I put my masterpiece in a glitter-adorned paper sack and carefully placed it in the bottom of my locker. I was convinced Mother would come back once she saw the beautiful basket I made for her.
The night Mother left, we’d eaten tater tot casserole. (It’s funny the little details you recall.) After dinner, Mother shooed Cass, Gigi and me outside. She didn’t make us put on shoes, and we reveled in the rare opportunity to run around the backyard barefoot. We picked mulberries, transporting them in our shirts. Mother and Daddy were still at the dinner table as we padded by. I was relieved they were too engrossed in conversation to yell at us for our berry-stained clothes and feet.
Mother was gone the next morning.
Two weeks would pass before we saw her again. Mother’s Day. She was meeting us at the Dairy Queen and we were spending the afternoon with her. I chose a nice shirt for Daddy, ironed Cass and Gigi’s dresses and fixed their ponytails. In the car, I held the paper bag gingerly in my lap.
Mother came alone. Mr. Morris had taken his kids to visit their grandmother. She mashed us into a teary, four-person embrace. Mother looked the same, but smelled different. Fresh peaches. She and Daddy hugged like reluctant acquaintances. They talked outside as we finished our cones. Daddy waved goodbye sporting the desolate expression that had become his trademark.
Mother’s new home was bigger and had a pool. We swam, ate lunch on her manicured lawn and watched a movie. Although it was her special day, Mother gave us gifts: a giggling baby doll for Cass, a purple stuffed bear for Gigi, and a Barbie styling head for me. I presented her with the clay basket. Mother gushed, displacing a marble statue to showcase my creation on her mantel.
Cass and Gigi fell asleep as Mother drove us home. She and Daddy carried them into bed. Mother stayed for coffee. For those brief minutes, all the puzzle pieces were in place.
Then Mother left.
Over the next three years, we saw less and less of her. Mr. Morris’s children lived with their mother and had access to ours every other weekend. Meanwhile, I shopped for my first bra with Mrs. Devereux, our neighbor. When Gigi started losing teeth, Mother wasn’t there with her supply of silver dollars, so the tooth fairy switched to bills. Cass eventually stopped screaming for Mother whenever she awoke from a nightmare.
Daddy dated some, but nothing ever came of it. His heart wasn’t his to give. Once Mother and Mr. Morris got engaged, Daddy resigned himself to a life alone. I resigned myself to having one parent who wasn’t there and one who was there but wasn’t. I bandaged the boo-boos, packed the lunches and kept the little ones quiet while Daddy slept, which was often.
When Daddy burst into my room that night, he spoke in excited gasps. Mother was coming home. He was leaving to get her and I was to quickly tidy up his room. There wasn’t time for questions.
I was waiting in the living room when they came in. Daddy supported Mother, whose every step brought pained grunts. She held one arm to her chest protectively. Even in the darkness I could see the discoloration on her face. They walked past me and headed to their ... his ... bedroom.
“There was an accident,” Daddy vaguely offered over breakfast. Mother was still sleeping. Cass and Gigi raced down the hall, book bags bouncing wildly against their backs.
“Why is she here?” I whispered. The younger girls weren’t aware Mother had returned. We’ll talk later, his eyes said.
The school day blurred by. I told no one of Mother’s sudden reappearance. Why would I? I seldom mentioned the woman who’d reduced herself to birthday checks, extravagant Christmas gifts and five-minute phone calls.
My bus dropped me off a half hour before Cass and Gigi’s. Mother was sitting by the picture window wearing Daddy’s pajama top, her legs underneath a quilt.
“Hi, sweetie,” she chirped warmly, as she should’ve after every school day for too many months to count.
I sat at the far end of the couch, scrutinizing her blackened eye and the gash in her cheek.
“What happened to you?”
Daddy, who’d taken a personal day, brought her hot tea. They exchanged a glance.
“I had an accident.”
“Rachel!” Daddy scolded.
“It’s OK, Ben.” Mother lifted the cup with her good arm, and then reconsidered. She delicately ran her fingers across her swollen lip.
They never told me the truth, but I overheard snippets about charges and restraining orders. In the days that followed, a truck brought Mother’s essentials and delivered the rest of her possessions to a storage unit to be sorted out later. One morning I noticed the clay basket on our mantel. I knocked it to the floor. Mother never asked about it. She just picked up the pieces.
She threw herself into the mommy role, enrolling Gigi in gymnastics and hosting a lavish party when Cass turned nine (the same age I was when Mother left). When I started my period, she bought me feminine products and took me out for a celebratory dinner. It did feel good to be taken care of.
The night Mother left again, I was reading under my blanket with a flashlight. Creaky floorboards ratted her out. We met in the hallway; I was the only thing standing between her and whatever she wasn’t getting from us.
“What should I tell Cass and Gigi?” The words burned my throat.
Mother reached out to caress my face. I surprised us both by letting her. She silently bent to grab her duffle.
And then Mother left me to pick up the pieces.
I wrote this 1000-word piece for the It Takes Two writing contest hosted by Write on Edge and Bannerwing.
“It takes two to make an accident.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
- 1000 word limit, all genres of creative writing are welcome.
- linky is open until Friday, February 21, at 11:55pm Pacific
- Use the Fitzgerald quote above as an opening/closing line or draw inspiration from it, your choice.
- Community voting opens 2/22 and closes 2/28 at 11:55pm Pacific.
- Community and editorial choice winners will be announced on Write on Edge and Bannerwing Books on Monday, March 3, 2014.
- All entries must be original work, only published on your personal blog/website, and by entering you give Write on Edge and Bannerwing Books permission to reprint your entry in Precipice, Volume III‘s print and digital formats, as well as permission to edit for grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors.