Home > The Other Mother

The Other Mother
Author: Matthew Dicks




This mother is not my mother. She looks like my mother. She looks exactly like my mother. Same curly brown hair with a little streak of gray on the side. Same pink slippers with a hole in the big toe. Same blotchy freckle on the back of her left hand. This woman is like my mother’s twin. Her identical twin. But she is definitely not my mother.

“Hello?” My voice cracks, not because it’s changing (though it is), but because I can’t believe this is happening. It’s impossible.

“Hi, honey,” the woman says. She is standing over the stove, scrambling eggs. She stirs them the same way my mother does, by moving the pan and the spatula at the same time. The eggs dance in the pan. Just like my mother, she doesn’t have to think about it. She makes them dance without even trying.

Still, this is not my mother.

“What’s going on?” I ask. It’s a dumb question, but I don’t know what else to say. I feel like I’m in a place where I don’t belong. Like I’ve opened my eyes on some alternate universe.

“It’s called breakfast, stupid.”

Charlie says this. He’s sitting at the table, drinking orange juice and reading a book. He’s not wearing pants or shoes. Just underwear and the same blue shirt he had on yesterday.

Julia is sitting next to him with Mom’s laptop on the table in front of her. She’s staring at the screen. She’s dressed already. T-shirt and jeans and sneakers. She’s not a savage like Charlie.

I stare at Charlie and Julia. It’s that wide-eyed stare I use when I don’t want anyone else to hear me. Sort of like our own personal sign language. I’m yelling at them with my eyeballs. I’m practically screaming.

What the hell is going on here?

They don’t even look at me. It’s just a normal day for them. They must think this mother is our mother. She’s tricked them, but I can’t imagine how. Maybe it’s because I’m fourteen and they’re still in elementary school. Little kids are always easy to fool. It’s why Charlie still thinks that a fairy flies into his room at night and steals his teeth from under his pillow in exchange for a quarter.

Honestly, I’m not sure if I ever believed that bullshit.

But how could they miss this? She looks exactly like our mother except exactly not.

I scan the kitchen. This can’t be happening. This must be the wrong kitchen. It’s a ridiculous thought, since Julia and Charlie are here, too, but it’s all I can think of. I must be in the wrong place.

Still, everything seems right. The linoleum floor is cracked in the same patterns as our kitchen. The end of the counter is piled with the magazines that Mom says she’ll read someday but never will. The drying rack is filled with glasses and plates that will go from table to sink to drying rack then back to table without ever making it back into a cabinet. The refrigerator is covered with the misshapen vegetable magnets that Charlie made in Cub Scouts last year. They’re holding up one of Julia’s spelling test (100 percent), expired appointment cards from doctors and dentists, coupons, a photo of Mom and Auntie Carole at some party last year, and a to-do list that I wrote about a year ago and haven’t touched since.

It has just one item on it:



This was Mrs. Newfang’s idea. She says that most of the time, the best thing for me to do is nothing. This doesn’t apply to things like homework or chores, but I wish it would. It’s a to-do list for when I’m feeling angry or sad or embarrassed. Whenever I get “emotionally charged,” which is Mrs. Newfang’s way of saying “pissed off.” Instead of do, I should don’t. Instead of acting impulsively (one of Mrs. Newfang’s favorite words), I’m supposed to think first and do as little as possible.

Do nothing at all if possible.

I don’t know if the to-do list has done any good, but I see it a dozen times a day, so maybe it’s sunk in a little without me knowing it. Osmosis.

I look from the refrigerator to the pantry and then back around to the table. It’s all how it should be. I’m not in the wrong place. This is my kitchen. Everything is right except for the woman at the stove.

She is not my mother.

Anger fills me up. It fills me up from my toes to my nose, which is something my real mother would say. My hands ball into fists. I clench my teeth. My whole body gets tight. I don’t think about doing these things. They just happen. It’s like a switch is flipped inside me without my permission and I’m red, just like that. Just like all the times before. I don’t want to be red, but it feels good to be red. It feels right to be red.

Why is this woman here?

Why am I the only one who can see that she isn’t our mother?

What the hell is happening?

I say these words in my head, but they are still red words even if I don’t say them out loud. I squeeze my fists even tighter.

I want my mother back.

These words surprise me.

I’ve wished my mother away a million times. I’m angry with her all the time. Nothing she does makes any sense to me. But I never wanted her to be replaced completely. I just wanted her to leave for a while. Get the hell out of my life. Take a vacation. Get her freakin’ act together. That’s all I really wanted. Go somewhere and learn how to be a real mother. And take Glen with her. This other mother is like the opposite of my wish. I wanted a better version of my own mother. The old version of my mother, really, before everything got ruined and she fell apart.

I don’t want this new mother.

I stand still for a second, just being angry, being full, seeing all those red words, and wanting to hit something. Hit someone. Someone. I guess I was wrong. The to-do list isn’t working. I don’t want to Don’t. I want to Do.

I count down from ten in my head and calm down a little.

I learned this counting thing from Mrs. Newfang, even though I knew the strategy from when I was little. Everyone knows this one. I went along and pretended to learn it because Mrs. Newfang likes to help me, and Mrs. Newfang and I have to spend three hours together every week—which is a long time—so I try to make it easy for her. And I like it when she smiles and says nice things to me like, “That’s great, Michael. You are owning that strategy.”

She actually says, “You’re owning that strategy,” but I do not like contractions. When I was little, I avoided them whenever possible. I use them a lot more now, mostly because people used to think I talked funny and made fun of me, which always made me angry, and I’m supposed to be trying to control my anger.

But I still do not like them.

Contractions are like fractions. They are messy. Not exact. Fractions like one-third are the worst. When you turn them into decimals, they never end. You have to draw a little line over the last three in 0.333 to tell people that the threes never stop. The little line is like a sign that says, “This number is crazy.”

I am not crazy. I do not need a little line over me. I just do not like fractions or contractions. I like things to make sense. I just need to talk to Mrs. Newfang about stuff for three hours every week and take my medication and learn lots of strategies for when I get mad or sad or full.

No one in the kitchen has noticed that my hands are still balled into fists. Mom would’ve noticed. Mrs. Newfang taught her to notice, so she could help me de-escalate (another favorite word of Mrs. Newfang) before I do something stupid. This woman is definitely not my mother. Mom would be all over me.

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