When I went searching through old files, I found this story from back in 1993. I don’t know what to say about it, other than—well, 15 years since my mother’s death, this still resonates. But it’s not really autobiographical; I am not this woman and this scene never happened.
A MOTHER’S TOUCH
Back home, back in her room, she shook off her blouse and stepped out of her hot, sweaty jeans. She sat on the edge of the bed. Squirrels chattered in the branches and a wren startled her with a rare afternoon song. Tall basswood trees cradled this side of the house and the breeze slipping through the window was always balmy and soft. What a relief to be back. Seeing her mom—she still felt drained. Even now, with two decades gone by. She could just stretch out, maybe, and stare at the sky—or what she could see of the sky with the green boughs bending so close…
When she woke up it was evening. Birds flitted through the trees, chirping softly, the afterthought of a summer day. The sky beneath the branches was a deeper shade of blue. The breeze had fallen. Yes, she felt much better now.
She leafed through the dresses hanging on hooks and slipped into one that was worn but still bright. Downstairs, the kitchen was flooded with light. Through its wide windows a scrap of cloud drifted high and golden. Somewhere toward the back of the property she heard the tractor revving up. He must be about done for the day, and she could see he’d set out a few things—potatoes, hard cheddar, a sweet red pepper—for a simple meal. He would be pleased if she got things started.
She opened the cabinet to get the olive oil and was surprised to see that blackberry jam right there in front. She had to reach around it for the oil. She thought she’d forgotten the jar in the back seat of the car. Well, not forgotten, quite. So of course he’d brought it in; could she blame him? But she slammed the cabinet door anyway. “Hey now,” she told herself, softly. Slamming the door on a simple jar of jam, a gift ….
She grabbed a potato and began chopping at it. Even now, with all these years gone by, still to feel this way. And her mom was almost peaceful now, almost—motherly. That small frame house was quiet and calm with the last of the children gone; she’d even had a pot of scarlet pansies blooming by the door. Those hard hands—they’d found gentler tasks these days. Making blackberry jam! Having the leisure to make blackberry jam. Wanting to make it, and wanting to give ….
What do you do with all these crazy feelings? You feel like you love your mom in ways; it breaks your heart to remember all that pain. You understand now what drove her, the despair. You even appreciate her now. As someone who has finally learned—a little late; isn’t it all the more remarkable and moving?—to suspend the grief, the bitterness, the rage. You know at last that she loves you, her daughter. And you know the difference that makes, but it doesn’t stop the …. She shivered. She remembered—something, too dark to see; the knife skittered over the board. No, you don’t like her to touch you. And you never will.
She opened the cabinet door again. The potatoes were sizzling in the skillet; now she needed some salt, some cumin, garlic powder. They were in the back. She reached to set the jam aside but couldn’t bring herself to touch it. Too easy to see her mother holding the jar—or her arm, and trying to say goodbye—.
She shoved it away with the knife. Loathing, a quick chill. Even at this distance, to feel a mother’s touch.