Calling Mum…Home: A Short Story

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We’d like to thank Maura Maros from the US for her nonfiction story ‘Calling Mum…Home’. A touching true story about grief and the special bond between Mother and Daughter.

   Maura Maros has a master’s degree in Human Resources Administration from the University of Scranton and Creative Writing from Wilkes University.  In 2018 she completed her Master’s in Fine Arts at Wilkes University.

   Maura’s short story, Hidden Gem (February 2016), and her book review of The Self-Care Solution (June 2016) were published in Mother’s Always Write.   Her short story, The Warrior, was published in the anthology I AM STRENGTH Maura’s poem A Mother’s Guide to Getting By is in the summer edition of the American Writers Review 2019.

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Calling Mum…Home

I padded into my parent’s bedroom like I had countless times over the past forty-one years. Usually, my mom wanted to show me a dress or a pair of shoes she bought at Macy’s or maybe get my opinion about a necklace. But this time was different. She called my sister and me upstairs to show us the leopard dress she wanted to be buried in.

“This is the one she said, with my black sweater to cover up my arms,” she said, holding the dress out in front of her.

My sister and I humored her, “Okay, Mom.”

After dress selection, we carried her jewelry box to the kitchen, surveying its contents like fine purveyors of jewelry. My mom pulled her favorite pieces out and asked us who wanted which one. We tossed the old costume pieces and left only the items that she valued. My sister and I went along with this charade, confident she would rally against the cancer she fought for eleven years.

I showed up a few days later, carrying her vanilla latte from Starbucks when my dad came down the stairs to the kitchen.

“I can’t wake her up,” he said.

I didn’t believe him and went up to the bedroom, gently shook her shoulder, and said, “Mom, wake up.” Nothing, no reply.

Not a week later, I walked back into her bedroom; it was quiet, heavy with anticipation, no TV sounds, or chatter. The fall breeze blew through the window and injected some air into the room billowing the sheers. My mom laid in the bed on my dad’s side. I’m not sure how she rolled over to his side, maybe his body had created a tiny slope over the years, and she gravitated to him, even when he wasn’t there. Her body made a C curve, and her eyes opened, but she didn’t really see me. My mom flickered in and out of consciousness over the next few days.

I crawled into the bed next to her. I moved slowly, trying not to jostle the bed. I curled her hand in mine and laid my head on the pillow. I stared at her face, taking in all the lines, praying she would wake up. The hospice nurses weren’t giving us false hope, but no one knew what to expect. We were unprepared for my mom’s sudden decline. Although she wasn’t, she knew and was trying to prepare us the best she could. The dress, earrings, sweater, all picked out for the funeral home, the notes written about the service, all clues, that she knew she was losing the battle.

The days dragged on and she remained semi-conscious as we circled around her in a heightened state of awareness. Then a few days into our new normal, she was more awake than other days. “I love you, Mommy. Do you remember when I used to sneak into your bed as soon as Dad got up?” I whispered to her. I don’t know why I called her Mommy. I never called her anything other than Mom. I felt like a child again, needing my mom to comfort me when I was in pain, but our roles had reversed over the weeks.
Her eyes opened, and she nodded, a faint smile on her lips, “I love you too,” she murmured.

I wanted to beg her to stay, but I knew she was in pain. Tears ran down my cheeks as I continued to hold her hand. There were so many things I wanted to tell her, but my mother, only sixty-seven years old, was fading away, and I wanted to make sure she left the world feeling loved. Our family and friends sat vigil with her, taking turns perched on the edge of the bed or the vanity bench we moved in next to her. Every night I watched Jeopardy with her, me answering, her mostly unconscious, just like we did night after night when I was on bed rest with my daughter.

When I was a little girl, I crept across the hallway to my parents’ bedroom, dragging my Strawberry Shortcake sleeping bag behind me. I paused in the doorway and listened for my mom’s breath to determine just how asleep she was. I tiptoed to mom’s side of the bed and whispered, “Mom, are you awake?”

“Huh?? What? You scared me,” she mumbled as she slowly realized I was standing there.

“Can I sleep on your floor?”

“Okay,” she sighed.

I laid out Strawberry Shortcake and snuggled down on the hard floor. I sandwiched myself between the side of the bed and her closet doors, hoping I didn’t hit my head on the sharp edge of the nightstand as I threw my pillow down. Still, l couldn’t calm down and fall asleep, “Mom, can I hold your hand?”

“Yes,” she said as she dropped her hand off the side of the bed.


My fingertips stretched up to reach hers’ in the dark as I entwined my fingers between hers. I felt my mom’s skin melt into mine, and I didn’t care how uncomfortable I was in my contorted position when I was holding her hand. I was safe. My fears dissipated, and my sleeplessness faded into slumber when I was tucked away in my sleeping bag, my mom inches away.

In the morning, I heard the closet door squeak open as my Dad tried to navigate around me as he got ready for work. Once I knew he went downstairs, I jumped up and scurried into his still-warm spot. I loved lying next to my mom in the mornings when I had her to myself.

My mom looked at me, “What was wrong last night?”

I didn’t have an answer; I was afraid of everything. The excitement of Christmas kept me awake every year, or a scary movie, and forget about it if I heard Michael Jackson’s Thriller song. The narrator’s voice, in the beginning, was enough to keep me up for days. When the movie Seven came out, I was nineteen-years-old and slept on my parent’s floor for three nights. Me and Strawberry Shortcake made numerous trips across the hallway.

But today, as I held her hand in mine, I was most afraid of losing my mom. The thought of her not answering the phone or giving me advice on raising teenagers suffocated me. Year after year, she battled back against cancer time and time again. It was easy for me to believe cancer wouldn’t kill her. Even when hospice came to manage her medications, I thought she would rally, but seeing her in the bed for the last week was making it difficult to deny the reality that my mom wouldn’t be here.

Each night I left my parent’s and went home to my children who needed me, I tried to make their lives normal. I feared that my mom would be gone when I got there in the morning without saying goodbye. And then it happened, the ring of the phone pierced the early morning silence, and my dad said she slipped away in the night. It was 5:00 AM when I picked up my sister to see her one last time. I raced from the funeral home to my parents; I couldn’t let the next time I saw her be in a casket.

As I approached the bronze coffin, I touched her folded hands; they would never hold mine again. I wanted them to squeeze my fingers reflexively, but there was nothing but papery coldness. I wouldn’t feel her aged skin or see her painted nails, entwined with my younger, less manicured ones for the rest of my life. I wasn’t sure who would comfort me again or answer the phone when I called. As we said our final goodbyes at the cemetery, my heart sunk with loneliness as I walked away from her grave. It was unbearable to leave her there alone, in the cold and dark, when I was going to my warm house and pretend to carry on with life.

I spoke to my mom at least twice a day. No one cares about your mundane nonsense, except for your mom. Ten 0’clock, that was our first phone call of the day; she was home from the gym, and I needed a break from work. We only deviated from the routine when one of us was on vacation, or I had a conference call. It took months of practice not to pick up the phone and dial her number each morning.

I listened to her voicemails. I needed to remember her voice, but how can you remember how someone felt? The feel of their hand in yours, their hand on your back as you cry, it’s not possible. I felt the ache on my heart for the warmth of her touch. Again, I’m reaching for her in the dark, but I’m unable to find her hand.

She’s been gone a few months, and my phone contact was still labeled, “Mom.”
When I sync my phone to my car, I instruct my Bluetooth, “Call Mom.” My car replied, “Calling Mom, Home.” I knew she wasn’t going to answer. I should have updated my contact to something more appropriate, like Dad or Parents. But parents would be misleading. I cleaned out my voicemails, all but two. The lone messages were from August 26th, 2017, from Mom- home.

“Hey Maura, it’s Mom. We were out working on the pool. So, uh, I will be here ironing. Call me if you want. Bye.” Eleven seconds. Her voice was clear; she seemed strong, helping my dad close-up the pool for the summer. The last message was from September 14th, 2017, from Mom-mobile.

“Hey Maura, calling you back. I just got on the phone with Mary Fran, so obviously I’m here. Call me back when you have a chance. OK bye-bye.” Fifteen seconds. She sounded groggy and like her tongue was thick, or she had been crying.   The calls were two weeks apart, not enough time to come to terms with her declining so quickly. One month later, she was gone. The message totals 26 seconds; that was all I had left of her voice. I should change her name in my phone. I know that once I do that, I’m admitting she is gone. Gone from me. Gone from my dad. Gone from my sisters. Gone from my kids. Irreversibly, gone.

 


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An Organised Mind: A Short Story

So I’ve been pretty busy the last few days but I managed to whip up this story to share with you all. It’s a bit of a sad one about a brave mum in a very dark situation but there is light in the darkness and hope on the horizon.

Warning: May contain triggers as it refers to incidents of domestic violence.

Disclaimer: This story is completely fictional and in no way relates to the authors life or persons known to her.

~ Jo Stewart

 

An Organised Mind

Eve wiped the tears from her flushed cheek. Her hand was shaky, her pulse racing, her eye throbbing with pain from the recent blow. She reached out to grip the doorknob. The door was locked. Of course it was. He meant to punish her, restrain her, cage her, keep her under control. She was once a free bird, soaring in the wind, full of life, love, excitement, joy. Now, her wings were broken, smashed against the cold metal of her metaphorical cage.

She sank to the floor by the bed, the soft carpet cushioning her bruised thigh. She could still feel the sting of the golf clubs metal stem as it ricocheted off her femur. The pain was all too familiar now, it was part of her, melting into her like a second skin. But the pain in her body could not compare to the agony in her heart. Her heart that once beat passionately and boldly for the one that held it close to his own. The one she’d freely and willingly given it to when she believed his love was pure. Now, her heart beat slower, like the repetitive tick of a broken clock. Darkness invaded all the spaces, wrapping its tentacles around her soul.

Once upon a time, he had been so kind, so loving and thoughtful. They seemed to have so much in common and they were happy, or so she thought. The changes came gradually over time, a harsh word here or there, a put down followed by a heart-felt apology. Then things started to get broken, fists and boots went through walls and doors, threats were thrown that it would be her face next time, followed by promises to never do it again.

Things settled down for a few years when Eve was pregnant and caring for two little ones. She’d learnt to keep her thoughts and opinions to herself, becoming withdrawn and silent, meticulously choosing actions and words that served to keep the storms at bay. She found compensation for her loneliness by focusing her love and energy on her children.

They brought her joy for a time, but the hollowness of feeling alone, abandoned and used, made that joy fleeting. She loved her daughters with all her heart, but her heart was broken. Her mind was filled with despair, she despised her own being, for she could no longer force herself to submit for the sake of peace, to cower in the corner, to be a stepping stone beneath his feet.

His temper had returned with gale force 3 months back when she conveyed to him her intentions to leave. He’d refused to accommodate her request to take the girls and go quietly, installing a lock on the bedroom door. He took charge of the girl’s bedtimes, so Eve could no longer be alone with them, lest she turn them against him. He had his matron of a Mother come to stay and watch over Eve during the day while he worked. Her dark sullen eyes monitored her every move, squinting with suspicion whenever Eve would speak quietly to her own children.

The anger Eve held so tightly inside, for so many years, had caused her head to be forever spinning, her emotions on the edge of bursting forth, like the crashing of the waves on the rocky coastline. She looked down at the carpet beneath her palms, her blonde curls brushing against her tear-stained face, soaking up the wetness. She tasted the saltiness on her lips and after wiping her runny nose on the back of her sleeve, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

The anger she felt toward her situation, coupled with the frustration of her bridled assertiveness, tugged constantly at the fibres of her frayed heart. She felt numb, like nothing she cared about was important anymore. She just wanted to run, to disappear, to feel freedom in her spirit once again, to escape the torture in her mind that threatened to send her insane.

“Life is so short” she told herself “and I’ll be damned if I let him control my happiness for one more moment”. She launched herself onto her feet, ignoring the agony of each step, pushing through the pain to execute her brash plan. She took a roll of 20dollar notes from the top drawer of her dresser where she’d concealed them amongst her sanitary pads, knowing he’d never look there. She grabbed her coat from the wardrobe, pushed open the window and climbed out.

The pavement felt solid beneath her sandaled feet, each step further away felt lighter some how until she was almost floating. She boarded the bus and 20 minutes later was handing over the money to the Ferry’s ticket office salesman. He handed her the cardboard ticket, she clutched it tightly to her chest, now shrouded in the denim jacket she’d not worn since before they’d met. It had been her favourite, bought on her whirlwind trip around the U.S. with her best friend, accompanied only by there backpacks and adventurous spirits. She remembered the feeling of unreserved excitement at being away from home for the first time. Eighteen and ignorant to the world and its encumbrances, blissfully ignorant one would say.

Eve longed to reclaim that innocence, to wind back the clock and return to that moment and live there, forever unhindered. But reality slapped her in the face in the guise of a chilly ocean breeze as she stepped onto the ferry and made her way to the back deck. She grabbed hold of the cold rusty railing and fixed her eyes on the horizon where the sun was starting to kiss the waters edge. Golden hues faded into the pink strokes of the creator’s brush that filled the sky with glorious art work.

Eve breathed it in, the sights, the sounds, the smells of freedom. The world held beauty for her once again and there was excitement in the unknown, in the possibilities. Where would the wind take her, now that she was alone and free of responsibility and oppression? Her heart soared for the first time in years, but it couldn’t fly too high for there was a heaviness that pulled it back toward the earth.

She shut her eyelids and was met with 4 dazzling blue iris’s. Those of her daughters, lucky enough to inherit both her eyes and hair colour. Chloe’s hair was straighter though than Eve’s, and Mira’s grew in length faster than both of them combined. Eve smiled at the thought of their chubby little faces which reflected her own in small ways but held such individuality of their own. Her heart began to swell with love and affection as she remembered all they shared. The snuggles and kisses and warm embraces, the innocent little conversations and silly moments when they’d all lower their inhibitions and just enjoy the moment. When they were alone, they were in their own little world, a world without fear and apprehension

Eve realised that not only where they her whole world, but she was theirs. She imagined what life would be like for them if she was not there. There would be no rays of light to pierce the darkness, no branches of hope to hang on to, no place of refuge to weather the storm. They would slowly lose heart, their little lights would go out, their wings broken and bent against the cold metal of their captor’s cage. Their hearts would fill with bitterness and resentment toward her, toward the world and toward themselves. They’d be just like her. She felt sick at the realisation her choice would free one but enslave two. How could she choose such a thing? Her mission was clear, her life for theirs.

She opened her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of the carpet beneath her palms. Thank God for her organised mindset. The one that always planned ahead, imagined the possible consequences and adjusted her path accordingly. If only she’d harnessed this part of herself when she was young, she may not have made the same mistakes. But maybe she would have! Love, or what we think love is, maybe it’s not love at all but infatuation, can make us abandon those useful parts of ourselves, to do things we wouldn’t normally do.  Real love, the kind Eve had for her children, was the kind of love that rekindled her strength to think practically, reasonably and ultimately to choose between what is easiest and what is right.

She raised her face toward the locked door, a new resolve taking charge as she called upon another of her strengths, Perseverance. She raised herself up from the floor, taking up a perch on the edge of the bed. She wiped away the remains of her victim-hood, with a tissue from the box on the night stand and blew her nose, then sat patiently, waiting, thinking, planning carefully what she would say when he finally released her. She would apologise as usual, the well-rehearsed lines never seemed to get old with him, he would insist that he never wanted to hurt her, but she made him do it. She would promise to try harder not to push him, not to make him angry, not to go against him. She knew it would all only serve to pacify him for a few days, but a few days was better than nothing.

This time she would also say, it was all her fault, she knew she hadn’t been a good wife and she’d realised now how truly lucky she was to have him. She’d been a fool to even consider leaving. He’d break down in tears, swear to never hit her again and profess to love her till the day he died. She’d smile her fake smile, perfected from years of practice, never revealing the secret loathing she felt under the mask she wore. She’d go through the motions to reach temporary safety, to put peace back into their lives, however briefly.

Her plan worked perfectly and the next day he sent his mother home, promising to call immediately if he ever needed her again. Eve cringed as he bent over to kiss his Mother on the cheek, her black eyes staring right through her. Her dark hair, streaked with grey was done up so tightly in a bun atop her small head that it tugged at the corner of her eyes, giving an unnatural almond shape to them. She gripped her sons’ muscular arm tightly beneath her chubby wrinkled hand and whispered something in his ear that made him nod in agreement, then waved goodbye as she disappeared in the white taxi.

That night after Eve had tucked her girls into bed and covered them with butterfly kisses, she shut their bedroom door quietly and tip-toed into the loungeroom. She peered over the back of the couch at her husband, passed out drunk from his night out with the boys, his saliva drooling from his lower lip onto the faux leather surface, his snores, indication of the depth of his sleep. She carefully removed his wallet from the pocket of his jacket, thrown lazily on the floor in front of the couch, and removed a 20 dollar note.

She replaced the wallet in his jacket, gently lowered the throw rug from the nearby arm chair onto his long torso and retreated down the hall, stopping momentarily to check on the girls one more time. She smiled sincerely at the site of their sweet little faces, little angels with wings still intact, the light in their spirits still shining, the hope in their hearts still enabling joy. “Just a little longer” she whispered as though saying it out loud made it real.

She turned, entered her room and quietly opened the dresser drawer. Keeping her ears and eyes on the doorway, she quickly added the 20dollar note to the roll before returning it to its hiding place. She quietly shut the drawer and climbed into the large bed to spend another night alone. She slept well that night, peace comforting her heart for she truly believed that everything would be alright in the end.