Here it is, the Blue Crescent. The waitress is working tonight. She wipes tables, takes out the trash, and serves soggy hashbrowns and weak coffee to delivery drivers, hitchhikers, and lonely businessmen. Some people say her skin reminds them of uncooked biscuit dough. Her eyes are green, her lower lip is so thin it’s like the suggestion of a lip. She’s been in love with three hundred eighty-seven men in her thirty years of life but is afraid nobody will ever love her back. She’s never told any man how she’s felt about him. She remains unmarried. Her greatest fear of all is leaving New York and has chosen to work at the Blue Crescent Café until she dies. That works for her. She can live the rest of her life peacefully.
She wants to become a mother without becoming pregnant. That’s her dream, her only dream.
Each night after work you’ll find her raiding dumpsters around her apartment in search of tin cans, bungee cords, broken electronics. Her gift, which she discovered when she was sixteen, consists of looking at these pieces of garbage and watching them take the shape of a human being.
She’s creating a son, but nobody would call it a son. But she knows what he looks like. She’s had fourteen years to meditate on his body, craft him in her mind. She creates him, gives him the body she knows he deserves.
The son stands exactly six feet tall when she completes him. He’s composed of cylinders. His head is an aluminum sphere measuring one foot in diameter. A matrix of harmonica reeds for a mouth and holes for eyes define his face. She weaves rubber bands and bungee cords together to give him the gift of joints and ligaments. He’s not alive. But the mother pretends he is, imagines he can be.
The mother and her son have been living together for five years now. The mother spends her days taking her son through the Hasidic sections of Brooklyn, Central Park, and the restaurants of Manhattan. She has savings enough to do anything now, even live comfortably. She’s quit working.
The son can enter a stationery store and calculate the worth of every item on a shelf in under two seconds. At least that’s what his mother imagines. But at Central Park, the son finds himself unable to play with the other children or do anything.
“Don’t you want to meet them?” the mother asks.
Her son remains silent.
“They’d be happy to meet you,” his mother says. “Just standing there won’t win you any friends.”
Her son doesn’t answer. Maybe he’s rebellious, maybe he’s shy. It’s hard to tell these days. Back home, the mother wonders if his shyness is some deep psychological trauma or if his behavior is all her fault. Or maybe it’s not her fault. She can never tell.
From the kitchen window, the son watches a neighbor walking his Scottish terrier, a girl pulling a boy along in a wagon, and a white cat scampering in and out of dead azalea bushes. The son has entire days to be alone with his thoughts now that his mother won’t speak to him, much less look at him.
“Do you enjoy this?” his mother asks one day.
Her son’s neck creaks forward. She hears it more than sees it. The mother’s heart nearly stops. Her son tried to nod. She’s sure of it.
“I’m happy for you,” the mother says. “Really, I am. But we have to get out of here sometimes. This can’t be good for us.”
One night the mother stops crying and sneaks out of her apartment to wander Brooklyn. She soon finds herself at an all-night diner with pink leather seats and humming fluorescent lights. She orders a cup of tea and sips it with shaking hands. A man seated alone at a nearby booth notices her and approaches her table.
“I’m trying to forget my mistakes,” the mother says before the man can say anything.
The man seats himself, invites himself to be with her. He carries a pint of ale which he sips from occasionally. His hair is gray and he reeks of cheap shaving cream.
“Trust me, there are no mistakes I can’t forgive,” he says. “I’m a surgeon. I’ve collected stories. I collect guilt. Every time somebody dies under my watch, I always forgive myself. It didn’t used to be easy, but I’ve had practice.”
“I’ve only made one mistake, though,” the mother says. “I haven’t had practice.”
“Just forget you ever made the mistake,” the surgeon says. “I’m an expert. Trust me.”
“That sounds terrible.”
The surgeon slides closer to her. His breath is sour and pungent like a rotten apple.
They debate each other. The mother lets the surgeon win eventually, but only because he seems to like winning. She lets herself believe that what she feels isn’t guilt, just self-doubt.
Soon the surgeon doesn’t smell like shaving cream. Soon his breath actually smells pleasant. Soon the mother convinces herself that, if she touched this man, he would touch her as well.
They approach the door of her apartment.
“Wait,” the surgeon slurs. “What mistake did you make? Have I asked yet?”
The surgeon can barely stand up straight. He struggles to keep his eyes open.
The mother opens the door, invites her guest inside.
“My son,” she says. “That’s my mistake.”
The surgeon hesitates. The mother can already tell what he’s thinking. A woman in her thirties who’s single with a kid: there has to be something wrong with her.
“You never said anything about a son,” the surgeon says. He follows her inside anyway. He must be lonely, maybe as lonely as her. But the way he says “son” suggests he’s hurt, as if the mother existing apart from him is filthy, an act of betrayal.
The mother shushes him. She says her son might be sleeping and this only angers the surgeon more. Then he accidentally brushes against a light switch.
When he first sees the son leaning against a wall, the doctor screams. But when he recognizes the son for what he is, he laughs.
“What is that thing?” he asks.
The mother tries not to scowl. “My son.”
“That isn’t your son. That’s an art project.”
The mother and the surgeon lay in bed together. The heat of another person resting beside her makes the mother want to tear the blankets from her body. She imagines them both spontaneously combusting before sunrise. The surgeon is emitting too much heat, more than the mother thinks is possible. Humans aren’t natural, she decides. They’re too warm to be entirely real.
“He’s still an art project,” the surgeon says.
“You need to whisper,” the mother says.
“I won’t whisper. There’s nobody to wake up.”
“I want to sleep.”
“My son’s tired.”
She convinces herself this isn’t love. She convinces herself that what rests on the floor in the hallway is the thing, the person she loves. Soon the surgeon is snoring. He smells like bread, but there’s a warm, cottony smell lurking beneath that. He’s probably dreaming of open chest cavities, anatomical charts, scalpels, clamps, lawsuits, whatever it is surgeons dream of. The mother throws the covers over her head, feels the warmth of her body and the surgeon’s body, the stale, yeast-like odor of two bodies that are relatively intimate, the air in her nostrils grown stale and suffocating.
LANE CHASEK is the author of an experimental biography about Hugo Ball, two books of poetry, and the forthcoming novel She Calls Me Cinnamon. Lane’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Atlanta Review, Hobart, McSweeney’s, Narrative Northeast, North Dakota Quarterly, South Dakota Review, Taco Bell Quarterly, and various other journals. Lane is an editor and blogger for Jokes Review. lanechasek.com