PRIVATE | INDEPENDENT | PUBLISHING

jeny heckman

releasing the cath

excerpt #1

The odor of rotten sludge wafted from the dilapidated dumpster. Mack Carter, a tall, muscular, sixteen-year-old with inky black hair, walked by and tried not to breathe in the acrid stench. He loped down a back alley, off Rainier Avenue, toward his apartment building, in Seattle’s seedier part of town. Optimistic people would call the day beautiful. A perfect first day of Spring. Mack called it Thursday.

The events of the morning also wafted over him, and he didn’t look forward to the continued and inevitable diatribe with his mother when he arrived home. Michelle Carter, once disclosed to her son aspirations of becoming a classical dancer, despite growing up in the projects. However, escaping the shit hole that held her ankle deep in stripping, prostitution and an ever-increasing drug habit, seemed to extinguish that flame a long time ago. Mack stopped to light a cigarette and remembered the scene.

“Ma!” he bellowed for the hundredth time that morning. “Get up, you gotta go to work.” When he received no reply, he swore under his breath, walked down the shabby hallway and kicked open her door. “Ma!”

The door bowed and quivered but remained whole. He narrowed his eyes as Michelle made a huge production of waking up, rubbing her red swollen eyes and giving a loud yawn. Dried drool etched the side of her mouth in a white cakey crust. The stench of unwashed female, stale breath, and alcohol mixed with sweat evaporated from every pore and the distinct smell of pot followed her movements. Mack turned his head, wrinkled his nose, and drew his eyebrows together, all at the same time.

“Christ Ma, you reek!” He leaned back against the door jamb. “Fuck, that’s nasty. Come on, get up, I have to go to school, and you gotta go to work or Butch’ll fire your ass.” She continued her movements and passed gas in response. “Come on, just one foot on the floor, so I know you’re getting up,” he tried to encourage her, yet when she didn’t make any further attempts to rise, he lost all patience and kicked her sweat-stained mattress. “Goddamnit, come on!”

“Okay, fine. I’m up,” she growled and raised herself into a sitting position. The grimy gray sheet fell to reveal one bare limp breast, wrinkled from too many tanning beds and occupational hazards. Mack quickly looked away, as she clutched both sides of her head, like they cleaved apart, and she wanted to hold them together. Irritation radiated off her.

“Fuck, Mack! Would a little peace and quiet be too much to ask? I worked my ass off all night?” From the smell of her, Mack decided she’d spent any pitiful amount she earned on her various addictions. “Ungrateful piece of shit.”

“Fine, whatever, get fired,” he muttered, and frustrated, gave a wave of his hand, and walked down the hall to the living room. He folded his bed back into the couch and grabbed his smokes out of the corner cabinet, placing one unlit one in his mouth. He flung open the rusted screen door and let it close with a loud reverberating bang. The barrage of curses in its wake caused him to smile, and he raised his lighter to light the smoke.

Now, after school, Mack walked past the weathered and chipped Claremont sign of his apartment building, and turned to go up the back steps, taking them two at a time.

“Hey dude.”

Kevin, his dealer, struggled to a sitting position on the top step of his floor. The rusted iron handrail squeaked as it shifted under his grasp. More focused on inhaling whatever he just rolled than becoming vertical, Kevin extended the joint to his friend. The sweet, pungent smoke drifted toward Mack and he accepted his turn. Somewhere in the distance, a police siren passed through the massive slum complex, and he raised the joint to his lips for the first delicious hit. By the time he made it the last few steps to his apartment, the space loomed in quiet darkness and, to Mack’s surprise, laid empty.

“Ma?” he tested the silence, then listened. Taking in the small postage-stamp size of their living room, he turned a circle. Most of her stuff, and a lot of his, vanished. Running through her bedroom and into the small moldy bathroom, Mack called his mother’s name. He returned to the living room and stared in disbelief at the moth-eaten curtains. Dappled sunlight peeked through them, displacing millions of dust motes.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” he hissed. “You bitch.”

A panicked laugh escaped him, fracturing the silence. Mack glanced at the end table, where his five-hundred-dollar stereo used to sit. Panicked, he ran to the broken fixture and looked inside the secret compartment he created within it. She’d taken his large stash of weed and the wad of cash containing three-hundred dollars from his sales of the drug. Money he owed Kevi