This story is by Karen Crawford and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
You know one day it’s gonna come, the call that will change your life forever.
“Your mother has suffered a concussion, and she’s in intensive care.”
I remember feeling a controllable panic, as I drove like a robot to the hospital. I remember squeezing her weightless hand as shimmery tears formed in the corners of her eyes. I remember not crying as I laid my mother to rest.
I remember rejoicing.
At last, I could say goodbye to my Momma’s Boy image.
Neighbors came by with cakes and condolences, yet it was I who was comforting them. My childhood home was simple and sparse, except for the stuffy damask curtains that covered the windows. Living here had been stifling, just like her.
Sometimes I thought she loved me too much. She always thought I didn’t love her enough. After a past of abusive boyfriends, I was born, and she swore off men altogether. But the last time I was home, I’d noticed bruises on her arms.
A few days later two official looking men in dark suits flashing FBI badges rang the doorbell.
They were here because my DNA had come up as a match to a male perpetrator connected with a string of serial bombings 18 years ago. I was sure they saw my knees buckle. Through the ringing in my ears, I heard them say the man had blown himself up, and his girlfriend had disappeared.
What the hell, my DNA? Then I remembered that genealogy class I took in college last semester.
They went on to ask if I had been aware of a recent package bomb in the area. The pattern had been similar, and they had reason to believe they were connected. I‘d seen the news but said no anyway. The sucker probably had it coming.
“Did you say my DNA matches a man who made bombs?” My voice sounded calm, but my heart was thundering.
“A 99.9% match.” They were confident he was my father.
Confused, I told them my biological father had died before I was born. A sperm donor, who’d been a close friend of my mother’s.
One of the agents snorted at if I were lying, and the other asked if my mother had a boyfriend or any old acquaintances that might have surfaced out of the blue before she died.
Fighting off the waves of dizzy, I shook my head and tried to stiffen my Jello for legs. As they left, the snorter handed me his card and told me they would be in touch. Reeling from the revelation that my father was a terrorist, and my mother may have been complicit, my knees gave in, and I slid to the floor.
Who am I!?
I ran upstairs and began rummaging through my mother’s belongings. The opposite of a hoarder, there were no remnants from her past. No photos, no mementos, nothing. It was like she didn’t exist before I came along. I sat on her bed feeling less than stoic and reached for her purse on the dresser. That’s when I saw the envelope, from Helen, my mother. Stamped and addressed to me.
My fingers tore open the seal, and I pulled out the letter as newspaper clippings fell to the floor. I started to read the words out loud:
You have always been such a good boy, the best choice I ever made. But there’s, something I’ve wanted to tell you for a long, long time. I have a secret, a deep, dark, dirty secret…”
It was then that I clamped my mouth shut.
You see, Helen wasn’t my mother. A woman named Mary was. They had been friends when I was a baby. And the day my serial bomber for a father blew himself up, Mary left me with Helen and never came back.
Simmering with rage, I pocketed the letter and picked up the tattered clippings from the floor. The decades-old headlines filled in the blanks. There’d been a rash of package bombs left on the doorsteps of unsuspecting male targets, all with one thing in common. Domestic violence.
My father had been a vigilante, and Mary was a fugitive.
She had disappeared with her infant son – a suspect wanted for questioning because she had a motive. It turned out, Mary had been a victim of regular abuse at the hands of her father.
I could feel my rage bubbling up to the surface as I clenched my fists, crumbling the newspaper clippings between my fingers. I had to get a grip. But before I could calm myself down, my cell phone started bleeping.
It was a text from an unknown number.
“I see you’ve picked up the torch.”
Now, it was my hands that were turning to Jello, “Who is this?”
Beyond freaked, I muted my phone.
This can’t be happening!
Hyperventilating, I scampered down to the basement where I kept an old safe. I dialed the combination and flung open the door. There they were, all my little packages neatly bundled inside.
I had no idea what to do next. My fingertips were turning white as the dank cellar air was closing in on my throat. I was suffocating, detaching from my body until a sudden buzzing jumpstarted my angst sending my pulse into overdrive again.
I glanced at my phone as a string of new texts lit up the screen.
“You were easy to track down. I knew right away it was you. Call it a mother’s intuition. Did you know that Helen’s father abused her? That’s what we had in common. You won’t be able to stop, you know. The beast needs to be fed. It feels good, doesn’t it?”
Mary was right. It did feel good. It made me feel like a superhero. When I left the package on the doorstep of that asshat of a boyfriend that was abusing Helen and watched it detonate, I felt redemption. It was a high like no other. I knew I couldn’t stop.
“Eddie, are you still there? Your father couldn’t keep up the fight. He was a wuss.”
Then it hit me, Mary was the mastermind. I’d thought the FBI was onto me, but now I could see, it was her they were after. She couldn’t know that they tracked me down thru that random DNA test. For all I knew, they were tapping my phone. It was just a matter of time before they came knocking again.
I held my breath: “I think you have the wrong number.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes. You. Do.”
“We’d make a great team, Eddie. I’ve been waiting for this. You can’t stop now. It’s who you are. It’s in your DNA.”
Desperate to resist her pull, I looked at the agent’s card. I could call them, turn her in maybe get a deal. That would make me stop. Sweat was pooling around my throbbing temples. I was furious at Mary. Because of her, I was going to end up in jail. Maybe I could make a run for it. Become a fugitive, team up with her and take my chances. Neither option sounded good.
I pulled Helen’s letter from my pocket. I could hear her coddling voice, “You’ve always been such a good boy.”
Conflicted and near hysteria, I looked at Mary’s texts, “It’s who you are.”
Mary was a monster. “Is that who I am!!?”
After weeks of keeping it together, I was coming undone. I grabbed my head to cover my ears.
Such a good boy.
It’s who you are.
Such a good boy.
It’s who you are.
Smashing my phone against my head, I watched the blood trickle onto my hand. I knew right then what I had to do.
It WAS in my DNA.
My fathers DNA.
I reached for one of the packages and set the timer.
Sitting down, I closed my eyes. I was back in control.
Resolved. I waited.
But nothing happened.
Then I heard a knock at the door.