It’s hard, when you know someone can hear you, or is waiting for you to finish and do up your fly and flush. And I still can’t go in the urinal yet because first of all I’m afraid I’m not tall enough and it’s gonna get all over the wall or hit the edge and splash back at me, but also because it’s gotta be even harder to piss in front of people who all they have to do is turn their eyeballs to see. But I guess it was because I was taking so long that she must’ve forgot about me in there. Like got distracted you know, by some fudge or cheese or Elvis garbage. There’s lots to see at Pike Place, and sometimes you can even forget to look where your feet are going ’cause your eyes are moving so fast, and you forget to listen to one thing specifically because there’s so much noise all at once. And mom was getting distracted easy a lot lately, wandering around the house sometimes like from kitchen to living room to kitchen to living room and talking out loud like “What was that thing we need again?” or “What on earth was I looking for?” and so I guess it’s not surprising that she would have followed her head somewhere else while I was stuck in the bathroom for a thousand hours trying to get the piss out.
Anyways, so first I stood in one spot by the door to the washroom, because I remembered her telling me to “stand right here and don’t move” all these times before, like at the grocery store checkout when she forgets something and has to go get it, or at the laundromat when she has to go to get more coins. And those times she always came back. Or there was even that time at the Aquarium, when she got sun stroke while I was watching the trainer feed the sea otters who reminded me dogs, but dogs meant for the water, and I asked mom, Mom, can we get a dog like those otters? but she didn’t answer because she wasn’t behind me like I thought she was. So a different mom with two little kids told me to stay with her and “don’t move” until my own mom came back from the washroom.
So I’m keeping on standing there but all these big guys were almost stepping on me and knocking me over, like they were getting frustrated with me being in the way, but if she remembered that I was using the toilet, I wanted to be in the exact right place. Because she’d been forgetting more lately too, like where she put her hairbrush and her watch. And sometimes the day of the week, and sometimes our ages, and sometimes when she had to go to work next. And it’s not like she could have just written down “Austin went to the toilet” on a Post-it and stuck it somewhere like the bathroom mirror to remember, like she could for other stuff. But then it started to feel like a lot of time had passed, like hours maybe, because I had seen probably like fifty people go in and out of the toilet, and the way they looked at me as they passed by made me feel more and more like I was in the wrong place, and maybe this time was different and I should have been moving around instead of standing still.
Mom liked to take me to Pike Place a lot on her days off from work. She said once that she loves the crowds, and how no one is really looking for anything, just being in a place where there’s everything. I repeated this to myself lots after, and in my bed in the dark too, trying to figure out what she meant. But I think what mattered more was how she sounded when she said it, like she felt safe. So most times she would bring her big black sketchbook to draw in, and I’d bring my paper with the anchors on the bottom right corner, and we would get lunch from one of the food stands, and mom would get coffee, and we would sit at the lookout with all the tourists looking through the coin telescopes and the groups of older kids standing around in circles with their skateboards. I liked to draw the yachts in Elliott Bay, and mom liked the Olympic mountains, and the fog.
So I decided to go check the fish stand, where we sometimes picked up salmon to take home and cook for dinner. There’s a watercolour mom made, hanging in our kitchen, of the fish stand. In it there’s a man tossing a fish from a bucket over the counter to a woman on the other side. It made it look soft and welcoming, which I always thought was magic, because in reality the stacks of giant dead fish were kind of spooky and glossy, and kind of hard to look at. Mom made everything look different than how it looked in real life with her watercolours, like she had a special power to see in a way that regular people who didn’t do watercolour paintings could. But right now she was taking a “break” from painting. I don’t like it when she takes “breaks” because she’s “too tired” all the time, and she doesn’t put records on when she cooks. So she gets more quiet, and the apartment gets more quiet, too. Plus I always worried that one day she might take a break that never ends, like she’d lose all her powers, and not be able to see again.
I tried to follow the smell and the shouting men, but it was hard to track the fish smells with all the other million smells, and the shouts with all the other million voices. And on top of that, I was only four foot one. Most people were taller than me and it seemed like they were getting taller the more I tried to see around them. I kept reminding myself that mom was wearing the light blue sweater, the light blue sweater. But I couldn’t remember much else, like what her hair looked like, or her shoes. And the more I tried to see her all put together in my mind, the less I could actually see, until even her eyes didn’t have a colour anymore.
That’s when I got stopped by my own eyes at a table covered in tiny colourful beads. There were rows and rows of bracelets and necklaces all really close together, like so close so you couldn’t even really see the white sheet underneath. They were like Petal’s curtains, my aunt, who wouldn’t let me call her Aunt Petal. Just a bunch of tiny wooden beads all strung up together over her window, as well as some pearls, that I liked to drag my fingers across. I had sleepovers with Petal when mom had dates, or needed a night to “focus” or “clear out the brain clutter” usually during one of her “breaks.” We would drink chocolate soy milk and watch Mary Tyler Moore until I started to fall asleep on the gushy couch, because Petal put silk scarves over the lamps, and it made me warm and tired.
I got lost staring at the table and hugged my arms into my body, like the beads were hypnotizing me, until the woman sitting on a tiny folding chair behind the table asked if she could help me, which snapped me out of it. I shook my head no and she asked if I was lost, sweetheart, and I shook my head no again. I didn’t want to look at her because she was so huge, and her boobs were so huge too, they looked like pillows. I couldn’t help thinking how it would feel to fall asleep on them, which I didn’t think was right to think about. I wanted to leave and never talk to her again, and I also wanted her to save me and be my mom until my real one found me. Then it felt like I was standing on a trampoline with all the people crowding behind me, and I lost the smell and shouts I was following, and then couldn’t even picture the real fish stand in my head anymore, just the painted one.
My favourite part about Pike Place were the buskers. Mom would give me four quarters every time we went and said I could pick four buskers to give them to, or if I was ever “especially inspired” by a someone, I could give them more than one quarter. I saw a teenage boy who could hoola hoop four hoops at once, and two men with beards who played a banjo and the spoons. And they were all pretty good. But once, I saw girl with a purple dress who tap danced to an accordion player. She moved all of her arms and legs and hands and feet so quick and perfect, like water after you whip a rock at it, and she had a dimple on one of her cheeks I couldn’t stop staring at. She’s especially pretty, I told mom, and that was the only time I gave away all four quarters at once. That evening after dinner mom sketched the tap dancer in her black book for me and water-coloured the purple dress.
So I was feeling pretty dizzy trying to get away from the bead table and get around all the legs in the crowd, but I thought if I could get out onto the sidewalks maybe I’d find mom getting inspired by a busker. I hoped more than anything that she’d be doing that, so we could go home and put records on, and later I could colour at the kitchen table while she sat at her easel. And it would be fun, and maybe she wouldn’t shut herself up in the washroom for so long, or sleep all night on the couch, or misplace her stuff so much.
That was when I started to wonder, what if I couldn’t find her. What if she couldn’t find me. How much time had passed now. Probably like seven or eight hours it felt. I almost thought for like not even a second what if she doesn’t ever remember, like that she has a son, but I told myself not to think that and then I even told myself to forget I had in the first place. Maybe that’s what mom’s brain does sometimes. Makes itself forget stuff, maybe by accident. Then I was wondering so much I forgot to keep my eyes peeled and I walked straight into the big belly of a man who when I looked up at him, I couldn’t see his face because he had a beard covering up most of it, and sunglasses covering up the rest, which reminded me of having a nightmare, so I just ran between his legs and didn’t look back, as fast as I could even though my own legs felt tingly from being scared.
When I finally got out to the sidewalks I didn’t end up going very far, because I found a dog that was tied up to a bench and by this point I was feeling so bad, like when I catch mom crying on the toilet, that I just didn’t want to walk anymore. I just wanted to sit on the ground with this dog and pet it and make it happy. He was small but not too small, a medium-sized dog, and brown and white all over. I pet his head and thought about Petal petting my head while I sat beside her on the couch. The dog licked my hand and I knew the answer would be no, but I thought if mom remembers she has a son, I’m gonna ask her again if we can get a dog. I’ve asked her like fifty times already, but maybe now she’ll finally say yes. The dog laid down on the sidewalk and put his head in my lap, and a kid rode past us on a unicycle. And so that’s how we all were, when I finally saw the light blue sweater. And all the hours and hours that had passed turned into minutes, and I thought I hope she can see us in her different way, with her powers. I hope her eyes are turning us into watercolours right now.
Sara Flemington is currently completing her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph at Humber and her first chapbook of poems, humidity, was released with Bitterzoet Magazine in January, 2014.