WHAT WE’RE LEFT WITH
Lynsey Morandin’s short story was inspired by her relationship with her mother – the good and the bad. Illustration by Mitt Roshin
When my mother tells me to do something, I do it. No questions asked, just like she says.
That’s why I was there when the doctor told her it wasn’t the early stages anymore, that it was only a matter of time before her memories would slip through her fingers like sand. That’s why I didn’t say a word about it the whole way home as I watched her jaw clench over and over again. That’s why, when I was about to get out of the car and she grabbed my wrist tight enough to leave a bracelet, saying ‘You need to save them. All of them,’ I said okay.
I’m standing on a plastic sheet spread over the good rug, and my mother is sitting in front of me on an old wooden chair. One she didn’t mind getting dirty, she said. There’s a box at my feet, one with dividers all labelled by person and year, organised so that she’ll be able to find everything easily after this, run her fingers along the tabs and pull out whoever or whatever date she wants.
She took something a little while ago, something she didn’t show me, swallowed it down with half a bottle of wine, and now she’s out cold. I soak her scalp in rubbing alcohol, lean her head back and place the edge of the scalpel against her skin, just inside her hairline like she showed me. So no one will see the scar, she said. I press just hard enough to see the first pop of blood and I pull back, hands on the back of her chair, leaning forward, breathing hard.
She told me to, I say over and over to myself. She told me to do it.
I suck in air and choke it down with the rest of the wine.
It isn’t the blood that scares me. It isn’t the separating of skin or the cracking of bone. What scares me is what I’ll find once I’m inside, what she’s kept hidden in the recesses of her mind. I’m scared of the things I’ll never be able to unsee.
I move fast, trying to keep the incision as straight as I can. She always liked everything neat. I lodge the tip into her skull and crack down on it with my palm. Once. Twice. Then I’m in, just like that, and I take a deep breath before I start extracting.
Through the soft tissue and firing synapses there’s an image of her, much younger. A Vegas wedding. Secret. Her in a denim skirt wearing a toothy smile. Him donning a tourist’s t-shirt with a camera strapped around his neck. Both of them filled with too much gin. I pull it out gently and place it in the box by my feet.
I see my brother, the number seven on the back of his shirt, getting his first goal. Her in the stands beneath a heater and knitted blanket, so proud with a voice hoarse from cheering.
A trip to the Dominican, ankle-deep in the ocean and the sun making her red hair shine.
Her laughing, her father humming, arms draped around each other, posing for the camera. Neither of them knowing it was the last time they’d dance together.
I dig out each memory, one by one, and file them all away. The box fills up, all sections but one quickly overfilling and spilling into the next.
Desperation builds up inside me as I search the passageways of her brain for just one. I’ve become less gentle, more selfish. I start to wonder if any exist at all, if maybe she’s already forgotten me completely.
Then I find mine, an entire corner for only me, and it’s everything I’m afraid of.
Me with my arms crossed at a family dinner, defiant and angry and argumentative; the screech of the chair legs against the old hardwood floor moments before she slams her bedroom door.
Me straight-faced and lying about who came over, why all the alcohol was gone.
Me with tears streaming down my face when I told her what happened to the brand new SUV they’d only bought the month before.
Me in Mexico with eyes wide, my back molar clattering to the floor as her fingers press into my jaw.
Me with the wrong guy and the wrong guy and the wrong guy, never listening and always failing.
Me on the sidewalk the night before my wedding, screaming at her so loudly that I have to stop to catch my breath.
I consider leaving them in there, all of them, to rot away moment by moment. Instead, I do what I’m told. I remove them all carefully and pack them away with the others, making sure not to leave any piece behind.
Then her weight shifts and she slides to the right. I catch her in time, dropping the last memory to free my hands, but her head lolls violently to one side, a rattling noise echoing from somewhere within her. I look inside one more time before closing her up and that’s when I see it: a small box jostled loose from a forgotten corner. I lift the lid and it all pours out, pooling at the base of her skull. I sift through the contents and bring my hand to my mouth, her blood smudging my cheek.
It’s me at six years old, donning the princess dress she sewed herself, the one with pickups and rose appliqués. Me refusing to take it off, even to sleep, the biggest smile on my face.
It’s me at thirteen, crying over an iced cappuccino at our favourite café the first time a boy broke my heart, bubble gum lip gloss staining my straw. Her hand on mine, telling me it will all be okay.
It’s me walking away from her at the airport, pulling a suitcase that holds my entire life, a feeling of emptiness in the pit of her stomach.
It’s me standing in front of him and the look in his eye when he sees me, her knowing she has to let me go.
It’s me only hours old, cradled in her arms in the dark and safely swaddled away. It’s the first time she ever sang to me, and her voice soothes me even now.
I scoop them all up in my palms and pile them back into the box, lifting it out and setting it on the other side of her. These ones, I know, won’t go with her. I need them more.
I breathe in time with every stitch. Controlled. Purposeful. When I finish, I apply more rubbing alcohol and arrange her hair so that she’s presentable, so that no one would know. When I’ve wiped away all the blood, I lean down and lightly kiss her forehead, my tears soaking through her stitches.
What We’re Left With is from The Hope Issue – Issue 16. Order your copy here
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