"Do you have to go?"
"Now Johnny, you know mama has to work. You can go next-door to Merna's at five o'clock and have supper there. Come right home and be sure and lock the door before you go to bed. I don't want someone coming in and stealing something.
Mrs. Thomas busily applied made-up as the eight year old boy sat on her bed. Angry voices from the apartment upstairs echoed through the thin floors. Young John Thomas stayed alone when his mother worked, he'd grown used to being scared and sometimes looked for safety in her room. The flowers on the faded wallpaper and the cheap pink rug remined him of the softness he'd once seen in a picture of a family. He'd go in there and just sit. He'd hold her perfume bottles and touch her jewelery, always careful to put her things back in their exact place.
He thought he loved his mother, but was lonely and didn't remember not being so. He'd never seen his dad, but was sure he had one. One time he'd been snooping in the bottom drawer where his mother kept papers and he'd found a picture. A man in jeans stood with his arms around his mother. Something seemed familiar about him but young Johnny didn't realize he was looking at the exact reflection of himself. He asked his mother then, "Is this my daddy?"
She was sitting at the chipped wood kitchen table painting her nails and smoking a cigarette. Her flowered housecoat was washed out and rumpled and her dyed black hair hung uncombed around her lined face. Dirty dishes were piled on the cupboards and filled the sink.
"You've been looking in my things again, haven't you?" And a slap cracked across his face and echoed in the room. Tears fell down his cheeks.
"But mama!" And he wondered, why does she always hit me?
Sometime later, he awakened in the night to a commotion coming from her bedroom. Alarmed and getting up quietly, he crept out of his bed and opened the door to his mother's room. He saw a man on top of his mother and wanting to protect her, he flew into the room and jumped on the man's back, kicking and hitting as hard as his small limbs could manage.
"Jesus Christ," the naked man yelled and threw him on the floor.
"Johnny, how many times have I told you never to come in my room? Now go back to bed!"
Shamefaced he got up on trembling legs and went to his room. Now he knew what they were doing. It was called fucking, he'd seen pictures.
Over the years, after seeing the parade of men and hearing the noises in her bedroom, he realized she was a prostitute. He hated her, he hated everything and when he was foureen he ran away from home, much to his mother's relief, he was sure. His perception of women was that they were all whores and only a means of making money for you. Someway, somehow!
Years later, as he sat in the Kansas prison, the computer hummed. John Thomas was onto something!