By Jennifer Fliss
“Blink if you can hear me,” Mo says. She’s dressed in black and leather. Half her head is shaved, vulnerable and bare. The other half is a dark and silent waterfall of slick black hair.
I can hear you, daughter.
“Mom, blink if you can hear me,” she repeats. Yes. I can hear you. I can smell you—vanilla and cigarettes. Mom. She hasn’t called me that in ages. She calls me Kate. One syllable. Hard consonants. Kate. Particularly striking when spit in anger.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” Mo is saying, sibilant ‘S’s lisping together. Behind her, beeps and pneumatic sucks, distant PA announcements: the cacophony of a hospital.
Mo, short for Maureen, was always horrified by my quick tears. I remember walking her to class on the first day of school. She put a stop to that as soon as the torrent of tears descended. Mommy, why are you sad? It’s school. Weeping, I cheered for her soccer games. When she and a friend came home after school and ignored my how was school today? I tried to keep the rush at bay. If only your father were here, I had said. Embarrassed she grabbed her friend’s hand and dashed up the steps.
Mo’s angry hands are rubbing at my arm where the IV is held in place. The beeping in the room is getting faster, but she keeps kneading me.
“I’m so sorry,” I am saying at her face. She probably can’t hear me. But the doctor said she might, even if she can’t respond.
“Remember when I really wanted bomb pops—those red, white and blue popsicles—from the Good Humor Truck and you’d say honey, we’re pacifists? I never got it, and chipwiches were better anyway. I loved twisting the two cookies and sitting on the curb to split it. You always let me have the half with more ice cream. Anyway. Pacifists. I get the joke now. Please? Mom? C’mon…you have to wake up. This whole thing is freaking me out! You’re just staring.”
Before Dad left, we’d sit around the table and Mom would watch as we ate the meal she’d been preparing all day. Sometimes she never ate. But then there was late night yelling and the early morning yelling and the over-the-phone in the middle of the day yelling. Then it went quiet. You could hear all the sighs and coughs and almost-silent cries from every part of the house. And then, there was just the two of us with three white stick figures on the back window of the Subaru. The happy family sticker. Why did you force him out!? I had yelled. Of course, how could he love you!? I tried to remove that sticker, pushing a thin blade between the glass and the adhesive. I only succeeded in beheading a parent and cutting my thumb. Blood smeared the window; I left it there.
It was stupid, really. Typical teen stuff. Rebellion. Drinking. Smoking. Piercings. If I spoke to her at all it was to say how awful she was. And how ugly I was, since she gave birth to me. I knew, somehow, that by insulting myself, I’d cut right to her core. But, she constantly reassured me that I was the most incredible thing. And even though I didn’t acknowledge it, I think I said those things just so I could hear her tell me I was beautiful. I knew she hated what I had become. At least on the outside. But she never said it. Not once. She only said she loved me. Over and over and over.
How stupid we are, in our young naiveté, our brains working double-time just to keep up with the world around us and so we ignore the people who created us. We go through that rite-of-passage. The be-mean-to-your-mom rite. It’s expected. But it must be heartbreaking to commit your whole life to someone and then have them say such hateful things. Mom. I need you. Come back. As I stared at the flaccid skin hugging the nose tubes and tape, I unscrewed the small ball in my nose. I shed my smoky vest. With tissues from the table, I rubbed at my eyes, leaving behind thick threads of black makeup and a life I vowed to be done with. If she woke, I wanted her to see my eyes. She always said they were my most lovely asset. “Right through those alpine lake blues into your soul,” she’d say.
“Blink, if you can hear me,” I repeat. And then, a quivering of eyelashes. Slow shuttering of an eyelid. A smile. A horrible rictus of a smile. Right upper lip puffs out, her eye bulging. It is beautiful. And I sob.
Jennifer Fliss is a New York raised, Wisconsin schooled, Seattle based writer. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in diverse publications including, The Establishment, The Manifest-Station, Zelle/Runner