Comfort

In sixth grade, I strode into your bedroom to find you situated on your bed with your Stephen King book in hand. Eyes almost closed, but not quite.

Settled.

Still.

Scruffy flannel pajamas snuggled your body. Antique quilts swaddled the bed. Your glasses had slipped to the bottom of your nose, like always, and you hadn’t yet shoved them back up.

Snug.

Safe.

Soft white light whispered to the shadows in your corner of the room. I didn’t say anything. Didn’t have to. But I needed to be close to you. At your side. A daughter needs her mother.

So I slid into your bed. Opened my R.L. Stine book. Exhaled.

It would have been different had we known what was to come; cancer.

Chaos.

Chemotherapy.

At that moment, we would’ve had conversations about life. About close family I never had the chance to meet. About what you were like as a child.

You’d show your candor, your true colors. But that knowledge, that experience, would’ve come at a cost.

No quiet.

No calm.

No comfort.

But we didn’t know. Not yet. Instead, only our steady sighs and the shooshing of turning pages swept against our ears. Everything else turned silent because it was our space, our time.

Serene.

Sound.

Had we known, we would have gained something. But we would have lost so much, only to watch the clock.

Photo by Umberto Del Piano on Unsplash

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Sunshine – for all the mommas out there

I couldn’t tell you my age but I know I was young: a toddler in Mom’s arms. She sat with me in our shared bedroom at my grandmother’s house and rocked me in the old wooden chair while singing nearly in a whisper.

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine …”

It was probably after she left my father. She packed a few of our things in a suitcase and we returned to my grandparents. She tried so hard to shield me from feeling broke and broken.

It must’ve been cloudy outside, because of the soft dewy light that hung in the air like mist before a rainstorm. I now know that there is an empty field outside of that window where neighbors parked their cars, a place where I searched for lucky four-leaf clovers as a six-year-old. But on this particular day my world was so small and focused. I only saw Mom surrounded by the light reflecting from dark clouds.

“You make me happy when skies are grey …”

Her voice was like a blanket warmed on the line. There were tears in her eyes over having to be both mother and father. Maybe she didn’t want to move back home with my grandpa and grandma. Maybe she didn’t want to give up on her marriage or admit to being wrong about the man she loved. She had to do what was best for us.

“You’ll never know dear, how much I love you …”

Mom had the softest touch. She tucked loose hairs behind my ears as she sang the words. Just the first verse, because it was her favorite part. Or maybe that was all she knew by heart. I can’t remember anymore.

There are other memories from Grandmother’s house: the claw-foot tub, the hutch with all the Avon bottles, Grandma cooking stuffed cabbage in the kitchen and the smell of onions and ground beef sifting through the house. None are like the memory of Mom rocking me. The biggest lessons come in the smallest moments.

My life is quite different from Mom’s. Justin, my husband, and I are best friends. And we don’t have financial problems like Mom did. But that isn’t to say we don’t ever deal with stressful situations. Right now we are in a transition stage: house is for sale, and another is under contract. We aren’t sure exactly what the future holds, but I know staying strong for my daughters is most important.

“Please don’t take my sunshines away.”

What I Remember

I don’t remember how sick Mom looked at the end. Or the number of days I sat watching her cling to life in hospice. I don’t remember what her breath sounded like the day she died. Or the faces of the strangers who stood beside me grieving because my mom had changed them for the better in some way.

But I do remember her beauty. The way her smile always reached her eyes and how she laughed from her belly each and every time. I remember how I wished I had her dark, flawless skin. I remember that her cascading brown hair smelled like coconuts and Rave hairspray.

Her nails always had red or pink polish covering them. She filed the tips to a point.

I remember we didn’t go to church because she said God lives in our hearts. She said miracles are all around us, and if we pay attention we will see them. Her beliefs didn’t fit neatly into one religion. She prayed, but also carried stones in her purse for good health and mustard seed in a charm for faith when she needed it most.

I remember that her good jewelry never sat in a box. Gold rings encircled each finger. Bracelets jangled from her wrists.

I remember her love for nature and that she liked getting dirt on her hands. She didn’t like flowers in a vase because they belonged in the soil. I remember the sound of her flipflops as she padded through the backyard, watering and pruning her garden. She knew how much light and water each of her flowers needed by heart.

I remember that she couldn’t sing and didn’t care. She’d shout the lyrics to any song while driving. She loved Whitney, Madonna, Diana Ross, and the Carpenters. At home, she’d move the couch and play Motown records so we could dance.

I remember her desire to do something more. She kept a scrapbook with pictures, cards, kind words, and trinkets she received from each patient she cared for while working as a hospice nurse. She grieved for them when they passed, but did her part to keep their spirits alive through sharing her memories with anyone who’d listen.

I remember her love for coffee. All day, every day. Never creamer or sugar. Always hot.

I remember her lesson to slow down and enjoy the little things. She always stopped to smell roses, and she always put her bare toes in the sand if she had the chance.

I don’t remember everything, but I remember what matters most.


Ashes to Ashes

The cliff juts out below like razor blades slicing up the angry water. I kick a rock over the edge.

I hate this place. You didn’t.

I pull the cardboard box from my jacket and choke back tears.

All we have left are memories.

I open the box and dump the contents on the place you proposed. When I do, a breeze blows in. The ashes fall lightly on me. I smile.

Perhaps even now you will never leave my side.

***

Photo courtesy of Stocksnap.io.

In response to this week’s microprose challenge over at Yeah Write.

The Bastard Had it Coming.

“The bastard had it coming,” Claire says, raising one eyebrow. She gives Norman, now dead in a box, a look of disgust.

“Well hot dang, we all go eventually,” Ruby says, peering over the top of her gold-rimmed bifocals. She peeks at the somber crowd gathering behind them in the chapel, then leans in close and whispers, “Speaking of that, do you know how he went?”

For the shortest moment, the two ladies peer at Norman. Ruby lifts her glasses and blots her eyes with an old tissue from the front pocket of her baby-blue polyester jacket.

Claire shrugs and fixes her plum-colored church hat. “In his sleep. Heard through the grapevine he was found in nothing but his knickers.”

“You don’t say!” Ruby pulls a pearl-studded mirror from her pocketbook and applies some rouge, right there in front of Norman. “You weren’t still seeing him, now, were you?”

“Every now and again he’d come over for a drink from my cabinet and…well…a woman has needs. I’ve got to get my kicks while I can. Know what I mean, dear?” Claire asks, laughing.

“I think I do,” Ruby says. “I also know the old chap preferred dancing with me.”

“That’s a cockamamie lie, if I’ve ever heard one!” shouts Claire. She jabs a finger into Ruby’s chest. “Square dancing? That’s hardly the same as the dancing we did between my sheets every Tuesday afternoon before meds.”

Ruby swats Claire’s finger away and hisses, “You no good hussy!”

Claire and Ruby paw at each other like two alley cats fighting over fish bones. Claire plucks Ruby’s wig from her head and tosses it into the casket. A child from the first row of seats giggles, and someone yells, “shush!”

“You shush!” Claire and Ruby shout back. No one dares to make another attempt to break up their argument.

Ruby reassembles the wig on her head backwards. “Hrmf!” she shouts. “I think it was you and your liquor cabinet that did him in,” Ruby says, flicking the broach on Claire’s lapel.

“Hardly,” mocks a sultry voice from behind them. Claire and Ruby stop, stunned. They turn to find Ethel wrapped in her fox fur and standing so close they can smell her expensive peach soap.

“What in the Sam Hill is that supposed to mean?” asks Claire. She presses her hands to her hips and pouts her lips at Ethel.

Ethel leans toward the ladies. “He died while we were making love. That old dog had plenty of tricks, now, didn’t he?” she asks, walking away before either lady can answer. Ruby shudders.

Claire looks back at Ruby, fixes her wig, and says, “The bastard had it coming.”

“Sure did,” says Ruby, shaking her head. “Care to get some tea?”

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Flight of the Monarch

I was asleep on a bench outside my mom’s hospice room when someone startled me awake by lightly tapping me on the shoulder. It was Easter morning five years ago. I opened my eyes and saw my dad’s best friend hovering over me. He said nothing, but the sadness in his eyes told me everything I needed to know.

My mom died.

My knees knocked together and stomach acid raced up the back of my parched throat. As I put my feet on the floor, the ground swayed, so I half-stumbled, half-ran down the hall to my mom’s room. I pushed my way past twenty somber faces, stopping between my sister and my aunt.

I stood over my mom’s body and waited impatiently for her next breath to come. Waited for her chest to rise and fall. Waited for movement of any kind, but nothing happened. Her body was still, too still. Minutes passed and I knew that there wouldn’t be another exhale from her cancer-stricken body.

The vice around my throat and the fist against my gut forbade me from breathing. And I couldn’t hear anything except for my heart thudding against my ribcage. Then there was the sudden ringing in my ears. Or was that my imagination? I couldn’t tell. My mind was scattered. Nothing was real and everything was wrong. 

The walls of the hospice room spun around me and the ringing in my ears intensified. It was too much too handle, so I screamed. I grabbed my sister and together we tumbled onto the icy tile. I gripped the back of her head, holding a handful of her silky hair. “It’s just not fair!” I shouted. I buried my head in the crook of her neck, rocking us back and forth. “Not fair,” I repeated in a whisper.

My entire world was crumbling around me like rubble after an earthquake. I would never again hear my mom’s voice, see her dance, or smell her perfume. She was gone. Gone forever and I couldn’t make any sense of why. Why her? Why would God take such a beautiful soul? Why would He cut her life short? My mind was grasping for the answers to questions that I’ll never understand. 

After four long years of chemotherapy and weeks of knowing the end was near, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I don’t know if anything could’ve prepared me enough for her death.

Later, when the tears finally stopped falling I mopped myself off of the floor and went outside to collect what was left of my sanity. I looked up to dry my cheeks under the April sun.
It was the kind of spring day that was warm enough for a light jacket and open windows. My mom loved days like those: where the breeze would gently blow her hair around, where we could work in her garden without breaking a sweat, or swing on her porch drinking lukewarm coffee and talking about whatever crossed our minds.

It was the kind of day my mom would have hand-picked as her last.

I looked at my sister, the only person in the entire world who understood exactly how I felt in that moment, standing beside me. Her face was tightly drawn and her vacant eyes stared at some point in the distance, but she said nothing. I wanted to be strong for her because that’s what big sisters are supposed to do and that’s what my mom would have wanted, but I couldn’t be strong. I was much more unraveled than she looked.

I took a deep breath in through my nose and closed my eyes. It smelled of fresh-cut grass and pond water. I exhaled and opened my eyes to see three Monarch butterflies fluttering in the distance. My mouth tugged at half a smile, because they reminded me of a lesson my mom had once taught me.

In second grade, my teacher brought in small caterpillars for the class to have as pets. We raised them, fed them, and cared for them. The caterpillars eventually wrapped themselves in a chrysalis, went through metamorphosis, and turned into colorful winged creatures.

On the last day of school, we released them back to nature and I was heartbroken that I would never again see them. After school, I ran off the bus, down the street, and into my mom’s arms. She held me tight. Then she wiped my tears and said, “oh, sweetie, setting them free was a good thing. Butterflies have to spread their wings and fly. They will never be truly happy while trapped in a cage.”

My mom wasn’t much different than those butterflies. Sickness caged her, preventing her from a career she loved. It kept her on a regimented twice-monthly chemotherapy schedule that she despised. The constant debilitating pain drained her energy and made it hard for her to remain hopeful for recovery.

It may sound crazy, but I believe those Monarchs were a message from her. Cancer and pain and chemotherapy couldn’t hold onto my mom anymore. Yes, I would grieve. I would scream and punch and curse because she wasn’t there on solid earth with me anymore. But somewhere she was smiling.

My mom was free.

Photo courtesy of Mathias Reed/Unsplash

Bad Apple

Amanda traded her pencil skirts and Manolo Blahniks for jeans and faded leather boots, and her high-paying career as an attorney in New York, for solitude on the farm.

Walking away from her New York life was easier than expected, but then again…

***

She stared at the sun setting behind the rows of apple trees. Most apples were likely to never get harvested. Instead, they would rot and fall to the ground or be ravaged by beetles. She vowed to breathe life back into daddy’s orchard, no matter the cost.

The last happy memory she had of that place was picking apples with him. She longed to hear his voice again, reminding her the proper way to choose fruit for harvesting, to watch him smile as she tried to grab the branches just out of her reach.

But her daddy never was the same after her mama died. It was so sudden. Suicide, they said. After her death, he let everything go, no longer paying the employees, or caring for the trees.

Her fingers touched the chipped paint on the porch railing. A bit of white peeled off and fell to the ground, starkly standing out against the green grass.

The glimmer from her wedding band caught her eye and Amanda hastily pulled it off, ripping the skin on her knuckle. She swallowed the bile rising from her belly, and walked down the splintered stairs, stopping just before the trees. With a look of disgust, she tossed the two-and-a-half carat ring into the hole. It bounced off the gun, making a tink sound.

Using her daddy’s favorite shovel, rusted from years on the field, she filled the hollowed ground with soil. One pile at a time was scooped and dropped until she finished burying her secrets beneath the pale moonlight.

Amanda wiped the sweat from her brow and tossed the shovel aside.

***

…She preferred boots, anyway.

Photo courtesy of Rico Bico/Unsplash