A mother and a son reunited—A deeply affecting scene of maternal and filial affection—Yet dark forebodings impinge upon the tender scene
“Squeers? Came after you?” Todd stiffened. “Oh, Mother! Oh, I’ll get him! I promise you, I will—”
“Shush, Todd!” Mrs. Sweeney patted her son’s broad back—the son returned at last, after a lonely and desperate year. “He never actually did anything!”
“To think of that thing even coming near you!” Todd’s eyes filled with tears. “‘Guidance counselor!’ I’d like to guide his—”
“I’m sorry, Mother.” He slumped. His sweater hung loose. She could see how much weight he had lost. Yet he had gained muscle. “I should have been here to protect you. Mom, I’m so sorry!” His shoulders began to shake; he covered his tear-stained eyes with his large hand. “I’ll get him!” he snarled. “I’ll get that bastard—”
“Sh-sh-sh,” his mother said, rocking him. “It wasn’t your fault. We’ll just be grateful you’re home from”—she made a face—“‘boot camp.’ And that they agreed I could send you to that private place. It was maybe a little more civilized.”
“Only ’cause you used your social-work connections and paid for it yourself!” Todd cried. “You had to sell all our—” His handsome, stricken face looked around their once cozy living room, stripped of its old, familiar heirlooms. “Mom, I swear I’ll make it up to you.”
She took his face in her hands, felt the rough stubble, and looked into his dark, vulnerable eyes. Her own eyes, deeply set in her sweet face, more lined than a year ago, pled with him. “Darling, there is nothing to make up. We know Squeers lied. You never should have been sent away. You’re an honors student and just a pillar of Fleet High! But once you were sent away and Squeers started coming around, we knew why he did it!”
“Mom: did he ever actually touch you?”
“He did, didn’t he? I’ll get that—”
“Todd! We’re not going to ‘get’ anyone. It’s over. We’re going back to how things were.” Her fingers played absently with a hole in her sweater, trying to patch it over with the loose strands of yarn. “You’ll finish school with all A’s and go to college, and it will be as though Squeers never existed.”
Tears glistened in Todd’s eyes. He saw what the ordeal had done to his mother. Her hair grayer, the spark in her eyes dimmed. She would never be the same. It reminded him that someday she would die, just as his father had, and he couldn’t bear it. “Mom?” His voice trembled. “You know, before Dad died, he held me in his arms.” He put his arms around his mother. “And he made me promise to take care of you.” Mrs. Sweeney looked down, her sunken cheeks soft in the lamplight. “But we can never go back to how it was. I trust no one now!”
“Todd,” she sighed, resting her face against the top of his head, “you’re such a good son. Your father would be proud of how you handled all this adversity and how you take care of me.” Her chin quivered. “I put flowers on his grave and I said, ‘Richard, don’t you worry. We’re bearing up, Todd and I.’” Her voice broke. “And if it’s winter, I say, ‘Stay warm, Richard.’ It’s silly, but I still like to worry about him.”
Todd quietly cried.
“He loved you so much. From the second he saw you. You were the most special thing.”
“I love you, too, Mom. Always.”
“And you are as pure and beautiful as you were the second we laid eyes on you, Todd Sweeney. And now, I want you to get some sleep! Senior year starts next week!”
“I think I’m going to take a little walk, Mom. You know, look at the old neighborhood. If I go to bed now, I’ll just worry.”
“Well, don’t be too long.”
“I won’t.” He rose and put on his jacket. “I promise.”
She stood and came to him and fixed his collar. “And don’t you worry. I told Squeers I had no interest, and he went away. Now, we’ll just take care of each other.”
“That’s right, Mom.” But he sounded distant.
She went up on tiptoes to kiss him. “Whatever’s making you angry, Todd, just forget about it. Pray for it to go away, and it will. You have a nice walk now. I’ll listen for you to come in.”
After a last hug and kiss, he stepped out into the night air. From their broad, deep porch he listened to the creep-creep of crickets. Beneath his feet the boards, paint peeling, suddenly cried. Petunias overflowed baskets. Soon they’d be gone, and she’d put out bittersweet. As though either could really help. He stepped to the edge.
Then down he dove into the stillness and silence. From the auras of street lamps he stole looks into the shadows. What waited there? And what move was it about to make?