Wednesday Write-In #50

This week’s words were:

recycled  ::  hindsight  ::  manic  ::  pair  ::  button up


Queen, Mother

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:

14 thoughts on “Wednesday Write-In #50

  1. Elaine Peters

    So poignant, a great description of manic depression (or whatever they call it now). But why didn’t she take the photograph in the end?

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Hi Elaine – thanks a lot for your comment. She leaves the photo behind because she realises it’s not of her father after all. I obviously didn’t express that clearly enough! 🙂 Thanks for the feedback.

  2. pratibha

    Loved it. Sad with humorous descriptions. I can almost picture the two of them scurrying around.
    By the way, the mother probably learned from Phobe’s grandma. 🙂 (If you have to ask who Phobe is, then never mind.) 🙂

      1. pratibha

        Well, It was a reference to Phobe from Friends TV series. Her grandmother keeps a fake picture of Phobe’s missing father at home too.
        Yes, i used to be Friends Junkie. 🙂
        Anyway, really enjoyed your story.

      2. SJ O'Hart Post author

        Oh, yes! I used to be a huge ‘Friends’ fan myself. I did wonder if you were talking about Phoebe from that show, but I wasn’t sure. I don’t remember her grandmother keeping a fake photograph of her missing father; clearly I need to refresh my memory! 🙂

        Thanks again for your lovely comments. 🙂

  3. Elaine McKay

    I love this. That description of the mother’s communication at the beginning is wonderfully manic in itself. It is such a sad story, but the love she has for her mother is uplifting at the same time. The description of the social worker’s folding and unfolding lips/ face is vivid and comical. Cary Grant is so handsome and every inch the film star, it was a great image to use.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thanks a lot. I’m really glad you liked all the little details you picked up on, and yes indeed – Cary Grant is never hard to look at, is he? 🙂

  4. emmaleene

    There’s so much that I love about this- the mother/daughter relationship, all the details of the description but my fav has to be your use of perspective ! I love the innocence of the voice & how she negotiates meaning! Maybe I’m biased because I want more but I think there’s lots of scope here if you defer the moment of epiphany. To me she is unable to understand the adults around her (I saw a parallel between mother & woman who collects her:symbolic description of mouths) & wouldn’t expect her to understand the truth from what the woman said. If she took the picture with her then you could have a very interesting scene to write where she finds out the truth ( sees a film/ other children say something etc.) As it is it works very well- I just want more-loved the voice and character. Well done!

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thanks, Emmaleene! What a lovely comment. Of course, you’re right – I did wonder whether the leap of logic required was too much for the narrator, but then I decided to go with it – perhaps wrongly! That’s the beauty of these writing exercises though, isn’t it – we’re forced to confront what works, and what doesn’t. I’m really glad you found so much in my little piece to like. 🙂


Talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s