Mother

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic


One of my friends dared me to write a short story in second person. Since it's Mother's Day (at least in the US- it was a few days ago in Mexico and several months ago in most of the world), I
thought I'd go for something memoir-y.



A special thank you to all the mothers out there today- American or not and biological / legal or not. You are truly amazing. While this world literally could not exist without you, it also could
not exist without the love that you show. Thank you for everything you do.

Submitted: May 12, 2018

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Submitted: May 12, 2018

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A A A


When you stand together at the mirror, you see her face in yours. Same small eyes, big nose, bushy eyebrows. You look at her and wonder if you will ever truly be like her, because in other ways you are so different. Her face is smile-wrinkled, hair burnt bone-straight with an iron.

“Curly hair isn’t professional,” she scolds, as she wrestles yours into a braid and presses your bangs flat.

You wince, more at her pulling than the implication. At ten years old, you would rather sleep in an extra fifteen minutes than have her style your hair, be it curly or straight. Mama! Stop yanking so hard! Go do your own hair and leave mine alone!

“I’m not letting you go to school looking like you got electrocuted.” She sighs. “You look like you’re wearing a hedgehog as a hat.”

Hedgehogs aren’t curly. You cross your arms, unsure if she’s joking. They’re spiky.

“Oh yeah?” A glint comes into her eye. “Alright, you look like you’re wearing a poodle as a hat. Or a sheep. Or a chinchilla—”

You giggle in spite of yourself, impatience forgotten.

“There you are.” Your mother finishes with the flat iron. “Much better, huh?”

You shake your head. I still like it better curly.

“You’re just lazy,” your mother snorts, and you have to admit she’s right.

Before you are born, the doctors tell your mother she will never bear children. Not impossible, but you have multiple problems. There are problems with your husband, too. It isn’t going to happen. Not naturally, at least. And yet you are born in the middle of the night, a month early, as an emergency C-Section. They call in all the specialists, thinking there’s something wrong with you, but your mother knows better.

“She’s perfect,” she murmurs, looking into your dark eyes and stroking your ruddy cheeks. “Tiny, but perfect.”

And to the surprise of all the specialists, she is right. There is nothing wrong with you– no heart defect, no collapsed lungs, nothing. You just wanted to make a dramatic entrance into the world.

About a month after your birth, your mother has to go back to work. She takes you with her– sets you behind her desk and goes about her duties as a secretary.

This isn’t going to work, her manager warns. If even one client complains—

But no one complains. On the contrary, they all think your mother is wonderful for working and mothering at the same time. They tell her she is the most amazing woman they have ever met.

You are inclined to agree.

On your first day of kindergarten, the shoes you pick out do not match.

I can’t decide whether I want to wear the watermelon ones or the striped ones! So I want to wear one of each!

Your mother sits back on her heels and chuckles, considering your neon blue-and-yellow dress, frizzy hair, and mismatched shoes.

Puh-leeze, Mama? Can I wear one of each?

“Sure, why not?” She takes your hand. “You should look your best on the first day of school.”

You preen proudly, confident in your fashion choices. But when you reach your classroom, you look around and everyone else’s shoes are the same. You tug on your mother’s shirt.

Mama?

“Yes?”

Are my shoes weird?

“No.” She bends down and looks you straight in the eye.

“They’re perfect,” she promises. “Perfect, just like you.”

There is, for no apparent reason, an unsubstantiated family legend that your mother’s side is descended from Welsh royalty.

“The Prince of Wales himself,” your mother declares, miming a crown above her forehead. Your siblings gasp, awed. You cock your head.

Which Prince of Wales?

“Er—” She hesitates, flustered. “Any of them, of course! If you’re related to one, you’re related to them all.”

But which one ended up in America? And how?

“I don’t know which one!” Her voice deepens dramatically. “All we know is that one of my ancestors was from Wales. He was playing hide-and-seek at home and ran onto a ship to hide. Then he fell asleep, and it sailed to America with him on board!”

Your brother leans forward, wriggling with excitement. And that was the Prince of Wales?

“And that was the Prince of Wales!”

You frown. If he was the prince, wouldn’t someone have been watching him while he was playing hide-and-go seek?

“His nanny or governess or whatever rich old Europeans used was probably too busy flirting with the rugged and burly sailors to pay attention to him,” she reasons. “That’s how it goes in storybooks.”

Well, how come he never went home, then? Why’d he stay in America, if he was prince and had a kingdom to rule? And why—

She picks up a pencil and waves it like a sword. “I’m closer to royalty than you are!” she crows, as your siblings giggle and mime bows. “Do not question my authority, or I shall throw you in the royal dungeon!”

Alright, Your Highness. You laugh in spite of yourself. After all, unsubstantiated family legends were not made to be verified.

When you are eight years old, you move.

You are sad to leave your home, your friends, your life, even if it does mean you don’t have to share a room with your sisters anymore. But your mother is excited– not sad.

Not until your first Monday there when two smiling men knock on the door.

“Can I help you?”

Good morning, ma’am! We didn’t see you at church yesterday– have you moved over yet?

You peek out from behind your mother’s legs, staring up at their pale blue eyes and straight blonde hair. Your mother cocks her head.

“Beg your pardon?”

Church– you weren’t there yesterday. Are you still going to your old congregation?

She shakes her head. “We don’t go to your church.”

Their smiles falter.

What was that?

“We don’t go to your church.” Your mother smiles apologetically. “We’re not your religion.”

For a long time, no one says anything. She breaks the silence at last.

“Is that a problem?”

One of the men smiles uncomfortably and fidgets with his tie. The other just gapes. What do you mean, you’re not our religion?

“I mean we’re not.” She crosses her arms. You do not know what has changed, but you can feel something different in their air, and no one seems to want to breathe. “Is that a problem?”

Er—

They scramble for words.

No! No, of course not. It’s just—

“Just what?”

Nothing. They leave quickly. The next day, they’re back with thick books and strange pamphlets. Ma’am, would you consider joining our church—

“No, thank you.” She shuts the door firmly, then bites her lip. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”

You look up at her. What wasn’t?

“Nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

A few days later, when you start school, everyone seems to know you before you have a chance to know them. That’s the girl! The one who’s not our religion! They gape at you, like spectators at a zoo, and tell you you’re not allowed to play their games.

Your mother seethes when you tell her.

“You don’t ever let them make you feel less than you are, you hear?” She puts her hands on your shoulders. “They want you to be ashamed of who you are– who we are. Look at me. Look at your dad. Look at yourself. Do you see anything to be ashamed of?”

No, Mama.

“That’s because there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing at all.” Her voice softens, and she strokes your hair. “You hold your head high, and you treat them with kindness, and you know that they are a thousand times better than they will ever be. We are a thousand times better than they will ever be.”

She tells you that a hundred times over, as the neighborhood kids prank your house and only your house. As they steal your Christmas decorations. As they splash soda on your windows. As they leave nasty notes in the mailbox.

We are a thousand times better than they will ever be.

Eventually, you find other outcasts, and in those outcasts you find friends. And when they worry that no one else likes them, you tell them what your mother told you. We a thousand times better than they will ever be.

Like you, they learn to believe it.

Everyone reads Harry Potter in fourth grade. Everyone except you.

“Wizards? Magic?” Your mother screws up her face. “Absolutely not! That’s the Devil’s playground!” You read it anyway, of course– hiding in the bathroom during recess and snatching sentences between math and science.

One day, your friends tease you about your hair while your mother is listening. “Who’s Hermione Granger?” she asks you later. “Why do they say you look like her?”

Uh— I’m not sure, Mama. I think she’s from a movie I haven’t seen.

“A movie, huh?” She shrugs it off. Years later, you will work up the courage to tell her of your deceit. You expect her to bite your head off, or at least look disappointed. Instead, she claps her hands with delight.

“I just finished reading them last week! Such a good series, isn’t it?”

Mama! You wouldn’t let me read them for the longest time!

“I wouldn’t?”

You said they were the Devil’s playground!

“I did not!”

You did, too!

“Well, anyways, you can read them now.” She leans forward excitedly. “So, what House do you think you would you would be in?”

I dunno. Hufflepuff, maybe?

“I was thinking Ravenclaw. What about me?”

Gryffindor. You don’t even have to think about it. Gryffindor for sure.

Your sister is younger than you and she has a boyfriend. You do not. This is a fact which concerns your mother greatly.

“Your last year of high school and you’ve never been kissed! Never even been on a date! Why don’t you want to get married?”

Mama! You groan in exasperation. That’s years away! And I haven’t met someone I like yet.

“You just need to be more proactive– ask the boys out, if they won’t ask you. What about that nice boy, Gabe? Invite him out for pizza.”

Both of us are lactose intolerant.

“Thai, then. That cute little place by the school.”

Mama, he’s got a girlfriend.

“Maybe,” she says, a twinkle in her eye. “But I’ll bet she’s not as pretty as you.”

Your mother is enamored by two things: babies and royalty. Any combination of the two is cause for extravagant celebration.

“Kate had her baby!” she shrieks one afternoon, as you come in from school.

You frown.

Kate? Kate who?

“Kate. THE Kate. The Princess!”

Oh. You try to nod enthusiastically. Um, good for her.

“Good for her? All you can say is good for her?” She shoves her phone at you. “Look at his little face! He’s so precious!”

Very cute, Mama.

“He’s a prince! A little prince!” She coos. “Just like in the fairy tales.”

You bite back a chuckle at her excitement. Yep, Mama. Just like a fairy tale.

Your sister rolls her eyes from across the room. You do know we fought a war to get away from kings and queens and princes and princesses, right?

“Well, I didn’t,” you mother says indignantly, and you all laugh.

Your mother has a remarkable talent for setting things on fire.

First there was the pillow that she left on the heater– no flames, but it melted and started smoking. Then there was the towel that she dropped on a candle. Then there was the rug she burnt a hole in, then the plastic tray she accidentally put in the oven, then—

“OUT! OUT! OUT!”

You wander into the kitchen just in time to see her dump a smoky mess into the sink and turn the water on. You don’t even blink.

What caught fire this time, Mama?

She sighs. “Paper plate.”

That’s a new one. How?

“I don’t know! I put it in the microwave and it just went up in flames!” She lifts the charred, soggy remnants and dumps them in the trash. “At least it went out quickly.”

Does shouting ‘OUT! OUT!’ help with that part? Or were you channeling your inner Macbeth?

She swats you with a towel. “Maybe I was! Things work out pretty well for him, don’t they?”

Um… no. No, they do not.

“Yes, they do! He gets the girl to listen to him, and then his best friend gets her sister, and they all live happily ever after.”

Wrong play, Mama.

She shrugs. “Well, he at least succeeds in getting the spot out, right? So why shouldn’t I yell ‘OUT! OUT!’?”

Macbeth isn’t trying to get the spot out. He’s saying “out, out brief candle.”

“Out, out brief candle?” She looks down at the ashy mess in our garbage can. “I should’ve shouted that for the towel. Does Shakespeare have any lines about microwaves?”

I don’t think so.

“Too bad.” She shrugs. “Oh, well. ‘OUT! OUT!’ it is.”

When you stand together at the mirror, you see her face in yours. Same small eyes, big nose, bushy eyebrows. You look at her and know that for all your differences, you are already like her, and you are proud to be that way.

“Do you like it like this?” She pins a swoop of hair behind your ear and considers it thoughtfully. Graduation is still three weeks away, but she is already practicing your hairstyle.

That looks nice, Mama. You smile as your eyes meet in the glass. Do you want me to straighten it?

“No, leave it curly.” She twists her finger around a ringlet. “I like you the way you are.”

I like you the way you are, too, Mama. You lean your head against her shoulder. I love you.

Her eyes glitter. “I love you, too.”

I love you more.

“Oh yeah?” She laughs as you grin up at her. “Well, I loved you first.”

 

 

 


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