The next week carried on in a similar, if less dramatic, fashion. She would try to feed him, he would evade as much as possible, he'd give in ever so slightly, he'd stick something down his throat, she'd catch him, they'd argue, they'd kiss and make up. It was ridiculous. He didn't know how to get rid of her without starting a fight, and he couldn't make himself put his foot down whenever her tears began. He took solace in the fact that he had enough willpower not to eat more than one of her meals everyday.
She forced him to go to the store with her, in the hopes that seeing a variety of foods would inspire him to help with the menu, and therefore, to eat. It was only partially successful. He found the cookbook section immediately and dove right into the books, reading each recipe as if it were the latest cliffhanger. After more than ten minutes, his mother finally dragged him towards the food aisles, promising him he could have as many cookbooks as he wanted if he promised to try one recipe out of each.
She didn't say he had to eat any of it. He agreed.
It took almost four hours to find all the ingredients to the nine recipes he wanted to try. He read the labels on everything he touched, determined to buy the best of the best. It didn't have to meet any of his dietary requirements, since he wasn't going to have anything, but it had to be absolutely, positively perfect for his mama.
When they got home he immediately set out to cook what was by far the easiest of the nine meals. It was much harder than he'd imagined, and he wound up in tears more than once. Even so, he refused to allow his mother in the kitchen to help, insisting she sit in the living room and listen to his band's two latest records over and over. Eventually, the meal was finished, and he set the tiny kitchen table for two, knowing his mother would expect him to eat.
He called his mother to the table, voice cracking with anxiety. His nervousness grew when she stopped mid stride, apparently surprised by the spread on the table. He'd made a green salad, baked apples, macaroni and cheese, and a potato salad. But the killer was the main dish - a huge platter of chicken-fried pork chops. Individually, the dishes weren't difficult at all, but he'd somehow managed to pull off five separate dishes, timed so they'd end up on the table at the still piping hot, and one of them was a specialty she'd never ever been able to get right.
She sat at the table and allowed her son to serve her generous helpings of everything on the table. She watched while he served himself much smaller portions. She waited for him to sit down and take a bite before starting on her own plate. Before long, she was lost in her dinner, praising everything on the plate, announcing every few minutes that it was amazing Steve inherited her cooking skills.
He was overjoyed. He hadn't expected a good review, never having really cooked anything before. He was encouraged to try again, with something a bit more ambitious. He sat at his end of the table and grinned stupidly, not even bothering to pretend to eat.
When she finished, she was smiling. When she saw that he'd hardly touched a thing on his own plate, she began frowning. She asked why he hadn't eaten anything. He looked down at his own plate and tried to come up with a suitable reply. None was forthcoming. He resorted to an old trick that worked in childhood, rearranging the food on the plate, hiding bits of it under the tongue. She seemed to buy it. He'd managed to avoid eating anything in a 24-hour period for the first time since his mother's arrival. He hoped it was the beginning of a new trend.
In the middle of the night, Steve was roused from a fitful sleep by a strong hand roughly shaking his bony shoulders. He sat up groggily, but woke up instantly when one of the strong hands pinched his nose shut. He protested, and almost choked when a thick fluid was poured into his mouth. A giant cup was put in his lap, and the other hand grabbed his chin, forcing his mouth shut. He struggled to spit out the peanut-flavored goop, but swallowed it when the need for air overrode the need to be thin. He coughed roughly, and the pressure under his chin gave a little. He gasped for air and the hand under his chin disappeared, followed by more goop being poured down his throat.
By the time the torture was over, his belly was so full of the peanut-goop he couldn't sit up straight if he wanted to. He heard his bedroom door quietly shut as he flopped back against the pillows. He heard the scraping sounds of heavy furniture, then the bonk of something being shoved hard against his door. He lay there, rubbing his too full belly, staring at the door.
He turned over and tried to go back to sleep, aware that he couldn't possibly hope to get to the bathroom before his body absorbed the peanut-goop. He tossed and turned, even more uncomfortable than he had been before he'd been disturbed. He tried curling in on himself, but he was just too damned full. He straightened out again, hoping that the lump in his belly would dissipate soon.
He lay there, unable to ignore the fact that his mother had socked it to him yet again. His mind wandered to his youth, when midnight raids were fairly common, usually a giant serving spoon full of cough medicine, or half a bottle of pink bismuth, or some kind of milkshake, generally laced with some disgustingly flavored vitamin powder. At least this time she'd left him alone to deal with the crap, instead of sitting with him all night, arms wrapped around him, humming lullabies and being a general weirdo.
Without knowing why, he got out of bed, walked deliberately to the middle of the floor, bent forward and opened his mouth. Steve felt completely detached from himself as he watched a dark goo splatter a good yard away from him. He stood there, staring at the puddinglike mess on the floor, wondering what the hell could have been in that shake, then turned away and crawled back into bed.
When he'd finally started to drift off, he heard the door being opened again, and hoped like hell his mother was just checking to see if he was asleep. Instead, he could see the harsh glare of a light being snapped on through his closed eyelids, and he heard the shuffling of someone looking for something. He felt someone's breath on his face, then those hands started to shake him again. He could hear his mother screaming like a banshee, demanding that he wake up and show her where he put it.
He squinted and managed to get one eye open, ducking his head a little from the too-bright light. His mother was still shaking him, screaming so loud he was sure someone would call the police. He managed to ask what it was she was looking for, but she pushed him to the bed and started pummeling him with a pillow. He curled up in a ball and tried not to panic. He knew that if he could just get through this episode, everything would be alright.
Before long, the pillow gave way to bare hands, slapping and scratching furiously at him. He found himself feeling sorry for his father, knowing that his dad had endured all this and more on a weekly basis. Steve had never been past the pillow treatment, and wondered how in the world his parents were still together if this is what his father's life was really like.
When his mother took a break, he reached out and grabbed her wrists, begging her to tell him what she wanted. She glared and told him she could smell the sourness on his lips, that she knew he made himself throw up that medicine. He wrinkled his nose at her. Medicine?
She backhanded him so hard he tumbled right out of bed. He didn't have time to wonder how the hell her hand got free before she'd grabbed his long, red hair and dragged him back up. She told him the vitamin mix was very expensive, and obviously the only way to get him to eat was to treat the food like medication, and she didn't have anymore peanut butter in the house, and where the fuck did he put it?
His hand shook visibly as he pointed to the foul puddle on the other side of the bed. He cringed, afraid she was going to hit him again. Instead, she took the giant cup she'd had the stuff in, scooped the vomit into it, and came at Steve with the cup.
He screamed, begged, cried and pleaded, but she came at him with the disgusting cup and poured its contents down his throat again. He choked more than once, trying to scream or not to swallow or both. Somehow, she managed to get most of the gunk down his throat again. She left the room again, this time with the door wide open. Steve made a dash for the bathroom, but before he could get all the way down the hall, his mother was back - with a roll of duct tape.
She wrestled him to the ground and taped his mouth shut, telling him he could take it off at breakfast, which could be a pleasant affair, or another nightmare for the both of them. She turned him over and taped his hands behind his back, taped his ankles together, then bent him back so his hands and feet were taped together execution style. She grabbed a handful of the glorious red hair and dragged him to the bedroom. She lifted his light body into bed, switched off the light, climbed into the bed next to him, put her arms around him, and hummed Brahms's Lullaby.
After half an hour, she untied him and settled in to sleep next to him. He didn't even try to disguise his escape, running to bathroom to explode the disgusting gunk through every possible orifice. He fell asleep on the bathroom floor, in the center of a reeking puddle of his own vomit and diarrhea.
It didn't stop his mama from cleaning him up and tucking him back in bed.
Next morning, she behaved as if nothing ever happened. She was in the kitchen, warming up leftover apples and macaroni. She didn't even try to give Steve anything to eat, just left the cold leftovers near the stove in case he wanted something. She said good morning cheerfully and passed him a cup of hot water and a dry teabag.
He put last night's terror away in the recesses of his mind, to join other rejected memories in favor of the image of his 'perfect' childhood. This wonderful woman couldn't possibly be the screeching hellion he tried to escape in the dark. After all, this was his sweet mama.