Alain Kerfs’s fiction has appeared or is upcoming in One Teen Story, Summerset Review, Literally Stories, Flash Fiction and elsewhere. He attended the MFA Creative Writing program at San Francisco ... [+]

Image of Short Circuit - Short Circuit #12
She ruined my life and all she can think about is wearing khaki.
 
"They make you wear khaki jumpsuits," Mom says. "I look hideous in khaki."
 
Mom, Dad, and I are parked in front of the Federal Correctional Institute where Mom will spend the next fourteen days. In khaki. Because she broke the law. 
 
And ruined my life.
 
A few days ago, I caught Mom standing before a mirror, bracing her shoulders, setting her face into a tight, teeth-baring grimace. "Practicing my don't-mess-with-me face," she told me. It looked ridiculous.
 
"I only did what any mother would do," Mom says, looking at Dad in the driver's seat, then twisting to look at me, intentionally sitting behind her. 
 
This morning Mom moved items from her Louis Vuitton handbag—organic lip balm, designer mascara, Hermes datebook—into a recently purchased generic purse. She's wearing gardening sneakers. Workout clothes. Trying to fit in.
 
"I only meant to help," Mom says.
 
Mom and Dad manage a small venture capital firm, making ridiculous money funding start-ups. Our name is somewhat known, our transgressions become news. Mom paid someone to inflate my college admission test scores. On the drive here, I tried to convince myself that what has happened to me was a small thing in the context of the world's woes: rainforests diminishing, glaciers heaving apart, a plastic garbage island forever floating on ocean waves. 
 
"I wanted the best for you," Mom says to me.
 
"My scores were good enough for the colleges I liked."
 
"You were aiming too low."
 
"You were aiming too high. Now, I'm the girl whose mother paid someone to get her into college. The girl who wasn't good enough. According to her own mother."
 
The target of memes and social media commentary, I feel squeezed, claustrophobic. I picture a whale trying to surface, needing to breathe, and hitting the plastic island, an impenetrable weave of six-pack rings, fishing nets, and shopping bags—the whale unable to break through, suffocating underneath it, fresh air just out of reach.
 
"I'll make friends, right?" Mom says to Dad. "They won't hate me?"
 
"It's low security," he says. "Treat it like a spa weekend, catch up on reading, binge watch your shows."
 
"Some mothers love their kids so much, they will do crazy things for them," Mom says. "It's just crazy mother love."
 
Dad nods.
 
"Khaki looks like baby shit," Mom says. "That's intentional."
 
"It's time," Dad says, his words cushioned in gentleness.
 
Mom leans forward, shoulders shaking, head in her hands. Dad touches the back of her neck under her ponytail, another concession to her upcoming life. "It will be okay," he says.
 
She looks at me. Tears streak her mascara and I think of The Joker. "Sweetheart—"
 
"It's time," I say.
 
Dad glares at me. Mom rocks back. She fumbles with the door handle, gets out. She squares her shoulders and sets her don't-mess-with-me face. Then she walks away, heading to a place that scares her, that serves bad food, that will make her wear hideous khaki jumpsuits. She has never worn a jumpsuit. 
 
I try to convince myself that this will blow over. I will attend community college for a year, then apply to the universities I want. I will become a footnote to a forgotten news story. I think of a mother whale, her baby tucked beside her, frantically trying to break through the clotted plastic, trying to get to the fresh blue air above. 
 
When I was twelve, I had a puppy named Alice. Mom and I were walking Alice in a park when another dog, huge and snarly, charged us. Alice squirted away. I grabbed a fallen branch, cocked it, ready for one big swing that I hoped would halt a savage dog. A sharp whistle and the dog stopped, returned to its owner. Mom caught Alice, then pried the branch from my shaking hands. "I was going to hit that dog," I said. "It was just being a dog."
 
"You're Alice's mother now," Mom said, her hands on my shoulders. "Mothers protect their young. I'm proud of you. You were fierce."
 
A large, uniformed woman greets Mom at the entrance of the Correctional Institute. I roll down my window to hear Mom state her name. The guard marks a clipboard and says "Oh, you're gonna love it here."
 
When I was five, I fell from a pier into a frigid lake. Dad was at the car and Mom jumped in after me, held me afloat. Dad ran up to pull us out. "That was crazy," he said to Mom, "you can't even swim." Mom held me so hard and so long I eventually stopped shivering and gasping. "I wasn't thinking," she said, her breath a soft towel against my face. "I love her like crazy."
 
Crazy mother love.
 
The guard opens the door. I picture what awaits Mom inside, the bland institutional food, the press of khaki-clad prisoners, the unkind sounds of metal doors clanging and alarms pealing and women sobbing in the night. 
 
"Be fierce," I yell through my open window. "I love you like crazy."
 
Mom steps inside, swallowed into the dark. I am not sure she heard me.

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