By Grant Maierhofer - Aug 22, 2019
I suppose I took to mother’s unders when the end became too sure. I felt myself foraging, is what it was. I’d walk through her room, run my fingers through necklaces strung over vanity mirrors. I packed up and moved when her coughing got to me.
Growing up I’d puttered after my mother fawning. I wrote my old man off early—he walked about yawping, worked cleaning classrooms, emptying garbages at the university. Easy would’ve been he’d died first. This was not his way, so close to mom I’d stuck.
All I could do was pace around her place those nights choking down Salem after Salem. Her past was strewn around the living room: old records smeary with dust or globs of gum, receipts slid into their lining, T-shirts from various colleges in fading oranges and reds, empty bottles of French wine and sunglasses she’d prided since I was young.
It was several weeks after she died that I started digging through dressers. Wherever she’d lived my mother had anointed each space with ornate touches of lace and glass that made one tiptoe. On previous visits I’d kept my vulgar habits at bay. I’d hawk and spit and belch in my car while collecting her medicine. Now I no longer felt those urges. Whatever had made me want to yell and assert my living had vanished, quiet, as though never there.
People are bad, I say. That’s what my mother said. Her father was, so she ran away. Ten years on, she finished school while my not-aunt Lila held an anxious whining me upon her lap, watching. Watching my mother drive in mornings well before dawn to teach, study, teach, study. Lila and my grandmother watched me and all day we’d spend in the yard with pups. I was raised amid women. Women: eyes glorious with color, hair pulled up as if in shrieking horror from the skin. I worship these women.
I am not an artist, I promise. I’m not even really suffering. Just second-guessing.
I am intruding—I am an intruder—how unsavory mother would find it. I open the drawer of a dark wood chest and I see them. A sea of pinks and whites, offwhites and yellows. Silk, lace, small blankets, warm serviettes. I pull in a pile of the laundered unders and throw them gleeing onto the bed. I don’t jump backward trusting, but fall face-forward into the mass, and for the first time since she passed, fall asleep.
After weeks of whatever it is I have a troubling discussion with Sissy.
“I didn’t pursue anything, Sissy. You never knew the mom I knew. Her teeth sank into you, bigger than life. All she had to do.”
“Have you talked to anybody but me since she died?”
“I’ve done what I can.”
I can’t speak to Sissy.
The stuff we press to ourselves to feel less dead. I wear a dress. My mind is circling. I love my mother. My mother made of light and standing hand in hand with me. My mother holding me in the rain as we watch our family split. My mother in makeup, in jewelry, my mother covered with gold. My mother in undress, in between outfits. My mother tanned and polkadotted, adrift in the water. My mother and father sharing beers in the car and all of us sunburnt and tired as we wait.
The day after my mother died I found myself in a room being asked questions. I wanted to vomit. I wanted to watch my mother live and know my mother. I wanted to ask her every question about every day she’d lived and feel complete.
I pace the hardwood floors in robes and gabardine and watch the days pass. I answer my mother’s mail. I touch up my makeup in my mother’s mirrors and listen to my mother’s records. I put on my mother’s lingerie and see my blotched and balding body in mirrors my mother left strewn about and I feel at one with my mother. I smoke Salem after Salem and watch television and fill myself with foods and hear her fabrics stretch and rip at rest upon the couch and I am calm, a golden gleam in my mother’s eye.
A version of this story appears in Drain Songs: Stories and a Novella by Grant Maierhofer (FC2, 2019).