I've never really watched my mother before, not like I watch her now. I
don't know her at all. When I was younger, she was just there, a presence that
I didn't notice unless I needed her. Now when I look at her, I see myself as I
will be, someday.
Her hair is short and silver, tidy. Even her house is tidy. This is yet
another thing we do not have in common. She looks at me and purses her lips.
She doesn't say it, but I know what she's thinking. My hair needs to be
combed. Cut. Short. Something. I still wear my hair the same way I did
when I was sixteen. She didn't like it then and she doesn't like it now.
"You have such a pretty face," she says, unable to stop herself. "If you'd
only cut your hair so people could see it." Maybe if I believed her I'd cut
my hair. Her voice lacks conviction.
She sits in a chair on the back porch and swats at a mosquito. Sips her
whiskey sour and turns a page in her magazine. I haven't seen her in over six
months and the magazine is there every day. I feel lonely for her, just
inches from my hand, but still so far away. I ask about her garden and she
puts her magazine on the table. At last, a safe subject. Something I know
When I was a child, she used to paint landscapes and bowls of fruit. There was
a large easel in the corner of her bedroom, situated by a window. She painted
in the afternoons while I played outside. One day, I asked her to paint
something for me and she did. But we did not share the same vision. I
pretended to like it, but she knew. A woman's intuition, I learned later. I
don't remember her painting any more after that.
Many years later, I married a boy she hated. I was convinced she knew nothing
of love or she would have understood. I tried to tell her that it was beyond
my control, but she didn't understand that kind of love. I don't know what
other kind there is.
My father comes outside to check on us and stands there awkwardly between,
his hands shoved in his pockets. He would rather be playing golf. My mother
doesn't look at him. After a moment of mumbled conversation, he wanders back
inside and falls asleep in his chair. I don't remember anything he's said.
When I look at my mother again, she is staring out into the yard. Her
expression is sad. I realize now that she has always been sad and shares it
with no one. Yet, it stretches from her to me, and back again. This is the one
thing we have in common.
I want to ask her about love. I want to tell her my secrets and listen to
hers. But I know this is impossible. Whenever I begin to talk about my life,
she looks away, embarrassed. It is as if she's overhearing a whispered
confession in an elevator, made an unwilling audience to a stranger's
I regret all the bad things she knows about me, all the confessions I forced
upon her years ago in a misguided attempt to make her my confidante. I regret
every hurtful thing she's ever heard me say. I know that these transgressions
have collected inside her heart, her arteries clogged with
knowledge of my corruption. She can't love me the way she did when I was a
child, still perfect in her eyes.
In stilted silence, we watch the moon rise. There is nothing more to say
about wildflowers. Tired of chasing fireflies alone, my daughter comes to sit
in my lap, her hands loosely clenched around captive lights. She looks up at
Her eyes are full of secrets too.
Isabelle Carruthers resides in New Orleans. Her fiction and poetry has
previously appeared in Moondance, Zoetrope All-Story Extra, The Mainline,
Physik Garden and others. She is the creative director of MindKites:
Perceptions on the Fringe (www.mindkites.com), a literary webzine for
freethinkers, and serves as fiction editor for Clean Sheets
(www.cleansheets.com) and Mind Caviar (www.mindcaviar.com). You can read more
of her work at her website (www.crosswinds.net/~subterranea). Email: