A Fine Thing
by Katherine Carlson
Try telling Victor he can’t do something he wants to do, I dare you. If there’s one thing that boy loves in this world, it’s a challenge. A lot of people underestimated him: his teachers, even his own father. Not me. I knew all along that my son would do something special, and I was right.
Do you see that rock on the mantle? Victor got that for me. So what, right? It’s just a stupid rock. Well, I’ll tell you something about that stupid rock: it’s from the moon. And my Victor got it for me. It took him two years and fifty thousand dollars, but he got it for me. It’s priceless, it should be in a museum, but Victor says it belongs with me. He says I’m the only one who deserves it.
You know he’s always been smart. He wasn’t valedictorian or anything, but you know what? I’d take my Victor over that Nowicki girl any day. I gave her a ride home from orchestra practice one day—her mother is blind and don’t think she won’t use it every chance she gets—and she got Pringle crumbs all over the backseat of my car. Then eight years later there she is bragging to everyone about how she got into Princeton. Probably she fed them some sob story about her mother.
Anyway, Victor was never showy like that. He just slaved away in his bedroom on his computer night after night, never any time for friends. More interested in learning than in showing off, that’s what I think. I’d much rather have a son with natural curiosity than some grade grubber, no offence to the Nowickis. “Oh, Megan wrote her English Lit paper in iambic pentameter!” As if anyone even knows what that means. As if anyone even cares. Good luck getting a job with that, Megan.
You want to see creative, I’ll show you creative. My Victor created a whole army in his bedroom. We’re in a time of war, right? Who would you rather have as our future leader, someone like Megan Nowicki, who has to ask permission before she takes a dump, or someone like Victor, who takes initiative? This table in his room was just covered, I tell you covered, with hundreds of little men, all painted in different colors, and Victor knew what each one of them did. Now don’t ask me what it all meant, I couldn’t possibly say. I just know that it was very important, because Victor was corresponding about it with people from all around the world on his computer, and he wouldn’t even let me in the room. Not to brag—you know how much I hate braggers—but he must’ve taught himself several languages, because you would not believe the names of some of his new friends! Cameltotem? OprahWindfury? Globalization is here I tell you, and Victor is right on top of it.
But back to the moon rock. My Victor has never asked me for anything, but on the day of his high school graduation he took me aside and said, “Mom, I know you’ve been saving up for my college. Well, I don’t want to spend the next two years sitting in a classroom at Charles Stewart Mott Junior College. You deserve better. I want to make something for us.” I tell you I burst out crying right there on the spot, because who could ask for a better son? He said he couldn’t tell me much about it but he had the inside track on something big, and he needed fifty thousand dollars.
I gave him every penny I had and borrowed the rest. No, I wasn’t worried one bit. When my Victor says he’s going to do something he does it, didn’t I just tell you that? So two years goes by and I’m just sick with worry but I know better than to doubt my Victor. One day there was a knock at the door and there he was, just the same as I remembered, if not better. He had a little color in his cheeks, a little more confidence in his posture. He took it really hard when his father left all those years ago, and I always worried that I wasn’t enough, like he needed a male role model in his life. But there he was, the strong man I always knew he would become.
Of course I wanted to know all the details. Where had he been? What had he been doing? I didn’t ask about the money, but I have to admit that a part of me wondered about that, too. It feels terrible to even say that out loud, that I’d allow virtual strangers to make me doubt my own son, but there you have it. Of course I don’t mean you, sweetie.
So anyway, he sat me down that day and said, “Mom, I’ve been to the moon,” and he handed me that rock.
Do you know how much a moon rock is worth? Have you ever seen one on Ebay? On Antiques Roadshow? What is the retail value on an object that cannot be found anywhere on this earth? It’s not a meteorite, mind you, there’s a difference. You’re being awfully quiet. You don’t know? That’s right, nobody knows. It is without price. Priceless. So if you ask me if I regret giving Victor my life savings, I can only say, when was the last time you saw that kind of return on an investment?
Don’t tell anybody, but he’s going back. Not to the moon, but back to outer space. He’s staying with me while he rests up. My goodness, can you imagine how exhausted you would be after a trip like that? No wonder he sleeps until three in the afternoon. It’s hard to say how much this trip is going to cost, but of course I want to help in any way I can. I’ve told him dozens of times to take back the moon rock, please, you worked so hard for it! And he says I’ll tell you what, Mom. I’ll take twenty thousand now, and I’ll pay you back a hundred times over when I get back from my next trip. Twenty thousand! I said. That’s less than a percent of what that rock is worth! He looked at me and he said, yes Mom, but you’re worth a million times more.
Believe me, I know how lucky I am. And for the meantime my mother will never miss that twenty thousand. She hardly knows what day it is.
The other day I ran into the Nowicki girl’s mother – I mean literally, she ran into me with her big stick – and she said that Megan had seen Victor at some bar downtown, buying rounds of drinks for a roomful of strangers, yelling something about going to a strip club. A strip club? I could’ve sliced that bitch’s throat for saying such a thing, but you know me, I kept my cool. Apparently they both think it’s a fine thing to hang around dirty bars late at night and tell lies about other people.
I shouldn’t judge. Megan was probably so drunk that she really thought she saw Victor. The brain can play terrible tricks on you if you’re a weak person, which, let’s face it, Megan always was. I would feel sorry for Mrs. Nowicki, but that’s what you get when you never allow a child to think for herself. And when you get right down to brass tacks, it doesn’t matter to me what Mrs. Nowicki or her little cunt of a daughter says.
After all, I’m a very rich woman now.
Katherine Carlson lives in Brooklyn and teaches in the Expository Writing Program at New York University. She is currently working on a novel.