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After a short spell of rubbing the kinks out of her places, she let me go.
She found it helpful, purportedly, if someone did that while she eased her mind into the body. I didn’t. About all I found it was frustrating. I had a special place in my heart reserved just for Mary’s lovely form, and I didn’t much feature the picture of someone else getting intimate with it.
I was, of course, sharply conscious of the fact that the mussed pretty girl before me was temporarily no longer my precious, precious girlfriend, but someone else completely. She may have still had all the same basic appearances, but the inside, I reminded myself, had been elbowed aside to give place to entirely another being: its architect, builder, and very likely the original template, the most insidious being spawned by the world to date, a deceiver, gamester, cheater, liar and incorrigible adulteress, but perhaps most importantly: my dear, dear birth mother whom I loved and respected above any- and everyone else.
All the same, my fingertips itched.
She stretched her smooth, tanned arms and gave me a big, radiant smile, and the smile was altogether bare of everything you may have surmised of her until now. I very nearly swallowed my tongue there. The body, my girlfriend’s body, was still the one and the same that I had known, but it moved in alien ways, ways I had never seen it move before. Suddenly, there was in my head this crawling, tingling want to discover it anew. A want to reach out and touch inappropriately those smiling red lips. A want to feel even more and more of that ripe creamy skin. I wanted to unbutton her blouse, deliberately slow, and fumble playfully with the clasps of her cute white brassiere. I wanted to test the firmness of her shoulders, the lush round breasts and the charmingly flat belly. I felt, keenly as never, the urgent need to stick my wriggling fingers where they didn’t belong just to see what reaction that would earn me.
I was making her scream in my head. I realised rather acutely just who she was right now—my dear scheming mother—but the fact didn’t seem to bother my conscience in the least.
I feel that, were the man still alive, Freud and I would have had a field day with this.
Some of you may not know, but the reason why Freud thought his mom would make a fine lay—actually very simple. See, when Freud was but a blubbering baby-boy, whose whole existence relied solely on the bases of crawling out of the cradle when nobody was looking and sucking on breasts for fun and nourishment, his dearest mother was occupied biding her time out of the house, doing things mothers usually do when out of the earshot of their child. Who in actuality let little Sigmund enjoy the benefits of female bosoms was a hired wet-nurse, which fact, as far as human psychology is concerned, was basis enough to disqualify the wayward mother from entering the close circle of unfortunate women young Freud would feel mentally repulsed to shake a pee-pee at later on in his life.
It’s called the Westermarck Effect; you might want to look it up if you’ve got particularly gifted female relatives.
That said, my own situation was a tad tougher than big Sig’s. After all, my then-current girlfriend was, in essential short, a living, breathing, organic replica of my beloved mammy. As such, my personal psychology faltered somewhat whenever the subject of mammy’s physicality reared its ugly head. With it incapacitated, come into play did other, less sophisticated mechanisms, and the things they told, while genuinely intriguing, bordered often just slightly on the not-so-socially-acceptable side.
Yukari must have felt my queasiness because just as I’d wrapped the thought up, she began to worm her way back under my arm and give me even more reasons to find the designer of the human psyche and give him a few very pointed arguments as to why he should keep his twisted libido out of his work in the future.
“Cosy,” my mother murmured after she’d settled down.
I elected to indulge her odd humour. “What is?”
“This abode of yours. It’s very cosy.”
“All the same cosy.”
“Well,” I said, “whatever you suppose, Mother dear. I can’t say I care for it as much as you do.”
She chuckled. There were all kinds of interesting movements accompanying that chuckle, and I had to steel myself mighty hard to retain a cool nerve.
“It always strikes me as a nice place to live, is what I’m saying,” she purred.
“Always?” I was alarmed.
As far as I was privy, this was her first time seeing the place.
“Yes. Cosy and private. Very private.”
I let it pass. “So to what do I owe this parental inspection?” I decided to investigate.
“Isn’t it that, Mother dear? ‘Cause I hope it isn’t something else—something I wouldn’t find nearly as tolerable.” I felt myself growing irrationally resentful. I pressed on. “In fact,” I told her sweetly, “this is hardly acceptable, either. Here I am trying to forget the hell I went through because of you, to live and let live like a normal human being, and then here are you, popping your nose out of nowhere and scratching the old wounds. I’ll be frank for a moment here: were you not hiding behind this body like some kind of sick human shield, I’d rip you to pieces this instant. I’d screw that scheming head of yours off and bat it into another dimension with your own broken corpse. You’ve made me very cross, Mother. You’re in luck that I don’t want to hurt anyone but you.”
She giggled at my angry confession. “You would do that, really?”
“As sure as your hand is fondling my thigh right now.”
“Oh dear,” Yukari laughed once more and kissed me.
The kiss was only one, but it was on the lips and long enough to short me of breath. At its end, my resolve was no harder than a bowl of watery pudding.
At last, Yukari-Mary pulled away sensually and looked straight into my eyes. “Well,” she said happily, “we’re fortunate I’m too much of a coward to face you in person then, aren’t we?”
I surrendered at that point.
There was no sense fighting with Mother. She always got what she wished, one way or the order. As long as she kept her charms inside the border, all I could do is vainly wish her dead. As soon as she poked it out, she’d have me all over herself, with knives and other edged implements. She understood that perfectly, and consequently was using Mary to communicate with me without fear of getting sliced to ribbons in the mid of our conversation.
“I give up,” I voiced my decision, just to thwart any hypothetical misconceptions. “You’ve no openings, do you?”
“Not that you know of, no.”
“Yet,” I included. “Why are you here?”
She made a rather disappointed sound. “Couldn’t we exchange pleasantries for a while more?” she pleaded miserably. “That leaping straight to the point business is so tedious.”
“I rather we got it over with.”
Yukari grouched. “Your father wasn’t like this,” she moaned. “You’re so uptight these days. You used to be so easy-going. Was it these girls that did this to you? Are they being too pushy with you? Should I perhaps give them some pointers on relationships?”
“I’ll tear the world apart if you so much as lay a finger on them,” I hissed. “And as for my easy-goingness going away, you’re not clear of guilt yourself. Now, Mother. Why this unannounced visit?”
She shrugged. “A parental inspection, duh. You are my son, after all.”
“If you don’t be serious,” I warned. “I’ll strip you naked and carve my biography on your back—with a spade. And the first words will be very long and very hard to spell correctly.”
She took hold of my hands and touched lovingly them to her cheeks. Then she smiled angelically.
“Can you really say that to this face?” she tweeted.
“I’ll start with ‘murder, death, kill,’” I fantasised. “Then I’ll get to ‘mauling’ and ‘carving out the tripes.’ Then it’ll be all about the ‘disembowelings.’”
“Oh, fine!” Yukari threw her arms up and sighed. “I give. You’re absolutely impossible. I didn’t raise you like this, you know.”
“You didn’t raise me at all. Now, what do you have to tell me, Yukari?”
I probably shouldn’t mention this, but I held on to her cheeks. I could make a dozen excuses why, but the truth is they felt somehow very small and weak in my hands, and that gave my confidence a much-needed boost. She sensed that, naturally. I know because she twisted her head around that it became rather uncomfortable for me to keep my hold.
“Stubborn, too,” my golden-eyed nemesis muttered. Then she sighed. “All right, you have me. There is another cause to this call. A rather good one, at that.”
“Out with it.”
“As you wish, heart.” She paused briefly for a deep breath. “There is,” she then said, “something—someone—afoot. A certain presence has been bounding in and out of my land and causing all sorts of ripples and disruptions in the border. A very unsettling presence. And no matter how hard I try to get a hold of him, he slips away each time.”
“You can’t catch him?” I was mildly surprised. “You?”
“Go ahead,” she told me sourly, “rub it in if it pleases you. All I know is that there’s no saying what his intentions are. You should be on your guard as well, is what I’m here to tell you. You’re tied to us very intimately, after all… regardless of how vehemently you deny it.”
“You say he’s been popping in and out of the land.”
She nodded seriously. “Yes.”
“Then he can go through the border as he very well pleases.”
“Yes,” she said. “Which has everything to do with my presence here now. You’re sitting ducks out here, you and these girls both. You have to watch your back.”
“Then,” I pushed on, “if he can do that… What is he?”
“And that is the greatest mystery of them all,” Mother said gravely. “You see, whichever way I size up his presence, he comes across strikingly close to… well, to you—to Naya.”
As always, the name sent a thrill down my spine.
“To me?” Still, I was dumbfounded. “But that’s impossible. I’ve sat on my butt here like a good puppy since that festival a year ago. You do realise Reimu herself told me to stay away, no? I might go against you, Mother, but I’d slit my wrists sooner than cross Reimu. She’s crazy out of my league. And he—” I hesitated, “I mean, you-know-who, he is… well—”
“Yes,” Yukari relieved me. “I know. It’s not him, though. That’s why I’m so upset. I’ll deal with him on my own time, however. You watch yourself. I’ll watch the land. I just wanted to tell you to be careful. We don’t know what his goals are, and you’re… well,” she traced a circle on my chest with one small finger, “you’re kind of dear to me, you know? I’d be crushed if something were to happen to you.”
There was a moment of silence.
“That’s kind of ironic for you to say,” I noted.
“Oh, you brute!” Yukari drove her fist into my gut, scowling like a thundercloud. “You’re beastly! Ironic? I bare my heart before you, tell you honest to death how I feel, and all you say in return is that? Ironic? I’m shocked, shocked at your towering selfishness! And stop hugging me, thank you very much!” She squirmed out from under my arm. “Ironic!” she grumbled. “Hmph!”
“Quit fussing, Mother.”
“Fussing?!” She nearly shrieked that. “Fussing!” She glared. “You men-folk are all the same, you are! You’re all just big rugs of hair and dirt without empathy! You should be all put to baby-sitting for a decade, you should! Then maybe you would learn what it means to be gentle! Your father said the same thing to me when I asked to travel with him: ‘Go home and stop making scenes,’ he said! ‘A woman should keep out of our business,’ he said! That thick-headed old oaf!”
“Mother?” she repeated. “Mother?! Oh, I’ll give you ‘Mother,’ you big stupid rogue! You should go to the underworld and burn to cinders, you should!” Then she turned away from me. “And don’t dare call me ‘Mother’ again! We’re through, you hear me? Through!”
What could I do? I let her simmer for a minute or two, then I snuck behind her and gave her the fondest squeeze I had.
“Oh, do let go of me, you big lout!” she demanded.
There was little authority in that demand. She didn’t sound too convinced.
“Oh, I don’t think so, Mother,” I played along anyway. “You’ve done terrible things to me and I hate you for that, but it doesn’t mean I’ve got to be mean to you all the time.” I thought about it for a second. “I’d still kill you where you stand, though.”
She let off a huge sigh. “Then you’ll take it back?” she asked, undaunted by my previous statement.
“I’ll take back whatever you want, Mother,” I told her; “even if I have to apply great violence to make it move. You weren’t fussing. You were just trying to be cute.”
“You’re as silly as your father was.”
I muttered. “… Well cheers.”
“You’re welcome.” She wriggled around until she was facing me again. Then she kissed me again, but the kiss was altogether chaste this time. “Stay safe,” she said quietly. “I don’t want you to get hurt any more.”
“I’ll try to keep out of trouble.”
And then I closed my arms about her and drew her closer.
We remained like that for a while.
Again and again, Yukari-Mary stroked my slightly dry hair, and that, for some odd reason, made me feel very nostalgic. I wasn’t used to being mothered, and I didn’t like it very much, but in this particular case, I had to admit it wasn’t a bad thing to be.
It may sound a smidge hypocritical after all my outbursts, but I realised just then, that, for all her scheming and plotting and sleeping around, I still loved that unreliable woman who I had the dubious privilege of calling Mother. I loved her despite having all the reason in the world to strangle her with her own intestines.
It wasn’t probably a very smart thing to do, but love rarely is.
A little sidelight here: intestines, in reality not that good for strangling, tear to shreds at the lightest tug. You shouldn’t use intestines for the purpose of strangling people, unless you’re planning to do a bad job of it.
That’s it for gruesome observations, though. Mother and I were having a moment, see, and that kind of commentary is usually considered mood-breaking in the civilised world.
So, rather than discussing the mutability of the human body, I asked her in a low voice: “How’s the little bastard then?”
I didn’t want to startle her. She was breathing so softly I wondered idly whether she had maybe fallen asleep on me.
She hadn’t. “Coming along,” she whispered in my ear. “He’s growing into an energetic child.”
The ear tingled. She must have felt that, too, because she chuckled.
“Has he started breaking things yet?” I pressed on. I was almost positive I was blushing.
“No,” Yukari said. “Not yet, he hasn’t. Should he?”
“At some point he will. You can remind him once he does that there is this very nasty man out there that will come and show him what for if he doesn’t keep it within mannerly limits.”
“That’s untypically helpful of you.”
“Always sign me up for beating up children. How are Ran and Chen?”
“Taking it hard,” Yukari lamented. “Chen doesn’t enjoy not having everyone’s fullest attention, and Ran doesn’t enjoy Chen not enjoying things. You’ll never believe it, but I have to do the monstrous majority of the raising myself.”
“You’re right. I probably won’t believe it.”
“You don’t have to, heart,” she told me warmly. “You really don’t have to.”
“And Reimu?” I asked.
“She hates him. She absolutely can’t stand being around him. She says he reminds her too much of someone who gave her a lot of grief in the past.”
“She must be mistaken,” I said.
“Yes,” Yukari agreed. “She must.” She paused. “And on this side?”
“Same old. You should know, shouldn’t you?”
I meant her unique link with Mary, of course. Amazingly, I managed to say it without sending my blood into a careen.
“You don’t tell her everything,” Yukari pointed out.
That was true.
“That’s not true,” I protested. “We’re a couple, after all—well, a triple, to be exact.”
“That’s my line.”
I grunted. “… I get it,” I gave up. “All right, Mother. I haven’t got a spare dime on me, to be honest.”
“Same old, huh?”
“I have my sights on a job, though,” I added quickly. “Or, well, had. I might want to check it out again, eh?”
“You might. You should, in point of fact. Tomorrow.”
“As soon as you wake up.”
“I mean it.”
“Good boy. And how is the other one faring?”
“You mean Ren? She’s got a few rough corners yet, but I’m working on them.”
“Do. She saw too much too fast. She needs you to ease her along.”
“Would you stop that?”
“That ‘Yes, Mother’ thing. I can’t think why, but it’s making me very nervous.”
“Oh,” I let out, “that. Yes, Mother. I’ll stop it, I promise. Someday, somehow.”
She gave me a jab in the side. “You’re ghastly, did you know that?”
“It’s in my genetics. Oh,” I pretended to realise, “but, man alive, it’s getting late, isn’t it?”
I took her by the shoulders and tore her away from me with an almost audible sound of ripping flesh.
“The thing is,” I told her unhappy eyes, “Ren should be back from the shop in just a couple of shakes.”
“Should she, now?” Mother was sulking.
“All I’m saying is,” I explained patiently, “we don’t want her to see you here. She’s sensitive to this kind of stuff, you know.”
“I could pretend to be her.”
She still rarely spoke Mary’s name.
“You couldn’t if you wanted, Mother,” I said firmly. “Your language is too brash. You move differently. You flaunt yourself too much.”
She was stunned. “I do what?”
“It’s a thing of humility, Mother. You have no need to be humble, so you wouldn’t understand.”
“Am I being insulted here?”
“Not at all.” There was an echo of steps in the staircase outside. “You hear that?” I asked. “She’s coming back right now.” I smiled and looked her deeply into those pouting amber-gold eyes. “You’re always going to be my mother, aren’t you?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied, a bit confused. “Why, all of a sudden?”
“Oh, nothing important. I just didn’t want you to misunderstand, that’s all.”
“Take care, Mother.”
And then I kissed her—a trifle violently, perhaps—on the lips.
That was but a feint, of course. The instant we connected, I willed out and drove it into Mary’s. Therein I found the lurking presence that was Mother, and, with spiteful almost brutality, shoved at it with all my bulk until it shrank and vanished with a poof.
A poof that existed only in my head, but was sign enough that she was gone.
Mary moaned and roused slowly from her involuntary trance. She saw my face intimately close to hers and wanted to say something about it, but her lips were still sealed for the moment.
A moment after, that state of affairs changed, and she breathed, and smiled sheepishly.
“Oh my,” she mumbled, flushing. “This is a novel way to wake up.”
“Thought I’d try something new for once,” I winked impishly. I couldn’t let her know what had just happened. “Any impressions?”
“A little unconventional, perhaps,” she gave her expertise, “but with some getting used to that could be made even pleasant.” She rubbed sleepily at her eyes. “How long have I been out, sugar?”
“A while or ten, about.”
“Oh my. Did I miss it?”
“Your soap?” I feigned innocence. “Oh, yes, you did. It was fantastic, this episode, mark my words. One hundred per cent grand.”
She stared at me with a startled accusation. “Why on earth didn’t you wake me up?”
“I couldn’t bring myself to. I could tell you what happened, though. See, this brunette broad grew a pair finally and called the dude, but the dude was with the blond chick right then, and—” “Quiet!” Mary forced my mouth shut with a hand. “No more! I’ll just watch the rerun! Geez!”
“Yes,” I mumbled. I stopped just an inch short of adding: “Mother.”
The door opened, and we heard Renko stumble into the apartment.
“Ho, lazy-bums!” The freckled, hatted girl entered in a happy trut, hauling a plastic bag swollen to the absolute limit with jingling loot. She was red on the cheeks and wheezing. “Got me the golds, got me the whites, got me the reds,” she almost sang. “Call your shots, folks. Call ‘em fast, ‘cause the night is going down.”
“I’ll take the wine,” Mary volunteered.
“All yours, princess,” Renko tossed her a bottle, grinning. “What’s your poison today, Naya?”
“Give me the beer,” I said. “Gold seems to be my colour tonight.”
She looked at me, bemused. “Say what, now?”
“Oh,” I waved dismissively, “nothing important.”
“Hear, hear,” Mary confirmed from the side.
“What? What?” Renko sputtered, her eyes flickering between me and her blond friend. “What did you two do when I was gone?”
“Oh, nothing much,” I lied. “You’re better off not knowing, heart, believe me.”
“Hear, hear,” Mary agreed, fumbling with the cork.
“What did you doooo?!”
I snatched a beer can from the bag and cracked it open with one hand.
The hissing brought my senses out of a doze. The evening so far had been much too saccharine for my taste. The bubbly bitter was precisely what my taste buds cried for right now. To restore balance.
Renko crashed on the couch, begging exasperatedly that we share with her all about our embarrassing activities. I thought, quite inadvertently, that, with a few hours, we just might. The night was still young, and the alcohol, plenty.
Time would show.
As for now, I raised my can in a silent cheer.
Good grief, Mother. And good health. You’d better not die before I kill you.