The afternoon Wyatt found out his mom had been released from prison he sat in the hazy heat of his front porch and drank whiskey until he stopped noticing the mosquitoes, the bitter exhaust of passing cars, and the nauseating knot that had formed in his stomach when he first heard the message. He had replayed it three times before he began to sweat. Wyatt had taken a tall, slippery glass of ice and a dusty bottle of Jack Daniels to the porch and sat in the green plastic chair, gazing at the weeds in the front yard.
He hadn’t seen or heard from her in four years but her voice on the machine had the same roughness and he guessed she hadn’t quit smoking, despite her incarceration. He tried to remember her face, but he could only conjure her sunken, sleight-colored eyes. Her pale complexion. Her cheap honeysuckle perfume that was sickeningly sweet and lingered after she’d left a room and crept into your clothes after a hug. Even then the smell had been pleasant because he had known she was sober. Wyatt squinted as sweat dripped down his brow. He pulled a cigarette from the pack, lit it, and drew the smoke deep into his lungs, enjoying the dull burn it emitted. When he exhaled he allowed the smoke to curl around his face and sting his eyes. His mom hadn’t smelled like honeysuckle the night she was arrested. Wyatt remembered standing in the yard with her when the police had pulled up. He remembered the way her shifty eyes had flown open when she swiftly pulled something from her pocket and dropped it onto the patchy grass. He remembered the alert, questioning officer and the desperate look in his mom’s face when she continuously glanced from the ground to Wyatt. He knew she wanted him to pick it up. But he just stared at the needle as the cop finally noticed it. He stared at his mom as she was turned around and handcuffed. Only when Tom, his little brother, came out the front door did he turn and take him inside. Tom had gone to stay with his dad after the incident. Wyatt knew it was good, that she could get clean, that the track marks in her arms might start to fade if she was in prison, but that didn’t make him feel any better about allowing it to happen. Wyatt stared at a rock that protruded from the edge of his cracked sidewalk. He stood and dragged his feet down the front steps, leaning on the bent railing, counting his footsteps raggedly. He squatted on the sidewalk and pulled the mottled rock from the dry earth. A spider rustled through the yellow grass as pieces of dirt scattered. Wyatt clenched the rock in both hands and closed his eyes. Before her first hit, before the failed attempts at rehab, before Wyatt had been twelve years old, his mom had taught him to feel the energy in rocks. She had been bright and pleasant when she told him that some energy was stronger than others, that some was good, some was bad. She said if you just concentrated, your hands would grow warm and tingle. With practice, he would know the difference between good energy and bad energy. Now he tried, gritting his teeth, to feel any sensation from the rock. His knuckles whitened and ached, but he couldn’t feel the flow through his palms like he once had. He could hear the muffled roar of the traffic and taste the dust the cars spit up. He felt the sweat trickle into his tight eyes, down his nose. He knew the foothills were on fire again, he knew his truck was out of gas, he knew the economy was heading for recession and he didn’t have enough in the bank to buy a case of Corona. Wyatt blocked out the world as he held the rock, thinking everything might be okay if only the goddamn rock would emit something. When the concrete jutted into his knees Wyatt stood and staggered back to the porch. He put the stubborn rock on the paint-chipped railing. He wiped his forehead and swept his tight, dirty hands down his white work shirt. When he went in for the night, he tried to walk straight.