„You‘re such a beautiful girl, Karen.“ her mother once sighed when she was twelve. She was braiding her hair on the living room couch. „Just wait and see. You‘re going to marry a nice, hard working man, and your children will all be so nice and well-behaved. Mommy‘s so proud of you.“
And Karen beamed at that. Marrying a nice man. Living in a nice house, with two or three children, and two cars. It sounded too good to be true. But her mom always knew best. Karen was pretty, and that was all she ever needed to make it in life.
‚Mommy‘s so proud of you.‘ The words echoed eternally in her memory, growing stronger every time her nine months neared the inevitable, three times in total. Nancy. Her perfect little girl, pretty as herself, well-behaved as her mother had promised, resourceful but also so humble.
Four years later, Michael. The cutest baby boy Karen had ever seen, and so so smart, already able to read in his fifth year. And while not as polite as Nancy, kind-hearted beyond belief, always protective of his friends. Of course she noticed. She always saw the bruises and black eyes, and more than once she made a scene at his school. But in the end, he was always smiling.
With Ted and her two perfect babies in her life, Karen had made it. They had their house, their cars, and their perfect children, in the perfect little town in the perfectly safe, sheltered part of the country. No California serial killers in Indiana. No Florida alligators. No New York punks. Hawkins, in the eye of the storm that was the United States in the late seventies.
And then, to everyone‘s surprise, Holly came along. And while a surprise, Karen could have cried out of luck. In fact she did, at the sheer adorableness of that new little princess in her life. With Nancy and Michael growing up so fast, Karen had almost forgotten what taking care of a baby felt like. That beautiful sense of accomplishment at every new milestone, no matter how small it might seem to a bystander.
Something else was forgotten, though. And for Karen, there was no way out. No way to bring it back, that certainty that she was, in fact, beautiful. Because if she truly was still beautiful, wouldn‘t Ted touch her then? Wouldn‘t he want to be touched by her? The truth was, he rarely even looked at her anymore in the months and years following their youngest daughter‘s birth. With every day that passed, the desperation grew, fueled by the slow realization that now, at 38, Karen Wheeler was utterly worn out physically, her body destroyed from bearing three children over the course of thirteen years.
„You know, Ted...“ Karen chuckles over the pork chop she is just beginning to cook. „Nancy‘s out tonight, and if I could get Michael to sleep over at a friend‘s house... We‘d just have to put Holly in bed.“
„Uh huh.“ he grunts over at her from the living room. What is he doing? Sleeping, reading the newspaper, watching TV, all at once? It seems like it. At least, his face is hidden behind a large black and white sheet of paper, while the TV is blaring something unintelligible. With the meat just in the pan, Karen has the time to risk a quick step into the living room. Just as she imagined, she finds her husband in his La-Z-Boy, reclined, seemingly comfortable without a care in the world.
„Did you hear me?“
„Sure thing, darling.“ Ted sighs, lazily switching pages.
„Then what did I just say?“ Karen demands. A short silence follows.
„Dinner‘s ready, huh?“
And this time, it‘s enough. Out of a sudden impulse she flies across the room, before ripping the newspaper in half, letting her legs drop to either side of her husband‘s lap. Kneeling on top of him she hisses „I said I want to make love to you tonight.“
„Karen...“ Ted furrows his brows, sounding exhausted but indifferent. „I‘ve been working overtime all week. Can‘t you just-“
„Just what?“ Karen exclaims, back on her feet again. „Go to bed alone again? You know what, Theodore? I will. If you love that damn chair of yours so much anyways, why would you be welcome in the bedroom?“
„And your problem is...?“ her husband hisses defensively. „Is it not enough what I‘m giving you and your children? This house? A warm dinner every night. Hell, Karen, don‘t forget who‘s paying for the wine you‘re pouring down like water lately.“
„And you don‘t forget whose fault that is.“ she shoots back. Karen can see her husband seemingly in a fight with himself. It‘s a sickening carnival of facial expressions, one that‘s so rare and overly exaggerated, it would be comical, if not for the final conclusion. With joints cracking like those of an old men, he sluggishly lifts himself to his feet.
„I think I better get going then.“ Without another word Ted picks up his wallet, his key chain and his jacket, and soon he is by the door.
„What, you‘re not even saying goodbye to Michael and Holly?“
„Jesus, Karen! It‘s not like I‘ll be gone forever.“
„Oh. Okay.“ Karen sneers. „So it‘s just running away from problems, just to come back as soon as you can go on ignoring them.“ He doesn‘t acknowledge any of her words before he slams the front door shut, leaving Karen in the empty entrance. Ugly. Worn out.
From the kitchen the sizzling sound of frying meat comes floating to her ear.
„Mom, where‘s dad?“ Well, Karen can‘t blame Michael for pointing out the obvious.
„Your father needs some time to think.“ she answers over her fourth glass of wine. „Enjoy your dinner.“ And it is truly admirable how her thirteen year old takes this new piece of information. Does he even understand? Does Michael even have and idea what this could potentially mean? Divorce? Losing the house? Being old, unattractive and disgusting?
Karen takes another sip, and then proceeds trying to get Holly to eat her peas. None of her kids ever liked them, but Nancy and Michael have both learned to stop arguing and just eat at around five or six, so a few years in the future for Holly still.
„Don‘t you want to sleep over at Will‘s tonight?“ Karen asks casually. Don‘t you want to leave so I can cry tonight without you hearing?
Michael shrugs. „Not really. Looks like Will‘s got the flu and Dustin and Lucas are both in quarantine now because they‘ve met him this morning.“ Knowing that he is going to around tonight stings a bit. Karen really would have needed the empty house for once. Holly is easy enough to deal with at night, even if it‘s a bad night. She usually sleeps through. Doesn‘t ask questions yet.
„Then... what are you gonna do tonight?“ There‘s a lot of things you can accuse Karen Wheeler of. Being an uncaring mother isn‘t one of them. She honestly wants to know.
Michael just shrugs once more. „Reading. Or writing. Yeah, I guess writing.“
Karen empties her glass again. He is such a smart boy. So imaginative, but he probably doesn‘t even have the slightest idea how precious of a gift that is. And how dangerously close he is to growing up and losing it. She pours herself more wine, all that‘s left in the bottle, hoping he won‘t point it out. He doesn‘t.
It‘s close to midnight. The alcohol-induced numbness feels nice as Karen watches herself in the mirror of her bedroom closet, in the dim, warm light of the lamp on her nightstand. She is naked. She wants to vomit.
All she can see is saggy meat. Disgusting and worn out, hanging loose. Her nipples, small and pointing slightly upwards are only a faint memory. Now they‘re enlarged, pointing to the ground as if trying to ridicule her. As if trying to say ‚Yep, that‘s where they‘re gonna bury you soon.‘ To be honest, she wouldn‘t want to touch herself either. Why is she even mad at Theodore? No man could ever be attracted to... this. Such an unshapely bottom, jiggling with every step she takes, no matter how tight the jeans she picks.
Her shaking hand traces over her front side, finding ugly little rolls of fat wherever it goes. Then her bone-dry core. God, she is too drunk for this. Too drunk to feel anything down there. Before Holly was born, she used to take care of the hair. Just trimmed it a bit, made it look neat for him. She has read somewhere, some girls nowadays actually like to shave. Karen doesn‘t understand why. Should she do it to look younger? Does Nancy do it?
A few times, she tugs at the untamed curls, enjoying the slight pain. Karen is drunk. But not drunk enough to actually try this right now. It would be stupid, possibly dangerous. Her unsteady hand is unfit for handling a razor. Nothing she can do but look away. Cover her shame. No man will ever want to touch her again. ‚Mommy‘s so proud of you.‘ No, she‘s not.
A long and heavy sigh accompanies her draping a silk bathrobe around her naked body.
Michael‘s room is dark. He hasn‘t needed a nightlight in four years, but Karen doesn‘t close the door when she enters, so his pale face is all but glowing in the faint light from the hall. Full lips slightly agape, his black curls spread out on the pillow, he is just such a beautiful sight to behold. Still as cute as on day one, her perfect little boy.
But he is growing, and the thought of it is almost as unbearable as the knowledge of Karen‘s decay. Both symptoms of the same deceitful attack on everything that‘s good in this world: Time, that unstoppable monster, eating away on all people equally. And while her son is blooming, and will be for a long time, she is just growing more and more repulsive. She sits down by her son‘s bedside.
With hot tears dripping down her cheeks, Karen uses a trembling finger to gently push a few strands of hair out of her son‘s face. His skin is so soft, much like she wants her own skin to be. Michael stirs slightly in his sleep, peaceful and care free. Is he dreaming of medieval castles, knights and dragons, like he always does when he is awake? Or are his nightly adventures different already? More adult?
Karen can‘t help the desperate sob that escapes her, knowing that if he is old enough to be dreaming of these things, he must be aware of how his mother‘s body is deteriorating more with every day that passes.
And now she has woken him up from his merciful sleep. „I‘m so sorry baby.“
„Mom, what‘s wrong?“ He sounds so honestly worried, so compassionate, like the good person he is deep inside, Karen‘s tears now flow freely and Michael sits up in his bed, pushing the blanket down. That way he exposes his bare torso, all skin and bones, flawless and smooth, with just a thin layer of night sweat covering him. He always liked his room slightly overheated.
„Sorry. I just love you so much.“ Karen slurs. Her tongue isn‘t entirely under her control anymore, from almost two bottles of wine. God, she hopes he doesn‘t- But just the moment she thinks it, Michael turns on his lamp to take a look at her. She is well aware of her red swollen eyes. And then, it‘s heartbreaking how he suddenly offers her both his arms, hairless armpits showing. Why does she even notice that detail? He looks so small like this.
Drunk like she is, having lost most of her self control, he gives in to her son‘s offer. If she is holding him too tight, he doesn‘t complain. His skinny, damp shoulder blades jump up and down under her touch, her front pressed firmly against his. A long while, the two of them remain in silence.
„Mom...“ But then there‘s a sudden shift in Michael‘s behavior. Her current state doesn‘t make Karen oblivious enough not to notice how uncomfortable her son is. Instead of resting his hands on her back, they‘re now clutching into his blanket. He is pulling it up a bit further, up to his belly button. Oh.
„Michael.“ she whispers ever so quietly, letting her hand gently pet his bony back. „It‘s okay.“ No, actually, it‘s more than okay. Taking the blanket, pulling it to his knees against his faint resistance to expose his only lightly clad lower half, Karen realizes what this means. She is doing this. It‘s so beautiful to behold, the little bulge that‘s just lightly pulsating. It‘s especially pronounced since he hasn‘t asked for boxer shorts or more grown up underwear yet, still wearing tight dinosaur-themed briefs.
„Mom!“ Tears are now shining in Michael‘s eyes, tears of embarrassment, combined with his dark red cheeks they make for an adorable image.
„Told you it‘s okay.“ Karen breathes, entirely enchanted by his reaction to her body. Her body, that‘s maybe not quite as worn out as her husband makes her think. Mouth going dry, Karen loosens the smooth belt of her bathrobe, letting it fall open to expose her everything to him. And she never would have thought his doe eyes could grow quite as wide as they do.
„What are you-“ he exclaims, but clearly unable to look away. Nothing has ever felt better. To her son, she‘s not ugly, deformed or used up. He is mesmerized! And Karen just has to know. She has to be sure she still knows her way around a man. It‘s not just about making them look, a woman worth of her mother‘s pride must be able to make them feel. First, her numb hand rests on Michael‘s skinny thigh. Then it‘s wandering upward. But then...
„No!“ Michael chokes up. And like that, he is trying to get away from her. Only, Karen won‘t let him. She has to know! She just has to! His dark green briefs are gone in no time. While Michael has in fact grown stronger, and Karen is intoxicated, she is still no match for him. He can‘t escape. He doesn‘t scream, but the tears are now watering his cheeks.
A faint wetness appears in Karen‘s core, one she didn‘t think to be possible in her current state. But it‘s just what the image in front of her does with her mind. Just a few dark curls around the base of her son‘s small but growing mast. She holds him in place tightly while inspecting it, taking in the surface of it, the slight shift in color at the upper third of his length. But to rid herself of her bathrobe, she has to let him go, and that‘s enough time for Michael to curl up into a ball by the headboard of his bed.
„Don‘t...“ Karen chuckles wearily. „This is good for you, baby.“ It‘s as though she‘s floating. The room is spinning around her when she takes hold of her son‘s kicking legs to straighten him out in the sheets. And then she is on top of him, using her too clumsy fingers to try and get him inside.
„Mom, stop!“ he whines pathetically. „Please! Please, mom!“ His cries are louder now, but Karen can‘t listen. His protests are far away, and his body tells her differently anyways. He is hard as ever. She rides him, but it‘s hard. His size makes it difficult to keep him inside while sliding up and down on his length. His desperate struggling adds to that too. Eventually, Karen retorts to circling her hips on top of him instead of bobbing up and down. His loud sobs of pleasure fuel her need to give him more. Both his hands are flailing in the air in front of her face, and Karen brings up the coordination to take both of them, and force them on her breasts.
„They‘re good, aren‘t they?“ she pants. „Tell me they‘re good! Nice and firm, right?“ She makes him squeeze, just so he can get a feel for them.
„Good!“ Michael sobs. „Yeah, mom! Please let me go!“ But he doesn‘t look at her, tilting his head to the side instead, eyes still wide open and swollen red. Her right hand finds his cheek and turns him back to face her, and she just knows how much he loves this. How good she can make him feel. Karen won‘t get off like this, she is too drunk, her son is just too small, but that‘s not his fault, and she doesn‘t need it. What she needs is to give him pleasure. To make sure she‘s not too disgusting for that. His hips buck underneath her.
„I‘m beautiful!“ she cries out desperately. „Tell me!“
„Okay!“ her son croaks, flat chest heaving frantically. „You‘re beautiful. Please stop! Mommy, stop!“ His still pre-pubescent voice is jumping as he cries. But she can‘t believe him. Not yet. Because if she is really beautiful, they why can‘t she get him to finish? It‘s with a relieved smile that she realizes the reason. He‘s just too small. Too small to find enough friction like that. So, she climbs off of her son‘s small, sweaty body. His rock hard little penis is pulsating, twitching, throbbing wet, and Karen wastes no time. Once again he curls up, turning his back on her, but it‘s easy to take him in her hand, to stroke up and down his short length.
Finally, something like satisfaction is building up in her stomach. Michael‘s violent crying has turned into pleasured whimpering, that‘s so utterly cute and beautiful, and produced by her. She is making him feel this. Karen is making someone moan and feel the pleasure. She can still do that.
It‘s heartwarming to see him wiggle more, to hear him moan louder, to feel him swelling in her hand slightly, before he finally sputters white, only a few droplets that Karen catches in her palm for the most part. She uses her discarded bathrobe to wipe it off. In the meantime, Michael has already narrowed his fetal position, shivering and whining into the silence of his bedroom.
„Come here, honey.“ Karen whispers, taking his slim shoulder with her right hand. But he slaps her arm away. It doesn‘t hurt. But why? She has to be here. Her son is crying and he needs her, doesn‘t he? While he is still struggling against her, she manages to kneel down on the bed and get him in her lap. Both of them are warm and damp against each other. He stops fighting eventually, and though he doesn‘t hold on to her, arms limp by his sides, Karen weaves her fingers into her baby boy‘s hair, getting him to press his face against the crook of her neck. Karen holds him like this until the crying stops and he is asleep.
She leaves Michael‘s room with a sense of satisfaction. Confirmation of her skills, of her youth. Her mother would be proud.