If you’ve been here long, or read my bio, you’ll know that I’m a fiction writer as well as a blogger. I don’t have anything published…YET. But I do have some things I’d like to put out in the world. I’ll be sharing some short stories every once in a while from here on out. Hopefully I’ll be able to come back and update these posts with news about the stories being published. For now though, please enjoy my first short story.
She looked so frail. That was the first thing that came to my mind when I reached the doorway of my mother’s room. She had always been so big to me, so big and so tough. For a moment, I was a child again, watching her storm and blow at my father, disgusted as usual with his filthy hands or dirty boots or the mud that he had tracked in after his shift at the processing plant. I shook my head free from the memories and returned my focus to the shadow of a woman before me. The woman in my memories was long gone, taken away by age and the cancer running roughshod through her body.
“Hello Mom,” I whispered, slipping into the hard wooden chair at her bedside. She stirred at my voice and opened her eyes slowly. I watched her eyes, still a shockingly bright blue, cast about the room before finding my face.
“Oh.” She said, her voice as hard and strong as it was in my memories. “It’s you. I was hoping it was your sister that I heard. Go away. Go find Tessa.”
I flinched at her words. It had been almost thirteen years since I had seen or spoken to my mother. She couldn’t even say my name or stand the sight of me for a moment. Clearly time did not heal all wounds. Nor did the nearness of death. She would continue to hate me until her last breath was gone.
“You’re going to keep right on hating me from Heaven, aren’t you Mom?” I rose and quickly retreated back to the doorway, feeling safer with distance between us. “I’ll go get Tessa and be on my way then.” I turned on my heel and would have been down the hall in a flash if the sharp “Wait” hadn’t come from the bed.
“You just wait right there Joanne. I may be dying, but you can’t talk to me like that.”
In a flash I was so furious that I didn’t care that she was dying. She was still the hardhearted woman who had turned her back on me at my own father’s funeral. I was back beside the bed in a blink, the pinpoint heels of my boots punctuating each step with an angry, echoing crack.
“Well you may be dying but you can’t talk to me like that, Mother. It has been a long time, a long damn time. You can let go of your anger at me already.”
“Are you still married to that man?”
I puffed out a breath of anger and sat down hard in the chair next to her. “You know I am.”
“Well then I can not let go of my anger. You were raised better young lady.”
“Oh good Lord, Mother.” I cast my eyes Heavenward, sending up a silent prayer for strength. I was going to need it to keep my tongue under control. “I was raised by an angry woman and a tired, beaten man who were both Godly and yet very racist. I overcame that to marry a wonderful, loving man who is a preacher and a community leader and just who happens to have skin a different shade than my own.”
Her mouth tightened into a thin angry line and she looked away from me. I watched as she struggled, not against her own anger but against her failing body and remembered another day. Her short, shallow breathing faded away as I remembered my father’s funeral and the last time I’d seen her well.
Noah had insisted on coming with me. It was the first time he’d met my mother. She and my father had refused to come to our small wedding less than six months earlier. Only Noah’s family and my sister Tessa had come to the small ceremony in Atlanta. I’d warned him that this first meeting would be ugly but he came anyway, refusing to let me face her anger alone.
It had been more than ugly. It had been horrible. First she had left the room as we entered, hiding for a while in the restroom. Then she’d refused to allow us to be seated with the family, causing a scene when the funeral director had ushered us into the room for family members before the service. As usual I’d taken the bait and fought with her. Noah finally calmed me down and we claimed seats at the very back of the room. I kept my eyes down, avoiding the questioning glances of friends, ashamed of my mother and of myself. Noah just rolled with the whole thing in his quiet way. I caught him the next day praying for her. With anyone else I could forgive that sort of behavior. I could join him in his prayers for them and their ignorant ways. But my own mother, I could not forgive her. Her ignorance cut far too deeply.
Again, her words drew me back. This time, I was shocked by what she said.
“Do you have children?” That was something I never expected her to ask.
Surprised at myself, I leaned forward and took her frail hand in my own. I smiled at her and spoke, my voice full of hope. Even after all of her hatred, I still wanted her love and approval. “Yes. We have two wonderful boys. Jackson and William. Jackson after Noah’s father and William for Dad.” I pulled out my cell phone and showed her pictures. Their two smiling faces always made my heart skip a beat. Those boys were the reason I took each and every breath. As I showed their pictures to my mother, I told her as much. “They came with me. And Noah too.”
She pulled her hand from mine and returned her gaze to the window. I felt her wall going back up but I pushed on, foolishly optimistic.
“Don’t you want to get to know them Mom? Spend what time you have left getting to know your grandsons?” I reached for her hand again, “Please Mom.”
She jerked her hand further away at my touch. When she faced me I knew. I knew it was over. Her eyes were cold and her face distant as she said, “You’re all going to Hell. Mixing races is against the laws of God.” She turned away from me again, wrapped her ignorant beliefs, dismissing me once and forever.
I slowly stepped backward out of the room. Her raspy breathes filling the silence. I stood in the hallway listening to them, hearing the gap between each inhale grow longer and longer. Soon there were no more. Her final words hung in the air before me, my eyes staring through the doorway at the same window her now unseeing eyes were locked upon. Then the words faded away, her hatred leaving with them. I felt free for the first time in years. My heart hurt that the freedom from my mother’s hatred had also meant the end of her life.
“Tessa,” I called down the hallway. “She’s gone.”