The Cost of Mother’s Cigarettes

Driving around with Mother, he could always tell when she was on the verge of being down to her last cigarette. Not just because the pack—well-worn and practically decimated—would be prominently displayed in the middle of the dashboard for all to see, but because she would develop a certain antsiness that infected anyone else around her. Usually, that was Umberto, who accompanied her everywhere she went…whether he wanted to or not. That was part of their unspoken “deal.” The one where Umberto got to live rent-free for life in exchange for playing the Norman Bates role that seemed inevitable anytime an infantilized, overly coddled adult male remained at his mother’s house for too long. Usually, as a direct result of his parents’ own enablement. Or, if we’re being totally honest, just the mother’s.

Like most child-free women-turned-matriarchs, Minerva, whose memorable moniker suited the combative goddess after which she was named, didn’t set out to stifle her son. Mothers never do. It just sort of “happens.” Over time. Watching them grow up from impetuous little boys to even more impetuous little men, it’s as though a mother simply can’t believe her eyes when she sees the “grown-up” in front of her. Even though it is she who “raised” him. But the raising of boys tends to be so laissez-faire and disinterested that a mother can scarcely be surprised when her “pride and joy” turns out to be not so independent at all. When he, instead, turns out to be the leech that won’t cease to suck until she’s bled dry. Minerva was starting to feel like she had been on life support for the past ten years (Umberto was now thirty years old, with no sign of any intention to ever leave her side), and that maybe someone ought to finally pull the goddamn plug already. She wanted to be free. And if she couldn’t be in life, then maybe death was the only solution.

Although that was often how Minerva felt as a result of her own faulty parenting skills, she had, by the same token, become dangerously reliant on Umberto’s presence—constant as disappointment and dissatisfaction. As though she might simply cease to exist if he ever miraculously managed to find a way to leave. But of course he wouldn’t. How could he? The only way would be, by some source of divinity, if he managed to attract the interest of a woman who could compel him to change. Minerva knew, however, from her own experience as an erstwhile young girl, that no one could ever possibly take an interest in her son. Not only did he have the face of a monster (one that made the Beast in Beauty and the Beast seem positively fetching), but he wasn’t even rich to make up for it. Would never be able to spoil any ragazza with lavish gifts to compensate for his doltish and clumsy nature. His utter lack of refinement in any way, shape or form. And, of course, Minerva shuddered to think of his skills (or lack thereof) in the bedroom. Though she was aware, dimly, of how deft he was in the art of “self-abuse,” being subject as she was daily to his various indiscreet grunts and groans through the wall.

All of these thoughts about her contempt for Umberto and his inability to become a fully-formed adult had to be pushed aside in order for her to focus on what was truly important as she drove like a madwoman down the traffic-laden streets: finding a tabaccaio. Immediately. For she could feel the lack of nicotine in her bloodstream affecting her very cognitive function, and all as Umberto complained of everything. How he was hungry, how he needed to go to the bathroom, how Minerva’s slow, meticulous driving was making him crazy. But no, it was Umberto that was making Minerva crazy, and if she didn’t gain access to a cigarette real veloce, she couldn’t be held accountable for her actions, including, but not limited to, filicide. 

She screeched to a halt the second she saw an open tabaccaio, running in frantically while totally immune to the motor-mouthing river of shit Umberto continued to unleash upon her, threatening that he would walk home if she didn’t hurry. As if that were a threat. But of course, Minerva was aware of how horrified she would be knowing that Umberto had walked home, and so she did hurry. Did heed the command of her mutual oppressor. Alas, in her haste, she didn’t seem to notice that, on the way out, a man was lingering and lurking, unseen, behind one of the bushes. Waiting for someone just like her. Someone who so obviously had a purse full of money. It was only the aged who had anything of value anymore. Umberto knew that, too. This being a key part of the reason why he stuck around to continue to be taken care of. 

But who would take care of him now, he wondered, as he watched the delinquente throw his mother to the floor in such a severe manner that she landed right on the back of her head, blood slowly but surely pouring out of her like the albumen out of a cracked egg. Although Umberto knew he should have rushed out of the car to try to help, he also knew there was nothing he could do at this point as he watched the thief run off into the distance with her wallet. The only remains being the ravaged purse and Mother herself. 

Umberto had been frozen in shock for several minutes before he could finally unlock the door and approach Mother’s body, which had drawn a small crowd of concerned onlookers. As he found the will to forcefully move these strangers aside and claim her as his own, the sight of the freshly-bought, unopened pack of cigarettes was what finally prompted him to feel something as he burst into tears and proceeded to scream, “Mamma! Mamma! Perché mi hai lasciato?” Yet still, to his utter disbelief, Minerva could only lie there lifelessly in response, having left her son to his own devices. 


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