Short Story: A Spitting Image

Greg wondered how his mother always knew exactly what he liked. Every single time. She knew without asking if he’d like a certain food or not, like a book or not, like a toy or not. He imagined she was linked to his brain in some way. He figured it was just a natural maternal thing, something mothers instinctively had with their children. Sometimes it was too much for him, especially when she knew he was upset about something and all he wanted to do was hide. She would never let him. More often than not the results of her superpower, as he took to calling it,  came out in his favour.

“I got this comic book for you,” his mother said one morning before school. “I think you’ll like it.”

“Of course I’ll like it,” he said. “You got it for me.” He took the offered comic and looked at the cover. It was an X-Men story and they were battling one of their greatest foes, Magneto. He looked at the year and frowned. “Did you get this at an antique shop?”

“Why?” His mother asked as she finished packing his lunch.

“It was printed two years before I was born,” he said, flipping the comic to show her the cover. He pointed at the year. “See.”

“I just saw it somewhere and picked it up,” his mother said, absently. She didn’t look at him as she scurried around the kitchen, cleaning up the counters. She kept the kitchen immaculate.

“But mom,” he said. “It wasn’t just $3. It was probably $50 because it’s so old. You don’t have to spend that much on me.”

“Greg, my boy, I didn’t spend $50,” his mother said with a sardonic smile. She pulled her jet black hair into a tight pony tail and turned to look at him. She pursed her lips and shook her head. “You should know me better than that.”

“Ok,” Greg said. “What I do know is things are tight. You work so hard for us already.” He felt guilty about getting something when he knew she wouldn’t spend anything on herself. She was always working and they never went anywhere, always staying at home.

“What makes you think things are tight?” His mother asked. She stopped and put her hands on her hips. “You’re sweet, but you know what I always say.”

“I worry about the grades and you worry about the money,” Greg said with a groan. He flipped through the pages as he finished his breakfast. It was a good issue. He liked witty banter between the heroes and the villains and the writer of this particular comic seemed quite inspired. The artwork was good as well, no messed up poses. He flipped page after page, mesmerized by the story before him.

“Greg,” his mother yelled.

“What?” he asked, startled out of his reading.

“I said three times to finish up. You’ll be late for school,” his mother scolded. He quickly picked up his dishes and looked at the clock. Where had the time gone, he wondered. He grabbed his lunch, packed his backpack and gave his mother a quick hug. No kiss because that was for babies.

He kept thinking about the comic book and his mother’s unerring ability to pick great ones to give him. In every class the teacher would ask him where he was for his mind was clearly elsewhere. He’d just shrug.

“What’s with you today?” his friend Davis asked after the science teacher scolded Greg for not paying attention.

“I’m thinking about my mom,” Greg replied.

“Such a mommy’s boy,” Davis joked, looking at Greg under a bushy blond mop of hair. Davis reached out and playfully ruffled Greg’s light brown hair.

“Very funny,” Greg said with a mocking smile. “I can’t remember a time when my mother got me something I hated.”

“You’re lucky. I wanted a poster of a star destroyer. You know the ones with the  cross section, showing everything inside the ship. Anything Star Wars really. You know what my dear mother got me?” Davis asked. Greg shrugged. “A poster of Star Trek. Not the new Star Trek either, but the ancient one from 100 years ago.”

“That sucks,” Greg admitted.

“Yeah, and that’s considered a success story for her,” Davis said. He shook his head in consternation.

“My mom told me she ordered a lego set for me online,” another boy said. A look of disappointment spread across his face. “When it got delivered I opened the package, so excited, and it was just one huge piece of lego made out of black liquorice. Dad said Mom has to get approval from at least one other family member before she does any more online purchases.”

“Expectations dashed to a single piece,’ Davis joked.

“I hate liquorice,” the boy muttered.

A quick survey of his other friends revealed that mothers rarely knew what 14 year boys were into. His mother was different and that piqued his interest into finding out why.

He raced home knowing his mother was going to be working late. His first thought was to look in her closet. He rifled through boxes and bins and found nothing but clothes, shoes, and a large supply of black hair dye. He stepped down into the basement of their townhouse apartment and searched through areas that his mother used for storage. Nothing but more clothes and text books from some university out east. He flipped through the biology books and found nothing of interest.

Dejected, he trudged upstairs and went to his own room on the second floor of the townhouse. He looked out his bedroom window and peered down at the neatly kept backyard filled with old yard furniture. Greg sat on his bed and stared at the ceiling, thinking about his mother. She had no family. She didn’t speak of his father. She was smart. Certainly smarter than required for a waitress job. She was a mystery.

Greg turned on his side to look at the superhero posters on his wall. As he turned, his gaze passed by the attic door in the ceiling of his open closet. Greg frowned and stepped over to it. A large cedar blanket trunk was directly underneath the trapdoor. On a whim he stepped on the trunk and pushed open the door. A musty smell came down into his room and he dared poke his head into the darkness above. It was mostly dark, save for a small window at the end of the attic. He scampered down and retrieved his flashlight. This time the light revealed boxes. The boxes rested on particle board planks, which created a makeshift floor. He couldn’t recall when he saw his mother access the attic. How did the boxes get there? A treasure of some sort?

He took a deep breath and pulled himself up. He approached the first box; his heart pounded. He opened the box lid. Inside he saw medical reports for a boy named Jason McKinney. The boy had died 16 years ago. Something about a car accident.

“Why is this here?” He wondered. He flipped through more medical files and found that the boy had broken a leg in a skiing accident when he was 7 years old. The hair on Greg’s neck stood up. He gulped and put the file back in the box. Suddenly, he didn’t want to be in that hot attic, breathing the dust and rifling through someone else’s business. But he couldn’t resist either. He felt a connection to Jason. He moved on to the next box. It was filled with comic books; hundreds of them. It was the mother-lode untold in his lifetime; X-Men, Spider-Man, even Conan. He moved to the next box. What delights would he find?

He opened the box lid and shined the flashlight inside. His mouth dropped open. A picture of a boy was at the very top of a pile of photographs. At first Greg thought it was himself, but it was not. He rifled through the box and found another picture of the same boy, but this time there was a name Jason McKinney. Greg’s head spun and he felt nauseous. He sat on the plank of particle board. He ran his hand along the wood, hoping reality would somehow be set back to right. Greg was unsure of what to do next. Now he had to find out more. It was no longer a game to him.

He sat up there, in the heat and dust, looking at pictures and report cards and pieces of a life lived and died before he himself was born. Just like Greg, Jason played soccer and basketball. “What is this?” Greg asked himself. His mind felt dislodged from his head. He couldn’t think straight. He felt dizzy.

“Greg?!”

He snapped to reality and stuck his head down the attic trap door. “I’m just in my room. I’ll be right down!”

Greg scrambled down and once safely on the second floor and took a deep breath and walked down the stairs. Everything felt foreign to him. The pictures of he and his mother on the wall made him wonder if it was really him and not Jason. He could hear her in the kitchen and his heart pounded all the more fiercely. Clutched in his hand was the picture of Jason McKinney. He stepped onto the main floor and regarded his mother. She pulled food from the fridge and moved to the stove unaware of the intense speculation whirling in Greg’s mind. He paused, unsure of what to do. His anxiousness welled up inside and he blurted out the question most on his mind. “Who is Jason McKinney?” he asked. His mother froze, then slowly turned to look at him. Greg raised the picture and showed it to his mother. “Who is this?”

“Listen baby,” his mother started. She wiped her hands on her apron and brought them together as if to start praying. “Please… I can explain.” Her lips quivered.

“What am I?” Greg asked. Tears spilled down his cheeks.

“You are my son. My flesh and blood,” his mother said and she approached as if to hug him, hands outstretched. Greg pushed her back, retreating up a couple of stairs.

“What am I?” He yelled. His face turned red from anger.

“You are my son,” his mother said. “Jason was also my son.” She knelt down and looked up at Greg as the sobs shook her body. “He died, but he was beautiful. You are beautiful. I…” She took deep breaths, as if trying to calm herself. Her eyes wide open gave her a wild look.

“What am I?” Greg’s voice now a whisper. He sat on the stairs above her and looked down on her as she wiped tears from her face.

After a few minutes his mother started. “Jason was my first son. He was in a coma for months because of a car accident.” She smiled, but it was one of pain. “I…” She bit her lip and closed her eyes as if summoning strength. “I took samples of his DNA.”

“What did you do with them?” Greg asked.

“I was a researcher into bio-genetics. Cutting edge stuff with stem cells and,” She paused, looking into Greg’s eyes. “Cloning.”

“I’m a copy of Jason,” Greg said. A sneer crossed his youthful face.

“No. You are Greg. Your experiences. Your friends. Your life is yours. You have the exact same DNA as Jason, but you are Greg,” his mother said. She reached up and touched his knee. “Your intellect was too good to be wasted because of a drunk driver.”

“Who is my father?”

“Jonathan McKinney. A professor of biology in Boston.”

“Does he know I exist?” Greg asked. His mother shook her head. “What you did was illegal,” Greg said as he sat down on the stairs.

“Yes.” His mother seemed to crumple onto the floor all her strength left her. “I did it for you.” She sobbed.

“I’m an abomination,” Greg said and folded his arms. “A freak of this universe.”

“No! You are special.”

Greg’s eyes suddenly widened and he stood up. “That time when I was 7. When you accidentally ran over me,” Greg started.

“No no no. Please…” His mother began rocking as she sat on the floor. Her face twisted in agony.

“I broke my leg,” he said.

“Please,” his mother reached for him.

Greg stepped back. “That wasn’t an accident. Was it? You wanted to be sure I experienced as much of Jason’s life as possible to ensure I developed the same way.”

“Please. You must understand the pain I had when I lost you,” his mother said.

“You mean Jason. I’m Greg, remember? My own person with my own experiences,” Greg said, his expression turned cold.

“You are alive because I wanted you to be. You will be great one day. I just know it,” his mother said.

“Is that why you’ve kept us hidden, so I can be great. I don’t even know your real name,” Greg said.

“Elizabeth McKinney.”

“Nice to meet you,” Greg said, half joking.

She looked up at him, her eyes full of tears, and asked, “What do we do?”

He regarded his mother for a moment; this stalwart, disciplined woman who was ever organized and who had everything planned out months in advance. Now, she was a shaking mess of uncertainty and fear. She was this new person before him with a life hidden in secrecy. His shoulders slumped. He felt sorry for her. Greg realized that he too was now different. His whole world had collapsed because he was nosy. He felt so very lost.

All he could think of to answer was, “I don’t know.”

Photo by Marijn van Braak from FreeImages

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