I never post a story without first consulting a friend and sometimes I wonder if I would ever write anything at all without them. I write, read it over and wait a moment before hitting the send button on my email. What if it sucks? I remind myself that sucking is ok. Really, I almost believe it. (Are you seeing a pattern in the lessons I’m learning in these early weeks?)
Insecurity seems to be second nature for writers, or at least all the writers I know. We’re not good at believing in ourselves, but we’re excellent at believing in one another. We’re the best at surrounding each other with a love laced in truth and sarcasm. I’m not sure how I got so lucky, and I don’t know how I survived 28 years without your advice and support but I’m glad you’ll be there for the next 28. (because at 29 we’re done!)
This story almost never left my notebook of ideas but thanks to good friends and late night readers it made it to its first draft. I hope you like it!
I thought that death would be like lighting or firecrackers shooting off on wet pavement, but it was neither. Life was the flicker of a candle followed by a soft blow, I became smoke rising, thick and sour and then I was nothing.
It makes no immediate sense, the things you remember from your life. I remember warm covers and being wrapped in a cocoon of white and green. I sighed into the morning and looked at the ceiling above lit up by yellow sunlight. The room around me shone with the sharpness of it and I turned to my mother still sleeping and listened for birds I couldn’t hear. I watched the rise and fall of her breathing and felt contentment, though at four I would have only known that I was happy. I was consumed with it until all I felt was light and all I heard was slow breathing.
Mama stirred and opened her eyes, happy to see my face so close. She looked more beautiful in that moment than I’d ever realized before and I took the picture of her messy hair and flyaway bangs and I held it captive in the trove of memories that hurt and healed and remained until the day I died. Her face was clean and puffy from a long night’s sleep and when she brought her hand to my face it was warm, as if it was the last part of her to wake. She propped herself up on her elbow and rubbed her eyes with her free hand. She yawned and pushed wavy hair from her face.
I yawned in response and shimmied myself further into the folds of the comforter and quilt and I closed my eyes.
“How’d you sleep?” She asked turning to peer through the window above the bed. I giggled, squeezed my eyes shut and drew in a gulp of air through my nose, snoring.
I heard the smile in her voice when she took up her part in our game. “Oh no, my little darlin’ has gone back to sleep.”
I snored again and laughed, turning my face into the pillows.
“I guess I’ll have to go get doughnuts by myself.”
I sat up and said, “No.” Then she laughed and pulled me to her chest and put her head in my hair. Her lips smacked in a kiss and I gave one back to the air.
“Doughnuts it is!” Mama stood and pulled the blankets from me into a big mound of softness at the foot of the bed that I wanted to climb back into. The cold air hurt and I shrieked and pulled my nightgown over my bare legs. Mama laughed at me when I took her pillow and hugged it close.
“Up and at em lazy girl.” She threw a pillow that had fallen on the floor, it hit me in the face and I threw mine at her missing by a foot. She smiled at me and went into her closet. I laid back on the bed, bringing the sheet with me, a shell of the warmth I’d had before.
Mama shed her nightgown as she pulled on a pair of jeans and turned to the mirror to check the fit. She made a grunting noise, then said something I couldn’t hear and took the pants off again, revealing green underwear and white skin. She turned to me and rifled through the top drawer of her dresser. I thought she was beautiful standing unclothed and I wondered if I would ever catch the sunlight the way she did. She reminded me of ‘majesty,’ a word I’d heard in a book Daddy read aloud the last time he was home.
I couldn’t articulate what beauty meant and so she was my answer for it, the definition of beauty in the form of a woman who’d endured three pregnancies and only one living child. When I was four I didn’t see her cellulite or her scars. The place that I came from slashed across her stomach, meant nothing to me then. She was smooth and glowing.
She threw shirts on hangers to the ground as she cursed then apologized for it. She tried on another pair of pants then three shirts and as she pulled each over her head and piled them on the floor she sang that her love was deeper than a holler, stronger than a river and higher than pines. I laid on my stomach, my chin resting on my hands while she moved around the room. I tapped my feet in time to her voice.
“From the backroads to the broadway shows with a million miles between.” She sang.
Her breasts moved freely with her hips and swinging arms until she picked up a cast aside bra hanging on the handle of the open closet door. She put it on and twirled to the oak dresser as she moved bare hips to music only we could hear.
We sang three more songs while she dressed and somewhere in the middle of the second I got up and went to my room where I could still hear her voice and I put a tshirt on and jeans and my jellies and went back to her room to find her putting on makeup and singing about golden bands on other hands, another of her Randy Travis favorites. She’d put on jeans but no shirt yet and I leaned on the dresser while she penciled in lines under her eyes and put color on her lids. Stopping in her work for a moment she looked sideways at me and smiled then picked up mascara and unscrewed it from its tube.
“You take forever.” I complained thinking about sprinkle covered frosting and hot chocolate.
“Almost ready” she promised.
When her make up was set and she’d looked at it from every angle she picked up a shirt from the pile of discarded clothes that made her curse and she put it on over her head, careful not to smudge her work.
She made a final turn in front of the mirror after she slipped her shoes on, flattening her hand over her abdomen. She groaned and pulled up her shirt to reveal a freckled stomach, mumbling to her reflection that she was getting fat. “So fat.’ She shook her head then turned to leave.
“Lets go sweets.” She called over her shoulder as she left the room.
I took her place at the mirror after she went and didn’t leave until she called for me from the open front door.
I don’t know why I remember that morning now, though I probably will if I’m patient and lucky. I don’t remember if I had a boyfriend in high school or what my father’s face looked like, I don’t remember my best friend’s name or if I went to college but I remember the important things. I’ve read my favorite books a hundred times since I died, I’ve played fetch with my dog Max and held my babies as they slept. I remember chocolate and the deepest kiss I ever had, I remember springtime in the mountains and I remember that morning.
I know nothing more now than I did when I was alive except that life is the flickering flame of a candle and memory is the air it fades into.