What Did Your Mom Say?


fiction by Michael Hemmingson


I know it’s pointless to say anything to my mom about the dead pigeon that falls off the telephone pole and lands between us at our feet as we walk down the street. I let out a sissy noise and squeeze her hand; she doesn’t react; she steps over the pigeon carcass like it’s not there and we continue walking down the street, fast, because she—we—have someplace to be and we—she—are late to meet my dad. I know my dad won’t care about five, ten minutes.

My mom is twenty-five years old and has black hair and a lot of tattoos on her arms and legs. She has metal in her lips and ears, one in her eyebrow.


One time we were on the bus and outside, some guys in two cars started to shoot guns at each other, a gang fight. Everyone on the bus screamed when one of the bullets came through the window. No one was hurt, no one died except for one of the gang guys in one of the cars. My mother didn’t react, she just sat there on the bus reading a book and when the bus couldn’t go anywhere because the police had to investigate, she sighed loudly, took my hand, and we left the bus and walked to where we were going.


Another time, we were by the beach, it was night, and there was this strange glowing round object in the sky. Other people were pointing at it and seemed afraid. The glowing object turned red and green and then shot straight up in the air, really fast, and vanished. Mom said, “Huh, a UFO.”


We are going to meet my dad at a coffee shop. He is taking me for the weekend and we are going to celebrate my fifth birthday early. He can’t be there next week because he has to go on the road with his band, Ubu Decay. His band plays music called Industrial Goth. It’s loud. My dad’s hair is shaved in a Mohawk and he also has a lot of tattoos.

When I grow up, I will never get any tattoos, I promised my Nana that. Mom’s mom.

My dad hugs and kisses me and says, “You get bigger every time I see you, kiddo.”

He saw me two weeks ago. I haven’t grown since then.

He and my mom nod at each other.

“You be good,” she tells me.

“He’s always good,” my dad says.

“Unlike his father,” my mom says.

“Hey, Sharon,” my dad says, “not now.”

“Hey, Jack,” my mom says and sticks out her tongue.


My mom and dad are not together. They have never been married like some kids I know who have moms and dads not together but were once married. My mom and dad were never really “together,” they were never “boyfriend-girlfriend,” they never lived together. I once heard Nana say to someone they were “fuck buddies.” I know I was a mistake but that doesn’t bother me.


There is a dead pigeon on the hood of my dad’s truck. He looks up at the tree the truck is parked under and he goes, “That’s weird.” He reaches into the truck and takes out a crumpled bag from Jack in the Box and reaches into the bag and brings out some napkins and he uses the napkins to pick up the dead pigeon by its three-toed feet and tosses the dead pigeon on the ground by the tree trunk, the roots growing out of the ground like fat worms.

I tell him about the dead pigeon that fell earlier and my dad goes, “That’s weird.” He asks, “What did your mom say?”

I say, “Nothing.”.

My dad says, “Sounds like Sharon.”


My dad drives his truck and the truck makes strange noises and my dad says his truck is going to die soon.

I ask my dad if there is some kind of virus or epidemic going around killing pigeons.

“No,” he says. “Pigeons just die. All living creatures die from one thing or another, sometimes just like that,” he snaps his fingers, “ka-boom, dead.”

“Like your truck?” I say.


“People too?”

“People too.”

“Will I die like that?”

“Not like that,” he says, “you’ll live until you’re an old man.”

I ask if he will die like that. My dad goes, “I’ve always known that I will spontaneously combust,” and he explains to me what that means, that sometimes people just, for no reason, no warning, burst into flames. He says, “All that’s left is a mound of ash in the shape of a person.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that,” he snaps his fingers.


I look out the window of my dad’s truck, up at trees, the sky, searching for pigeons falling to the ground, seeing one fly by that bursts into flames like a Japanese kamikaze shot down by Allied Forces; the burning pigeon swoops down and smashes into the truck window and the window shatters and the flames engulf my father and me. All that is left are three piles of ashes: father, son, pigeon.


I draw that scene on paper. “You have some imagination,” my father says when I show him.


I show the drawing to my mom and she smiles and laughs.


I know I am on to something big and mysterious.



Michael Hemmingson