This piece was a joint effort by my creative writing group. We were each given a line from a novel and asked to start a story about it. Then we passed it on to the next person (kind of like a progressive writing dinner). Here is one of our efforts.
I went into the faded yellow bedroom and looked at the small bed in the center of the drab room. Under the thin polyester bedspread, dingy and matted with age lay my mother. She had summoned me for the third time that morning. First she wanted hot tea, then the curtains opened, and now she summed me again to close them.
“The bright sun, it hurts my eyes.” She squinted and turned her face from the window. I shut the curtains and leaned over the bed. Slowly I brushed my lips across the paper thinness of her flaky forehead.
“I will come back on my lunch hour to see that you get some hot food. Nurse Lucinda will be here in about ten minutes.”
“Not that witch!” my mother hissed through tiny discolored teeth. “She steals from me!” “There, there mother, if Lucinda doesn’t work out we can always call the agency and see if they will send someone else.”
“You see that you do. I can’t have a thief in my house.”
“I will mother, I will. I have to go not. I need to get to work.”
“When will you be back?”
“I will come back at lunch time to see that you get some hot food.”
“See that you do, that bitch of a nurse may try to poison me.”
I passed Lucinda coming in as I was leaving the house. She waved and smiled. Such a pretty young girl, I thought. She really wants to help. I waved back. More than likely my mother would have changed her mind about Lucinda by lunch. I made a mental note to hold off calling the agency for a replacement
My mother wasn’t always like this. She used to be so warm and vibrant that it was contagious. In one of my earliest memories, my mother and I are on the front porch of our rented Carter Avenue house watching two delivery men carry our brand new television set up the steps. It was our first house alone together after dad left. This was soon after my mother made it clear that the bottle and her philandering would always come before her relationship with him.
I loved that television set. It was the first new thing that my mother ever bought in our new life together. I can’t remember when we lost it. Was it move number fifteen? or twenty? Somewhere in all of the moves the television, along with most of our possessions, was sold or left behind when my mother was unable to pay the rent and we had to move out in the dead of night. I don’t remember how the television left us, but I do remember crying sad, bitter tears when I realized that it was gone.
It was over fifteen years before I had my own television again, now isolated and lonely in my own little apartment, work and caring for my mother kept me from having the time to enjoy it. It wasn’t like the brand new one that I used to sit in front of and try to wish my life into something different when I was young.
Korsakoff’s Syndrome was taking my mother’s mind. Daily I watched her deteriorate into a skeleton of her former self, becoming isolated and violent in the confines of her rotting mind. I didn’t want to put her in a nursing home. If we lost Lucinda, I don’t think that the agency would send us another home health aid. My mother was becoming more dangerous and unpredictable with in-home help.
After work, I stopped at my mother’s house to feed her dinner. The savory smells wafting up from the stew did not disguise the putrefying odor emanating from mother’s body.
“Are you listening to me?” her shrill voice startled me. “I said you can leave me now. I can ladle this swill myself.”
“Sorry mother. I just lost myself. It was a long day at work.”
“Sorry? I don’t need your sympathy.”
In spite of her, I smiled gently and lifted another spoonful of broth to her pale, thin lips. Lucinda came in to take the tray away. A few minutes later she came back to give my mother her bath. I left the room in a daze and found myself at the hall closet. It was filled with a variety of useless things, not looked upon since my mother was bedridden, and probably some time before.
I poked around, looking for anything familiar. I found a tattered shoebox on the shelf and brought it down. Inside was on old Instamatic camera and few handfuls of snapshots I had taken with it. Why my unsentimental mother would keep such a thing, a box of precious memories, was beyond me. She probably thought it was really a pair of sexy pumps, some vestige of her whoring days.
Lucinda approached me in the hallway where I sat on the floor. Her purse was hanging from her shoulder and her car keys were in hand.
“Your mother is asleep now. I will see you in the morning.”
I pulled myself together and off of the floor. “Oh, maybe I might swing by on the way to work, definitely at lunchtime.”
Lucinda lingered there as I got my sweater on and my own purse on my own shoulder. I tucked the shoebox under my arm and ushered the nurse out the front door.
“You know, she does appreciate all the help you are giving. We appreciate it. My mother’s not good at showing it, but she’s happier when there’s someone around.”
“Oh, I’ve been with worse patients. No worries.”
I found that hard to believe. We smiled at each other and that was that.
Once I was at my empty apartment, I scattered the photos from the shoebox across the kitchen table. I pushed them around attempting to create a story from them. A story I knew by heart, but had never told anyone, not even myself.
And there it was. The television set peeked out from behind my mother’s skirt as she posed with one of her many suitors. She used to be so beautiful. But the TV is what held my attention. I scoured the whole batch of photos, setting aside every one that captured even a glimpse of the cabinet. I arranged them neatly in the center of the table, pushing the rest of the photos back into the box.
I warmed up some leftover Chinese food in the microwave. I sat at the table eating, staring at the photos of the TV. I was exhausted, and I went to bed.
I looked less and less forward to my weekly overnight stay at mothers.
“Where the hell is she? She took my earrings.”
I woke up, startled, hearing my mother’s voice yelling. I jumped out of the bed and ran to her bedroom.
“What is it mother?” I asked, feeling disoriented. Although I was awoken with her scream, I still felt sleepy.
“I told you she steals from me. My gold earrings are gone,” my mother screamed.
“Where did you put them last?” I said yawning.
“In my jewelry box, where else do you think I would put them?”
My mother was standing beside her bureau, looking angry, yet fragile. The first drawer was half open and she was holding her small jewelry box in her hands that shook subtly. I got closer to her. The clock that sat on the bureau read 5:12.
“Mother, do you know what time it is? It is 5 o’clock in the morning.”
“I don’t care. I want my earrings back. I told you that bitch is a thief.”
“Can I see the box please?”
“Bruce gave me those earrings. It doesn’t matter that they are small. They are real gold and my favorite earrings. You and everyone else keep telling me that they are small,” she said, her voice had become calmer.
I took the box slowly from her weak hands and searched through it. I couldn’t find the gold earrings. I knew exactly which ones she was talking about. They were two tiny four petal gold flowers with a little emerald in the middle. I raised my head to ask her where else she thought that she might have left them when I noticed that she was wearing them. By then I was completely awake.
“Mother, could you please look in the mirror,” I said.
“As she looked in the mirror, I pulled her short silver hairs aside and carefully placed them behind her ears.
“Look mother, you are wearing your beautiful gold earrings,” I told her gently.
“Yes they are beautiful and they are not small. You know who gave them to me?” her voice was soft.
“Yes mother, Bruce gave them to you.”
“You remember Bruce?”
“Of course mother.”
“He was so generous and beautiful wasn’t he?” my mother said smiling, as she still stared at her image in the mirror, adjusting the earring on her left ear with her fingers.
I remembered Bruce very well. I think he was the only man that my mother ever loved. She met him in her early 30’s. I must have been about eight years old. Whenever he visited, he brought me something, a lollipop, cookies, a pack of gum, and a little red plastic ball. Once he even brought me a little Barbie doll, my first and last Barbie doll ever. It was so beautiful with its long blonde hair and big blue eyes. Bruce had blue eyes too.
I lead my mother back to her bed.
“It is too early mother. You need to get back to bed.”
“Where are you going?’
“I will be in the other room.”
I tucked her in and went to the kitchen. I knew I couldn’t fall asleep again. I put a kettle on to make a cup of coffee, when I saw the old shoebox that I had brought along. I made myself a cup of coffee and sat at the kitchen table to go through the pictures again. There was a picture of me sitting right in front of the TV, holding my Barbie doll. I couldn’t remember who took the picture. I was staring at the TV and looked mesmerized by it. I didn’t even notice the picture was taken.
My pale blue fitted sheet never stayed on the bed, and was twisted like a tornado under my naked body. The mattress felt rough where the sheet should have been. I scrolled down through the list of big, old TV’s being auctioned on ebay, and found one whose woody grain and honey tones matched my childhood TV. I made a bid - $12.50, and mouse-cruised back onto Facebook , and the photo of my second-to-last ex, which I was attempting to enlarge in order to see him better. He had a goatee now, which looked a bit silly, I thought. I stretched across the bed, reaching for my Cooper’s Dark Ale, and took a swig. No soothing, thick liquid oozed into my mouth just a faint taste of beer around the rim of an empty mug. “Bugger it,” I said. ‘There’s no point in trying to enjoy myself.” I dragged my tired body into a leopard skin mini-skirt which had once been my mother’s and a velvet top I’d made from a cushion. It didn’t fit right, and reflected my frustration, hanging in ripples which never had and never would unwrinkle.
The light from the hallway illuminated the shaggy lime green mohair rug next to mother’s bed, making it look like scenery in a cheap sci-fi movie I remember watching on our TV when I was small. I stepped onto it, and poked my toes into the soft fibers. Mother’s body on the shadowy bed looked like a mountain range or a pile of coats, but not like a person. I turned on the light to make sure she was still alive. Her chest was still, and I felt a familiar tight feeling in my lungs. Her chest moved, slowly, silently, air and life and breathe still energizing her crumpled brain. I touched her cold hand, feeling a thick, snaking vein near her wrist. “Hi mother, it’s me,” I whispered. She didn’t awaken. “I’m getting our TV back.” She exhaled. I touched her arm. “Remember the time we watched that funny show together, the one with the lady who had a saucepan on her head?” Mother turned over, pulling her arm away from me. I reached out and touched her knobby spine. “You laughed and laughed, and I was leaning on you and your laughing and wobbling made me wobble too.” She was silent, and I waited for her to breathe. Her spine moved under my fingers. I leant gently against her chest as she exhaled again. Her heartbeat sounded loud and constant in my left ear. Her chest slowly rose, and I rose with her. Momentarily I felt supported by her, held, remembered. She pushed me off her and spoke, her voice soft and husky. “Get the fuck away from me. You’re not having my earrings, you hear? They’re from Brucey.”
“Mother, it’s me, Miranda.”
“I’m your daughter.”
“I don’t care whether you’re the cat’s bloody mother, you’re not taking my earrings.”
I swallowed hard and tried to speak again, and couldn’t. I turned out the bedroom light, stepped onto the soft rug and walked out into the bright hallway.
“Don’t you come back here again, bitch.”
I pushed the yellow switch on the yellow stucco wall and felt the soothing darkness caress me.
“Turn the light back on fucking witch.”
I pulled her heavy door closed behind me. I could hear her yelling something indiscernible. I whispered an answer. “Gotta go mother and see if we got our TV on ebay. Maybe we could watch that show again together.”
I walked onto the cracked pavement and turned my face towards the pale, silvery-gray sky.