This morning when she came in I knew it was going to be one of those days. She had a look in her eyes and under her skin that made the coldest fear suck at my insides. It wasn’t the first time, but I wasn’t used to it yet and I couldn’t look at it with any kind of calmness. That would come. Thank god that would come.
This morning when she arrived I could see that something hadn’t quite slotted into place yet within her. It’s hard to tell. Some days it can be a large gaping hole and sometimes it’s a series of small holes that pit the flesh of her.
The first time I noticed something was wrong I’d been dealing with a man who wanted to buy his fiancé a spray of flowers for their anniversary. The romance of their story caught me and reeled me in and I spent at least forty minutes with him, choosing colours and arranging the flowers according to their shape and the way they leaned. Each one a memory. Each one a time they had spent together, fitting together to make up the whole of their journey so far. The man was impressed. I could see the gratefulness in his eyes when he watched how much attention I paid to who they were and how these fresh cut flowers could best represent their story. He thanked me. He even tipped me, and I turned around with the extra bill in my hand as he walked away from our stall, a very happy customer, and I beamed at her and I held up the money to say ‘look what I just did’. I caught something distant in her eyes then that made me falter. But these things can be like clouds that sail out beyond a window pane, and I watched it float, and I insisted it was nothing. I said, “Did I do ok?” She smiled and she said “Yes, that was wonderful.” and she held out her hand in front of me for a handshake. I looked down at the hand. I had known her hands my whole life. I hesitated. I knew something wasn’t right, but I slowly put my own hand forward and placed it in hers anyway.
That wasn’t the start of it, of course. But it was the first time I thought perhaps she didn’t know me. The start of it had been much more devious. So devious I never noticed it was creeping in.
I told myself she was fine for a long time. But I am losing her. She is leaving a little every day. Still, she is my mother. She is still my mother. Although she fluctuates and she delves in and out of her own body, some days I am still sitting with my mother. And on the days when I feel like she is lost already, I can look at the shape of her face, the same as mine, the way her hair sits, like mine, and I can still find her.
This morning I knew it was one of those days. She sat down and together we waited for customers to arrive at our flower stall. Out in the street I could see my husband and my seven year old son washing the car. It was a morning so bright you felt it might blind you.
My mother was watching them when a frown entered her brow. “Who’s that with Giang?” she said.
My mother was watching the ghost of her own younger brother by the car, the memory so thick and so solid it took over everything else. I watched my husband and son splash water onto the bonnet of the car and the sun pick up each droplet and dance with it. There was a strange contentment to the moment, a sort of allowing. This was the way things were right now, and I could live with that.
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) and Orange Balloon (2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.
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Excellent, Samantha. You really drew me in.