Friday, June 22, 2012

Fiction Friday - mothers

I'm not sure where this is going. A friend was telling me about her relationship with her mother and I was struck by how very different it was from my own. So, I started thinking about all the mother-daughter relationships around me. Not even my sisters and I have the same story to tell.

The beginning of a story below was inspired by that conversation, though in no way does it reflect her actual relationship. I'm thinking of somehow looking at several mother-daughter pairs in a short story and this is simply a sketch of a possibility of a part of that.

             She woke to the telephone call from the nursing home with the news her mother had passed. She was peaceful; her friends were with her. “What must these people think of me,” she wondered after asking them what they needed from her. She didn’t mean to sound annoyed at the call, she genuinely needed to know her responsibilities in this situation. Did she need to call the funeral home? Was there some authority that had to be notified?
            “Your mother has made all of the arrangements. Her wishes were written out and notarized, and her lawyer has already been in touch. The cremation is scheduled for tomorrow. I just need to confirm your address so the ashes can be sent.” The woman on the other line didn’t sound judgmental. She must encounter all sorts of reactions to this phone call that is likely a daily routine for her. People go there to die, and when they do, someone needs to be called. Cynthia knew that the receivers of those calls reacted in some crazy ways. She remembers a friend telling her that when the hospital called to say her father had died over night, she giggled. Can you imagine that? Her friend was mortified. She loved her father and was genuinely sad when he passed. She tends to giggle when she’s nervous and she had been anticipating that every night after she left the hospital and for a few days, she recalled, she giggled every time she picked up the phone. So, Cynthia knew that this woman from the home had heard much worse than her unfeeling “What do you need me to do?” She calmly gave the woman her address, wrote down the number she was given for the crematorium, and thanked the woman for her time and the care she had given to her mother.
            She hung up the phone and went to refill her coffee cup. Her hands were cold. Though it was June, the temperature had dropped to 54 degrees according to the weather app on her phone. She had no students scheduled until late in the day so she was spending the morning painting. “That’s funny,” she thought as she picked up the brush from the table. She hadn’t noticed before that the house in this scene was her childhood home. There were a few differences – the green was lighter and more inviting, the front steps were not overgrown with vines – but the basic outline was there, the gambrel roof, the attic dormer, the field stone foundation.  It shouldn’t have surprised her. She had talked to her brother earlier in the week, and received notice from the home that her mother’s death was imminent. Her thoughts had wandered all around childhood since.
            Cynthia wondered if her mother had been told they were calling her. She couldn’t imagine that it was her idea; couldn’t imagine that her mother had given her much thought at all in those last weeks. Her friends were with her, the woman had said. Her friends were always with her. Perhaps they tried to console her on the realization that her children would not live up to their expectations. Now this made Cynthia smile. Yes, surely her friends faulted those self-centered children for abandoning their mother in her old age. What children would not make the short three-hour flight to say goodbye to their mother? What children would leave her there without so much as a phone call for three years? Cynthia held the brush over the clapboards of her painted house.


  1. I like this. I started reading and was immediately centered in the story with your sentence about genuinely needing to know responsibilities. All of Cynthia's questions are my questions. I can imagine your idea of sketches that feature other mother-daughter stories.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I've been living in the chaos of my own mother-daughter relationships (as both mother and daughter) this month, so have neglected this writing. On the plus side - lots of good story ideas.