Momma's Got the Blues
Updated: May 14, 2022
An excerpt from a new novel from David Sherman
Battered by streaming, Covid and changing times, MaryAnne’s hold on her music career becomes even more tenuous when her substance-loving single daughter discovers she’s pregnant.
“ … could make Mordecai Richler's ghost jealous." — Peter Howell, Toronto Star
Sometimes MaryAnne thought it was madness: words and words, widows and orphans and wandering phrases; sometimes a verse or two, scribbled on legal pads, scraps of paper, backs of envelopes, restaurant napkins, a bloody cliché, that. Words that meant nothing, words that meant everything, idle thoughts waiting in line to be turned into songs—one day. Though her thoughts were rarely idle, especially when
she sat at her table, her guitar on her lap, computer at her fingertips, cell recording to catch bits and pieces of chord progressions melded with a lyric or two. And the ubiqui- tous working tool, her ashtray and hand-carved walnut box of kush to jump start her brain. Get lost in that space. Until the phone rang.
“Maryanne, you sitting down?”
“I’m standing, scribbling words,” she said, putting her phone on speaker, pressing the red dot that killed the recording.
“You’re stoned? Of course, you’re stoned, you’re working.” “What’s up, Joey? I got a sweet melody. I’m mining for lyrics.” “Phoning to see how you’re doing.” “Give me a break,” she said. Her kid never called to see how she was doing. “What’s up? I need a couplet.” “You need a grandkid?” “I need a couplet.” “Sorry, no couplet. Maybe a grandkid.” MaryAnne put the pencil neatly on the table, perfectly parallel to the lined page of the latest sheet of lyrics and scratches and dark Xs. Too many verses, too many ideas, too much of nothing. She felt her heart rate accelerate. “You’re pregnant.” She needed time, chew on this new reality a little. But her brain was cumulus, a bit of cirrus, with a jet stream blowing them around inside her skull. She was going to be a grandmother?
“How are you?” she asked her daughter. “When? Was this your idea?” “No, but I think someone’s trying to tell me some- thing. You know, tick tock, tick tock ... I’m great. Over-the-moon.” “You’re enjoying life too much, might as well drop anchor, jump overboard and tread water for a coupla of decades?” She stashed her stash and started packing her long- stemmed glass pipe. Easy on the throat. “That what I did to you?” Joey said. “Threw you overboard? I love talking to you when you’re stoned and the panties come off and you get all macho aggressive.”
“I’m not stoned. But I will be any second and my pant- ies are on and I knew how to swim, Joey. And, I had my shit together. There a guy in the picture?” “Wasn’t immaculate conception, mother. Believe me. Though it was rather heavenly. I did see stars a few times.” “I’m happy for you. What’re you going to do?” “Give me a break, Mother. I have no idea. I’m not yet down with the reality of diapers, nannies, jammies and crib shopping. I think I’m maybe six or seven weeks. I’m going to see a doctor. Don’t know when. Maybe I can go viral. Take a belly bump picture every day and post it on Instagram and do something with it when I pop the zygote.” “You know the guy?” “Course,” Joey said. “Met him in the washroom at the Meat Market.” “Joey?!” MaryAnne figured this called for sternness, staunch motherhood. “I know the guy, I know the guy,” Joey said. “I stopped doing guys in bathrooms in January. It was a New Year’s resolution.”
“I’m happy you’re maintaining your sense of humour. Joey, I know this isn’t about me, and I’m happy for you, if you’re happy for you, I think, but this is what you want? Now? The world is a fucking mess, you have no job, you drink too much, and what’re you going to do with a kid?” “Bounce it on my knee?” Joey said, not really enjoying this exchange, contemplating the bottle of red beckoning. She looked at her watch. It was almost noon. Close enough. “What does anyone do with a kid? Screw it up, I guess.”
MaryAnne took a deep puff, held it in. Exhaled. “I’m too young for the grandmother shit, Jo.” “MaryAnne, believe it or not, when ... uh ... Felix and I were having a drug and wine-drenched evening of mul- tiple orgasms, I didn’t have a single thought of you. Not even a trace of one of your melodies floated through my mind as I screamed, ‘Do me again, Big Boy.’ I was in an- other dimension.” “Exactly.” “And I don’t have a clue what to do. That a lyric for you, Mother? ‘I got screwed and I don’t have a clue what I should do.’ It sings, doesn’t it?” “I don’t need images of you rolling around a bed with some guy who probably wears a baseball cap and his pants around his knees when he’s out buying groceries, if he knows how to buy groceries.” “You think the only guy that would sleep with me is a loser?” “No, I think you pick losers to sleep with. It’s a self- esteem thing fueled by your appetite for alcohol and drugs.” “Thanks, MaryAnne, you’ve always been so supportive.”
“Jesus. Daughter, if you’re happy, I’m happy for you. Stop the scotch and the rum and Coke and the coke and the dope and the wine and get more exercise. And keep the quantity and quality of your happy endings to yourself. It’s good you’re remembering them so vividly ’cause as the belly expands the sex life contracts. Actually most of life contracts until you’re nothing more than an incubator. You want to do this? Abortion’s legal here, you know?” “I’m not sure about anything. But, MaryAnne, thanks for the feel good, mommy dearest moment. I’m going to go get drunk.” And she was gone. MaryAnne took the latest sheet of scribbles and ripped it into a few thousand pieces and threw it over her shoulder. “Mama said there’ll be days like, there’ll be days like this, Mama said,” MaryAnne sang, kind of downbeat, not even close to the Shirelles.
Joey, phone in one hand, extra-large lime-green plastic cup in the other, sat on the stoop and watched the world go by. The stoop was a refuge from the home she called My Little Dump. The sofa and armchair she had been so proud to find at a Friperie for $25 now revealed itself as junk, just like the carpet worn of its pattern, and the cof- fee table she had fashioned from abandoned wood crates discovered in the back alley. The walls were faded or yellowed, depending on what substance she was abusing at the time and the whole place needed an injection of energy and cash, neither of which she had in sufficient quantity. Her Little Dump was a shithole, she knew, and refuge was found on the front stoop, at least in warmer weather. Things moved out there. She didn’t know where every- one was going or why but they were going. Zoom, zoom, zoom. Guys and women on bikes, couples holding hands, a tall kid on a skateboard, and cars, always cars, making the turn off Van Horne and accelerating. She took a 12-second video of a guy on a board rolling by. My life, she thought. Watching the world go by. It was either give up the booze or give up the pregnancy. She sipped hungrily at the cold, thin wine, enjoying the way it immediately coddled her brain. She had read the warnings on the bottles, seen the warnings on TV, even read the research on the Internet one night when she was a half a bottle over the line, suddenly curious what she was doing to herself. “The choice, Ma, is stay drunk or stay pregnant,” she said to no one. “Or, stay drunk and pregnant and have a very fucked up baby. Whatya think, MaryAnne? What would you do? Course, you’re a doper. You probably smoked when I was in the womb. Think that’s why I seem to have an unquenchable thirst? No shit, Sherlock.”
People rushing by were no help. Maybe she should go somewhere, too, but it was easier to sit here and watch other people blowing by, sometimes film them, transfer it to her computer. My life in video. Trying to edit it was a mind bender. Especially since she didn’t understand the software. “Why was everything so complicated?” she’d mumble, usually EUI, editing under the influence, or trying to. The glass was filled with eight square, glossy ice cubes and the cheapest red the dep had, a litre of Chilean at about $14 with tax. The ice killed the bitterness and one thing she had a lot of was ice. Bought 12 trays at the dollar store, filled and froze one as soon as she emptied it. It was compulsive. A freezer well-stocked with ice calmed her. The fact that it was void of edibles didn’t bother her at all.
So, she sipped from the big, tall plastic cup and con- templated where everyone was in a hurry to get to. Some- times she figured she should get off her ass, get off the stoop and get going. But where? And why? Especially now. She was fucking pregnant. Again. Jesus! Thing that nagged at her, even after half a litre, was maybe she should be doing something. Maybe paint. Or write. Lap dance. Work a bar. Work in a supermarket. No. Bookstore. Did they still exist? Café? There were a million right here in the ’hood. Travel? But where? Pretty fucking moot now.
“Yeah, I’d love to work here but I’m taking mat leave in seven months, that okay?” she said aloud. Had to watch that. She was talking to herself. A woman in running shoes and a short, flared skirt, Spandex top, all in white, good haircut, just long enough, walked by holding hands with a guy in jeans and a T-shirt a few sizes too small. Showing off his pecs. They were laughing and enjoying each other too much for Joey’s lik- ing. She emptied the glass, filled her mouth with the ves- tiges of sweet ice and decided to kidnap the bottle waiting for her on a shelf on the fridge door. She climbed up but the hallway started spinning too fast. Now, that was funny. She had had too much wine to go and get more wine. If you want to drink more, she said to herself, you’re going to have to learn to drink less. She tried not to, but she couldn’t help but giggle.
She lay down in the narrow corridor, spilling the red- stained ice onto the plastic Persian carpet, its shades of burgundy perfect to hide wine accidents. And, glass in hand, was out cold. Momma’s Got the Blues, by David Sherman, published by Guernica Editions with the support of the Canada Council, is available in bookstores and online.