Written by Katherine Tomlinson
Illustrated by Mark Satchwill
Shannon could hear her son sobbing all the way from the parking lot. When she entered the office of the little motel they owned, she was upset to see her mother Maeve holding down the counter instead of Nori, the guest who usually covered for her when she had to run out on an errand.
She was torn between confronting her mother and tending to her son, who had hurled himself into her arms the moment he saw her. “What’s wrong Liam?” she asked as he burrowed his head into her leg.
“Nothing’s wrong,” her mother said. “He’s just a little cry-baby.”
“I am not a cry-baby,” Liam wailed.
Shannon stroked his back. “I know sweetie,” she said, giving her mother a lethal look. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
She took Liam's hand and led him into the little apartment behind the office.
“You’re doing him no favors by coddling him like that,” Maeve said, loudly enough that she could be heard through the locked door.
It had taken Shannon 15 minutes to calm Liam down and get the story out of him. He kept apologizing for “making Grandma mad,” and every time he did, the red haze clouding Shannon’s vision got a little redder.
She remembered apologizing for making her mother mad, even when she’d had no idea what she’d done.
Liam had set Maeve off by asking her where Nori was when he saw his grandmother behind the front desk in the motel’s office. Maeve had flown into a rage, ranting that he was dissing her and that she wasn’t going to stand for it.
And then she’d whacked him with a rolled-up copy of the L.A. Times that was delivered every morning because the former owner of the motel had a three-year subscription and Shannon had never cancelled it, figuring some of the guests might enjoy reading it.
Shannon kissed Liam on the top of his head and told him he could watch a movie. As he happily settled down in front of the TV, clicking through the channels to find Animal Planet, Shannon’s eye caught the recycling bin by the door, full of junk mail and flyers and outdated newspapers.
Maeve had whacked him with a newspaper like he was a puppy who’d just piddled on the rug.
With her, Maeve had started with a fly-swatter, hitting her with stinging slaps that didn’t hurt so much as they humiliated. She’d moved on to wooden spoons. And then to belts.
The wooden spoons had hurt more, so the belts were an improvement, but there had been other household items Maeve had repurposed for her sick needs.
Maeve was not going to do to Liam what she’d done to Shannon.
She slipped back into the office. Her mother was casually texting someone, pretending not to notice her daughter standing there.
“You need to leave,” Shannon said.
Maeve sneered, a minimal twitch of an expression that was all her Botox-frozen face would allow. “Seems like I got here just in time.”
“I need the unit,” Shannon said, wondering for the hundred millionth time how exactly her mother had found out there was an empty room at the motel and had managed to move in while Shannon and Liam were at the movies.
By the time they got home, Maeve was covering the bed with a spread she’d bought on sale at Target and lighting scented candles to give the unit “ambience.” There was a locksmith installing a new lock to replace the one that had been jimmied open.
“You can’t live here,” Shannon had said to her.
“I’ll pay rent,” Maeve had countered.
“It’s $90 a day,” Shannon had said, doubling the rate.
Maeve had laughed.
“But the family rate is only $15, am I right?”
And that had been it. Her mother’s will was Hurricane Katrina and she was New Orleans.
“Your mother’s a skank,” Nori had said to Shannon three days after Maeve had moved in. “She’s been hitting on my clients, trying to cut in on my action.”
Shannon couldn’t help herself. She had to ask. “How’s that working out?”
Nori had laughed. “I’m 16, your mother’s what? Sixty?”
“But for reals, Shannon, I can’t be having that. It’s creeping them out.”
“Your mother treats you like shit,” Kevin Eastman had observed to Shannon a week after Maeve had moved in. “It’s not good for you to have her here,” he added. “You’re getting sucked back into her orbit, you’re falling back into old patterns.”
Shannon had been surprised Kevin had said something. The Gulf War vet pretty much kept to himself, but she knew he kept an eye on her and Liam. He had taught Liam to play chess. He’d bring his travel board into the office and they’d play for hours.
It bothered Shannon that the closest male role model her son had was a near-homeless recovering addict with PTSD but Kevin had been a rock for them both during the trial of the gang-banger who’d killed the motel’s owner while Liam watched.
“I appreciate what you’re saying Kevin,” she’d said, hoping to steer the conversation in another direction.
“I know,” he said, “it’s none of my business.” He studied her for a moment. “But I don’t like what I’m seeing.”
That had been months ago and Maeve was still in the motel, hovering like a skeletal bird of prey, just waiting to swoop down on Shannon and Liam.
“It’s Sunday,” Shannon said. “I want you out by Friday.”
“I don’t want to leave,” Maeve said. “I like it in Los Angeles.”
“There are other motels in Los Angeles,” Shannon said.
“None this cheap,” Maeve said, and smiled as if that settled the question.
“By Friday,” Shannon said.
“And if I’m not out by Friday?”
This is not a negotiation, Shannon thought to herself, don’t fall into the trap.
“Friday,” Shannon repeated.
“I don’t think so,” Maeve said, picking up her stuff from the counter and sauntering toward the door just as Kevin Eastman entered the office.
Never one to pass up a chance to play the martyr, Maeve fluttered her false eyelashes like an inebriated butterfly and asked Kevin, “Can you believe my own daughter wants to throw me out?” she asked.
Without waiting for an answer, she pushed through the door into the humidity of the July afternoon.
“Want some help?” he asked.