I am four-years-old. Sitting on the edge of the porcelain tub while my mother paints on her cat-eyes.
It is not enough to watch her in the reflection of the tri-fold mirror. I want her to face me, to feel her arms around me, to squeeze me until bedtime. Instead, she sprays her sweeping up-do with Aqua Net.
I still wait.
Now I want to tell you about my mother’s rabbit. It died when she was sixteen. But that’s a misnomer since all rabbits tested died. A few days after being injected, the female is sliced open. Ovaries change in response to hormones secreted by a pregnant human.
Twelve-years-old. I have stopped waiting.
But I want my mother to tell me the lie that everything will be okay.
I am seventeen. My rabbit dies.
My mother’s tears gather on her cheeks.
I am thirty-two. My mother and I come together over the evening news and a cocktail, adult conversations, bookended with laughter—returning to the same stories, family history relived, reorganized, rewritten.
In the memory, she smiles at me. This is why the memory sticks.
Let me tell you about the first day of spring eight years ago? When sunlight reminds me of children reciting a nursery rhyme.
My mother lounges on the loveseat beneath the living room window. She chose the plaid fabric from Sears, her favorite go-to department store. She is hooked to an oxygen tank, shrunken inside her fake-velvet jogging suit, her cat eyes deep in a trashy paperback, living her last moments like clouds in an ever changing sky.
I am in my sixties, standing in the driveway of my mother’s home of sixty-four years.
y mother’s beloved lemon tree is lifeless. Her clay pots, cracked, shriveled roots exposed. No bees or butterflies.
Her hushed voice presses the silence. Does any part of us remain here? Does a house begin to settle in on itself when abandoned? Is it the breath of the occupants that hold it up?
But first I want to tell you about my stepfather of forty years. Lost. Lonely. Vulnerable.
The family fears he has become a host to a parasite who has oddly become executor of the estate and co-signer on bank and retirement accounts. The parasite buys a $90,000 Tesla, registered solely in his name.
While hosting this organism my father loses fifty pounds and dies alone on an autumn day when every branch is leafless.
The parasite drives away.
I want to tell you about the house, empty, the air stale, unable to exhale. A door slams for no reason.
There are alternatives to what I am doing. They just do not interest me.
The parasite nailed a second curtain rod above the front window and hung a thick red blanket; a veil of dull dust, deception and danger.
I climb onto the loveseat in a crossroad of time, sorrow quivering through my bones, and lift the curtain rod from its bracket. Afternoon light bores through the window in flaxen triangles. I am reminded that this is the only time of year when the sun touches the deepest crannies of the living room.
I sit on the brick patio under my mother’s orange tree, planted so she could bag fruit for family and friends. Because this tree is alive with blossoms I stretch my fingers and keep stretching them, knowing healing begins on the uppermost branch.
Sherry Shahan’s novel in free verse and traditional poetic forms “Purple Daze: A Far Out Trip, 1965” highlights a tumultuous year in history. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.