This week’s words were:
recycled :: hindsight :: manic :: pair :: button up
Looking back, my mother’s struggle becomes very clear. I always knew when she was going through a bad time; I just didn’t know what to call it, then. The first sign was her lips – when they disappeared, I knew it was time to batten down the hatches. Then her eyes would start to bulge, and she may as well have had her thoughts – zip, zip, zip, zip, zipzipzipzipzipzizizizizip – projected onto her forehead for me to see, a jumble of colours and shapes and sounds that had meaning only for her. All I was sure of was that her mind was somewhere else, somewhere that loved her, in its own way, and liked to keep hold of her just as much as I did.
It was just the two of us. Sisters-in-arms, Mum liked to call us. Dad was long gone. I could never imagine his face in colour because all we had of him was a single black and white exposure which sat in a frame on the hall table, but at least he was smiling in it. He had teeth and hair and perfectly crinkled crows’ feet, just like an old-time movie star. I used to stare at him for hours, wondering how someone who looked like him could have made someone who looked like me.
She woke me up early, that morning, so early the sky was the colour of metal and the birds were still asleep. Come on, she said. Let’s do something wonderful. My eyes stung as I slid out of bed and followed her to her room. She’d taken out every stitch of clothing she owned and laid it neatly on her bed, the floor, the top of her chest of drawers… everything was folded, and perfect, and precise. I helped her pack it all away into her rolling suitcase and as many plastic bags as we thought we could carry, and off we went to donate it, every bit, to the war effort.
We’d been trudging for an hour, my arms almost dislocated from their sockets, before I thought to ask her what war? And what could they possibly want with my mother’s old underwear?
Her legs were so long, and her stride so elegant. She walked like a queen – I shall always remember that! – her suitcase behind her like a lady-in-waiting. She was so fast, and when she talked to herself, she never remembered to talk to me. I struggled after her, listening for the clopclopclop of her shoes, doing my best to carry heavy bags of coats and dresses and nightgowns, all of them bearing her scent. I remember her tall and slender back, disappearing. Distantly, absently, I heard the squeal of brakes, but by the time I caught up, there was a small crowd gathered, and they wouldn’t let me near.
The woman who came back home with me to collect my things was very kind. She explained how I couldn’t live here any more, but that soon I’d have a new home and family, and they’d love me very much. She wouldn’t answer when I asked her how mother would find me; she just folded her lips around one another like she was sealing an envelope, and concentrated on getting me into my coat. We were in such a hurry that I almost walked by Dad without remembering to bring him. Wait! I said, stretching back to grab him. My father! The lady took the photo from me and looked at it. Your father? But that’s… Then, her face unravelled, and she smiled down at me as she handed back the tiny frame. Come along, darling, she said. Bring Daddy, and then let’s go.
I left the photograph lying face down on the hall table as we closed the door on an empty house, my mother’s perfume still hanging in the air.
Image credit: askmen.com