Life of Riley

Brian Beatty

Driving up to visit his mama, Riley looked like a giant baby sitting in a steaming pile of his own shit. No matter how many times he tried surprising himself in the rearview mirror of his Chevy, his face had that same embarrassed, uncomfortable expression.

Sweat streamed down his bald, beady head and burned into his squinting eyes.

The flood of sweat really flowed when Riley noticed the police lights flashing behind him. He braked and steered into the loose gravel bordering the pavement.

Across the road, atop a hill behind a stand of barbed-wire fence, stood the castle-looking county facility that his mama now called home, shimmering in the distance like one of his LSD hallucinations.

In his head, Riley could hear his mother's mocking cackle of a laugh—loud and clear, as if he were tripping, too. If she was sitting there waiting at her room's window, she was probably getting a real kick out of seeing his car pulled over. Even when he got things right, like remembering her birthday, she loved nothing more than hectoring him about his dumb mistakes.

“You sure got a back seat full of fun. Hell of a Tuesday afternoon you must have planned,” the trooper said as Riley fought his license out of his wallet.

“Ain't none of it opened,” Riley mumbled.

“Didn't say it was. Just thinking out loud I could rip up this ticket and ride shotgun with you. Manage a little of that liquor store for you, if you know what I mean. Gets mighty thirsty out here—especially in Ju-ly.”

Riley hemmed and hawed, “It's my mama's birthday.”

“Well, happy birthday to your mama,” the trooper said. “Got a picture of her in that wallet?”

Riley lifted the sleeve of his t-shirt.

The trooper nodded. Scratched his ample gut. “That's some tattoo you got there, boy.”

It sure was. Riley's left bicep was a tribute in ink to their mother-son bond, with a tangle of mythological snakes writhing around her bare feet, creeping up her calves as if to get at the chubby infant held above her head like a sacrifice.

Riley was about to explain the symbolic significance of his arm art when the cop chuckled, “She's not got titties like that now, I bet. Or else your daddy's one lucky man.”

Riley frowned and lowered his sleeve. “Ain't nobody my daddy.”

“I was only joking. In addition to staying off that gas pedal, don't be picking up hitchhikers for the next few miles. Escapee lunatics are the only folks you'll find along this stretch of highway. That up there's like a prison for mental cases.”

Riley nodded. “My mama's up there.”

The trooper pretended not to hear Riley, simply handing over the speeding ticket and license and turning to head back to his cruiser and his ambush spot in that comfortable shade down the road.

Riley raised his voice. “She's insane. I am, too, probably. What trouble we'll get into once we're drunk, Lord only knows. So keep an ear to your radio. You may be called in as reinforcements. I've met the so-called security guards up that hill. They're no match for the two of us.”

The trooper just stood there staring, shaking his head. Finally, he found his voice. “My advice to you is to behave,” he said. “Unless you want to end up in that place with her. Is that your thinking?”

Riley shrugged. “Thinking's got nothing to do with it.”

“You don't look all that crazy to me,” the trooper said.

Riley could hear his mama's voice suggesting otherwise—this time not just inside his head.

“I'll save you, junior!” screeched the wrinkled old woman stumbling through the hill's tall grasses and wildflowers with a gun in her hand. She was all kneecaps and elbows and flailing pistol. “Got this off one of those futile sentries tasked with protecting me from myself. Let's see if it works!”

Before Riley could stop her, she fired and the trooper collapsed to the ground with a thud.

The tiny hole between his dark sunglasses and stiff hat brim oozed a mess of blood and gray matter onto the asphalt undulating in the heat and humidity.

“Ain't you got a hug for your mama on her birthday?” she said between heaves for breath. “Sixty-five years old and I just ran down this hill to your rescue! Get out of that car and be polite now! Help me over this goddamn fence. You got bolt cutters in that trunk? Or at least something to drink? Don't make me ask twice! Get over here! Why you got to be so moody?"

She was still winded, but went on anyway.

"I raised you to have better manners than that! Smile sometimes! It won't kill you, I promise. There are days I wonder if you're my son or if you were switched at birth. That welfare hospital wasn't above its fair share of mistakes. You can't even say ‘hello' or ‘thank you' to your own mama. That nasty attitude of yours is going to get you in trouble someday!”

Riley sat frozen behind the steering wheel of his Chevy. Without saying a word, he threw it into reverse, then dropped the transmission shifter into a low gear. His car plowed through the barb-wired fence and sent his mother's body on the other side bouncing high into the air.

He didn't bother to check his mirror to see if the old crone kept flying or broke in half when she crashed back to earth. He knew it was probably wrong, but he didn't care anymore. She'd ruined his big birthday surprise for the last time.

Riley could do without a mama like he'd always done without a daddy. He'd survive it—whether she did or not.

He kept his accelerator foot mashed all the way to the rusty floor until his car's spinning tires rutted into some loose dirt at the base of the hill. After that Riley climbed out and began unloading his mama's cases of liquor. He emptied the booze bottles all over the Chevy—interior and exterior.

Then he drenched himself in vodka and got back into his car again, lighting himself one last cigarette and tossing the burning speeding ticket over his shoulder for luck.

Riley was still sitting there, waiting for everything to detonate like on TV, when security guards arrived a few minutes later.


About the Author

Brian Beatty's articles, jokes, poems, reviews and stories have appeared in numerous print and online publications. He lives in Minneapolis, where he also performs stand-up comedy.