkled, her hair more gray, she would have lost that youth that time had taken away from all of us, and whose witness my little one now carried. Maybe, if I hadn't moved so far away from her, I would have enjoyed her company more. However, in these modern times, you had to start your life anywhere in the world and, hopefully, in the same country. Thanks to that mix of supposed bad decisions, I met Vivian and we made my son's existence a reality.
"Adam!" shouted the guard, snapping me out of my thoughts. "Get ready."
Despite how unfair my sentence seemed to me, I continued to obey the dictates of others. When life hits you hard, you eventually come to accept your role in your journey through this world. It makes you realize that we are nothing more than a kind of elements that have developed through chain reactions, a mechanism of the planet to transport matter from one point to another. Did I want to find meaning in life at this point? What for? It was not in vain that I had spent the last two days living in the corners of my room that were still lodged in my memory. He who seeks solace finds it not. However long I had left, I continued to pluck petals from the last beautiful flower I held in my hands, watching them fall to the floor in my despair.
"My boy!" exclaimed my mother when she saw me.
But she didn't hug me, she hugged little Adam. She held him in her arms as if it had been centuries since she had held something so fragile. Her arms trembled, perhaps due to age, or perhaps out of fear that the baby would get hurt. The maternal instinct of protection never fades in a mother, no matter how many years pass.
"I'm glad to see you too, huh?" I enveloped her in my arms and kissed her forehead.
"Adam, this is the greatest thing," she sniffled, "Oh my God, what a surprise."
Vivian was looking at us with a tired smile, somewhat forced even. The journey had drained all our energies, but the excitement of this moment kept me awake during the last hours of the trip.
"Daughter, come here too," my mother invited her with a gesture.
And there we were, my whole family, wrapped in a hug, a reunion that seemed like it would never happen.
We didn't take long to settle into my old house, a sort of dungeon of memories. As I was putting my luggage in my old room, I saw that most of my belongings had been replaced by fitness equipment. My old room was now "Miss Quechua's" personal gym, her new temple of well-being where she tried to stay in shape. Despite it all, my bed was still in the same place. Vivian looked at it as if she were hungry for a memory foam pillow.
"I'll bring some sheets and you'll be able to rest soon," I said before giving her a kiss on the lips.
"Don't worry, we'll take this opportunity to spend some time with your mother," she replied.
Little Adam was still in her arms, much more energetic than any of us, watching as she set up his travel crib.
"Champ, I present to you... your bedroom!"
Maybe the David Hasselhoff poster just above the crib didn't have the same charm as the bunny decorations in his nursery, but it had its own charm within those four walls.
"This gentleman and you, mini Adam, are grandma's favorite people." I tickled his tummy. "You'll be safe here."
If there was nothing else, it was seeing the Baywatch lifeguard, it was surely what kept my mother alive after so many years.
I returned to the living room, where my mother had set out some cookies and warm milk on the table.
"Mom, this looks like a snack for kids."
"I know, son, but...," she lamented. "I didn't know you were coming, everything's messy and I don't have much to offer."
"We'll go grocery shopping tomorrow and fill your fridge with delicious things, don't worry about that."
"I think it's the perfect dinner, ma'am..., Anna."
"Please, no need to treat me so formally, we're family!"
My mother settled into her armchair. The TV was still on, playing one of those channels with 80s movies that were so popular now.
Vivian finished her dinner, if you could call it that, in no time. I don't know if she did it out of hunger or exhaustion. In the meantime, we caught up on acquaintances, routines, and problems; it was the typical conversation of relatives who haven't seen each other in a long time or don't have frequent phone contact. In a way, I dare say that the intensity of these encounters increased thanks to the loss of contact, like a strong dish seasoned with a pinch of nostalgia and memories. Soon enough, my wife felt fully integrated into that environment, although as our energy drained, our participation in the conversations became more passive, as if we had become the therapists of old Anna. The little one, on the other hand, seemed more awake than ever. My wife's milk must have had caffeine, or who knows what other stimulants, because he wouldn't stay still for a second.
"Darling, I can't take it anymore," Vivian said as she handed Adam Jr. to me.
"Wait, I'll prepare the bed," I handed the baby to my mother.
"The sheets are where they always are," my mother replied.
Mini Adam seemed to be having a blast, going from one person to another, like in a fairground ride. My wife and I got up and went to the bedroom. The sheet chest was filled with old computer magazines, it seemed like it hadn't been opened in a while. I pulled out some of my favorite sheets.
"Do you like The Jungle Book?" I asked my wife, who laughed discreetly, struggling to stay on her feet for a few extra seconds.
As soon as I put the sheets on the bed, Vivian fell onto the bed and called me, extending her arms towards me. I lay down on top of her and gave her a very passionate kiss. When we pulled apart, she asked:
"Is this bed a virgin?"
"It's the only bed I've had in this house, what do you think?"
"Well... these days, I'll have to stamp my passport."
"Wait." I moved away from her a few inches to look into her eyes. "Are you... in the mood? You're still breastfeeding..."
Vivian laughed with a mischievous smile.
"Come on, don't tell me it doesn't excite you."
"Well," I looked at the Hasselhoff poster, "it's not the most suggestive setting in the world, but while my mother takes care of Adam, maybe..."
And I leaned in to kiss her again, before being interrupted by her finger on my lips.
"Well, but today we need to rest."
I pondered for a few seconds and got up from the bed, almost propelled by the sigh of hot air building up in my chest. She seemed receptive, surely it had to do with the moon or the alignment of some celestial bodies.
"I'm going to see my mother," I said goodbye with a kiss.
The truth was that disorder reigned in every corner of my old house. I closed my eyes and imagined myself walking through it in my memories, as if I were navigating an old video recording. I touched the walls as a bittersweet feeling washed over me, as I walked and made my way to the living room. When I opened my eyes, the reason for my presence in the universe struck me with brutal force. The voices of my ancestors were screaming at me to close them again. In the middle of the living room, my mother, with red cheeks and chin, was still staring at the TV with a lifeless little Adam in her arms. The baby's head was nibbled on, as if his fontanelle had been opened like the rind of a Camembert cheese. Right at that moment, I met my new fiancée.
When I opened my eyes and snapped out of my trance, I found myself walking alongside the prison guards, heading towards the altar. I dragged my feet along the corridors as if I wanted to feel part of a bigger conspiracy than my own individualistic existence, refusing to detach myself from the ground that connected me to the world. I was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, as well as patricide. Vivian testified against me after divorcing an unconscious monster like myself. It's a shame that rear-facing car seats couldn't be used in other aspects of life.
The door to the room opened. There she was, waiting for me, ready to embrace me in her arms. There wasn't a single guest, only a lawyer. My whole family vanished from the face of the Earth in a single day, as if swallowed by one of those holes caused by permafrost melting.
While someone read what remained of my rights and last wishes, I remained lost in thought, longing to kiss death and join her, to reunite with little Adam and together, face Miss Quechua's testimony to try and understand why she committed such an atrocity. The lawyers said my mother had been suffering from some form of dementia for a while. How was I supposed to know? No one could tell me, not even her.
Finally, someone tightened the knot of my tie, which now looked like a belt. It was a strange ceremony, yet with a certain charm. I was lying down when I saw someone nod in response to another person's question, but their words had become unintelligible, as if we no longer belonged to the same intelligent species.
"See you on the other side," I whispered softly.
Someone flipped a switch. Soon, the lights went out. My fiancée approached me, her touch cold. My heart raced for a moment, pumping the love that coursed through my veins at full speed, before finally settling into the peace I had been waiting for since the day I first laid eyes on her.
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