It was a difficult pregnancy. That's how his mother described having Jonah and his brother Jack in her womb. "The two of you were always play-fighting in there," she explained, her slender hand motioning to her now trim waistline, her tone more cheerful than usual. "It was very uncomfortable, but I put up with it. I told you both to get it out of your systems before I came in and gave you a smack." She placed her cigarette on the edge of an empty beer can and picked up a glass of something stronger than beer. She took a hard swallow, picked up the smoke and sucked the end, held the smoke in her lungs a moment, then exhaled, the sadness given room by her escaping breath. Jonah watched the smoke fill the kitchen. He liked how it swirled around and even how the smoke continued to fall out of his mother's nostrils. He could take or leave the smell, but everything he wore smelled like his mother, which was comforting. The little breakfast nook was lit by the sun pouring through the kitchen window and the white lace valance that made oblong circles on the floor. His mother picked a rogue bit of tobacco from the end of her tongue and studied it. Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum came on the radio. The radio was always on at a low volume. It kept her from thinking too much, she’d said. She turned it up. A smile and a far-away look accompanied her humming along to the song.
“How long was I in there?” Jonah asked, seated on a wooden chair, pulled close to his mother’s, their knees practically touching. She looked at him disapprovingly. “You were both in there nine months, Jonah. You and Jack.” She never forgot about Jack. Jonah forgot on purpose. He wanted his mother to himself. She always brought up stupid old Jack. Jack, Jack, dead old Jack. “He’s dead!” He wanted to scream this in her face. As if she didn't know. Wasn't it enough they visited his grave every Sunday, and took a picnic, and stayed there for three stupid, wasted hours at a time? Meanwhile, Jonah couldn't do anything right, and he certainly wasn't allowed to do anything fun. Homework at the green laminate table, pencil sharpening’s, and eraser bits dotting the swirly pattern. Then, less lucid, T.V. and dinner, mostly shoveled down or scraped away. Then the inside of his room, the escape. The posters on the wall the only spark to his imagination and the only essence of the outside world. He was real, but he didn't feel real when she was alone with her glass, and he was alone, alone. He would sneak peeks at the street beyond the window and see boys racing their bicycles up and down the road, or maybe climbing the large maples that lined the boulevard. A world of fun and exploration awaited anyone bold enough to venture outdoors. What if I fell out of one of those trees? What if the wheel came loose from the bike? What if, what if, what if, what if. It was exhausting to think about. But she was his mother, and he loved her for so many other reasons. Like when she would trace her fingers along his small face, ending at the tip of his petite nose, telling him what a handsome little man he was. That was a favourite for him. He felt loved and safe and warm under her playful eyes.