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My mother died when I was eight years old.
It was winter, February in fact, and the city streets were the endless mass of black, gray, and other-colored snow and ice that would remain there until the thaw of spring. The sky was gray, like it had been for months, and would be for a month or two more. It was probably twenty degrees out, and I had on my jacket with the big lion on the back. It wasn't the team mascot (Mom said no way she was paying for some big tax-supported sports franchise to advertise on my back), but I pretended it was. It made me feel cool.
The school bus, as dirty as the snow, pulled up in front of the park, and I climbed carefully down the steps, book bag on my back, along with a half-dozen other kids from the neighborhood. We scattered slowly in the frost-blowing cold; none of them lived in my apartment building, and none of us were really friends anyway. Behind me, the bus trundled along in a cloud of diesel soot.
I reached the door and fished around inside my jacket to find the key my Dad made me keep on a chain around my neck? so I wouldn't lose it again. It fit into the street door, and I stepped inside. It was slightly warmer inside, and I started up the steps, stripping off gloves and wooly cap as I went. We were up on four, so it was a good walk. The elevator was broken again, and my dad kept threatening Mr. Martinez over getting it fixed.
I got to four, went past the old Harris apartment (they'd moved out a week or two before) to our door. Again, with the key, again unlocking. I didn't say anything as I went into the little entry all. I dropped my book bag (homework tonight) next to the coat rack, and dropped my jacket and hat on top of it.
There was a strange smell as I moved down the hall. It wasn't cooking, or cleaning. It was flat and metallic, and wet and rotten, and a bit like a dirty bathroom. The hallway was dark, the apartment quiet. There should have been sounds, my mom cooking or watching TV or something.
I turned the corner.
She lay in the living room, the dirty beige carpet around her waist wet with her blood. There was blood on the brown and gold couch against the wall, and a line of blood sprayed on the white wall behind it and the large masks Dad had brought back from a trip someplace, and spattered as well across the chess board that always sat on the coffee table. Some of the pieces were were scattered around on the table and floor, the others still in position like someone had been playing a game. A coffee mug was on the couch, too, spilled, the color not unlike the dried blood. A glass of milk sat on the table.
Her face looked at me, but it didn't, really. She was dead. Her eyes were wide, but sightless. They fixed me in their gaze, but didn't move when I did.
The pale green sweater she usually wore at home was dark with blood, too. The smell of blood was all through the room, and the bathroom smell, too. The lamps were on over on the end-table and in the kichen, spilling over so that I could see everything clearly in the otherwise-dimness of the apartment.
There was a lot of blood. More than I'd thought a human body could contain. More than a human body should contain. I'd only ever seen blood before when I'd cut myself, or scraped a knee out on the street, or when my nose was bloody. I'd never seen that much blood.
I walked over carefully to where my mom lay. I was careful not to step in the stains on the floor.
She lay so still. She'd never been that still alive. Even asleep, she'd breathed, shifted. Even her heartbeat made her body move. Now -- nothing. That, more than the blood and the eyes, told me she really was dead.
My gaze lit on something. There was something in her hand. I reached down, carefully, finally kneeling in a spot that wasn't bloody. Her fingers were hard to pry open, stiff and heavy, but I finally pried them apart.
It was a knight from the chess board. She'd been gripping it in her hand, like she'd been holding it, maybe moving it, when she'd been shot.
We'd played chess, a lot. I'd learned when I was five, from Mom. She and Dad had played a lot a long time ago, but now he was too busy a lot of the time and at night, so she played with me. We sometimes played in the morning, before school.
I took the knight. It was from the white side of the board, carved from pale wood. There was fluting across its chest as its torso arched, rearing back. The mane was a ridge of wood cresting around the top of its head, the eyes pale empty circles. The eyes stared at me, blindly, like Mom's. It was heavy in my hand, weighted under its green felt base (the felt was stained darkly, where blood had run down Mom's arm
I wondered, sometimes, why chess nights in the normal chess set were the only realistic images in the game. The castles, too, maybe, but most normal chess sets (Mom said they were called Staunton) were kind of abstract. Roundheaded pawns, hats and crowns. The castle towers of the rooks were kind of real, but still a simple design. Only the knights looked at all real. I didn't know why.
I stared at the knight for a while, gleaming in the pale light from the window, the kitchen, the lamp. It could jump over things, the knight could. It could turn corners. It was best early in the game, while the board was still crowded.
Its mouth was slightly open, as though it wanted to say something. Like Mom's mouth.
I got up abruptly, scrambled backwards to the corner of the hallway, clutching the knight tight in my hand. I looked at her, at her body, back twisted, mouth open, eyes aglaze. She didn't say anything. I kept waiting, but she didn't say anything. I kept waiting ...
I was still standing there, two hours later, when Dad came home. When they neighbors heard his grief, his wailing in pain and anguish, they pounded on the door until I let them in. I told them my mother was dead.
I was eight years old.
I kept that chess knight in my hand for a long time.
I never did remember why I'd killed her.
By Dave Hill