Don’t Talk Back to Your Mother: A Short Story

Cold words blew in one ear and out the other, benumbing Kim’s brain like a forgotten bag of peas stuck in the ice at the back of the freezer.

“I’m Becky,” the voice said.

“We need to relax, Kim,” the voice said. “I’ll meet you at RayRay’s Elbow Room for Happy Hour.”

Sure enough, Becky showed up at the Clearwater Beach bar for cocktails and fresh smoked fish spread.

Nobody but Kim could hear Becky. The doctor said Kim wasn’t crazy. Becky agreed. She wasn’t nuts and even the brain specialist said the voice was real to Kim. But the doctor did have questions.

“Who told you her name is Becky?”

“She did,” Kim said.

Scientists agree some people hear a voice or voices without being mentally ill. Voices seem to come out of nowhere, but what causes them? Whose voices are they? What could Kim do to silence this eerie vocalization she carried around each day like the fake alligator skin briefcase she depended on for her job selling used condos on the beach?

Kim decided to start a conversation with Becky.

“Who are you really?

“Your soul sister.”

“I don’t have a sister.”

“You do now.”

At 52 working real estate sales made Kim’s feet hurt. She was getting too old for the constant smiles that made her face hurt. Living alone made her heart hurt. She should own a dog but dreaded the thought of picking up and putting foul crap in little bags.

“So get out of the real estate business,” Becky said.

“Are you going to pay my condo mortgage and yearly maintenance fee? My Jeep payment? You going to buy papaya jam for my toast?”

 “I have enough problems,” Becky said.

She did, too.

Even voices sometimes hear voices. At the time nobody but Becky knew about Tara and Shannon, two drunken twin sisters who lived in her head even though she lacked a head. Nobody knew how they plagued her as daily eruptions of psychic disorder. Tara and Shannon stayed awake all night arguing and wailing like banshees whenever their psychological problems overwhelmed them. Becky tried to referee but always failed. All she could hope for was a level of intoxication so severe the colleens, as they called themselves, eventually fell asleep. Despite Becky trying to shield Kim from continuous bedlam, Kim heard the incessant bickering that made her lose hope.

With Tara and Shannon now calling most of the shots in more ways than one (Jameson, Bushmills, Paddy and Powers) and making Becky press Kim to join them more and more often for strong drinks and even pot parties, Kim just rode the wave like a stoned surfer on a tsunami to Hell. Kim, normally a social drinker partial to Chablis or chilled prosecco, now lived on the edge, too often drunk, depressed and terribly hung over when pointing out the beauty of a gray granite countertop in a waterfront condominium.  

Perhaps the deafening auditory hallucinations Kim heard every day defined her conscience, a blurred guiding light testing her, a psychic force of nature walking with her down uncertain forked roads of life.

Probably not.

Your conscience is you, not some voice or voices separate from you. Like when you’re thinking, that’s you thinking, not somebody else inhabiting your head. Your mind is your mind, right, unless you lose it. Then your mind no longer belongs to you. The hospital owns it. The government owns it. The scientific community owns it. Still, several competent doctors said Kim hadn’t lost her mind and wasn’t suffering a nervous breakdown.

One Sunday morning while Kim made scrambled eggs and vegan sausage, getting ready to settle in for the day with the newspaper, Tara interrupted, slurring her words and taunting.

“What, no liverwurst with those yolks?”

Kim jumped like somebody snuck up behind her and fired a gun beside her ear.

Tara shrieked.

“I always ate my liver.”

“Wait, what?”

Now Shannon howled.

“We always ate our liver.”

Kim trembled while vegan sausage links sizzled and burned in the pan.

Becky tried to help.

“Ignore them,” she said.

Kim went back to bed to try to forget.

Becky heard Kim crying.

“What’s the matter?”

“I‘m afraid of them,” Kim said.

 “They’re just figments of your imagination,” Becky said. “Like me.”

“They remind me of my mother,” Kim said.

“Took you long enough to figure that out,” Becky said. “Your German mother even terrorized your poor hapless father.”

Kim felt cold, sick to her stomach, lightheaded. Becky’s voice dropped to a gentle tone sweet as raisin pudding when she asked her most probing question.

“Do you remember when your mother locked you in the closet each Thursday night for a month for not eating the liver she made every Thursday for dinner?”

“Liver made me sick,” Kim said.

“Your mother was so upset she wanted to kill you.”

“I begged her to understand.”

“That first night your raving maniac of an Irish father got so mad screaming you should NEVER talk back to your mother, he knocked over his beer.”

Kim now remembered how every Thursday night at dinner for a year the old man screamed until she froze and once wet herself in her chair. Instead of ordering Kim to her room her mother locked the child in the closet off the small downstairs bathroom. One night during her imprisonment Daddy died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Mother said it was a firecracker when Kim screamed.

Kim moved out as soon as she turned 18.

“I was so scared all the time,” Kim said.

“You needed a friend,” Becky said.

“Maybe you can be my friend,” Kim said.

“You need to befriend yourself first,” Becky said.

“Even at my age?”

Becky spoke with confidence.

“Talk back to Tara and Shannon. Just don’t listen anymore. Put those voices in their places. You be the liver on their dinner plates.”

The next time Tara showed up to mock Kim, the frazzled Florida realtor garnered all the courage she possessed and spoke in a firm, steady tone.

“Leave me alone,” she said.

The tense few seconds that passed felt like an hour.

“What did you say?”

“I said back off.”

Shannon jumped in like a faded tattooed tag team wrestler.

“You shut up!”

“No, thank you, I won’t shut up. I’ll politely hear you out and then do as I please. You know there’s something seriously wrong with you, right?”

Becky whispered.

“Nobody ever talks to them like that.”

The twins roared at the same time.

“Eat your liver! Don’t talk back to your mother!”

It wasn’t like an exorcism or anything, but for the next two weeks the two demons tried their best and failed to commandeer Kim’s brain. In the end they simply tired themselves out. One day they moved out and disappeared, leaving Kim and Becky alone.

Kim took a week off and went back to work refreshed as she showed one and two-bedroom luxury homes by the Gulf of Mexico, enjoying Happy Hour wine spritzers at Ray Ray’s Elbow Room where KK, Canadian Mike, Chris and the rest of the staff welcomed her each night like royalty. Stone crab claws were Kim’s favorite. RayRay offered no liver on the menu.

In March Kim sold a record three waterfront condos in Belleair Beach. Every now and then she talked to Becky, not much, though, only when she needed a special friend to listen. Becky never talked back.

When she did, of course, Kim listened.