A Comforting Embrace

She stands at the entrance to the administration block and is glued to ground sticky with the wetness of new rain. Seconds take on the heft of aeons as she gathers her thoughts and sees them scatter again. Her mother never comes to see her before visiting day.

The sad earth lets her loose and she moves as through molasses into the waiting room. There are no eyes on her. She does not exist in the self-echoing realities of those present. If she knew this, she would not worry about her muddy shoes. Worry is a vestige of her upbringing. What would he think of her? She does not yet know it does not matter and it never will.

If she knew how self-absorbed people are, she would never worry what they thought. Because they essentially never thought of her. She is invisible. Most of her life has been spent as a prop for others, an ornament called upon to validate the tenuous ideas of others selves.

The room is stuffy. It is just past three o’clock in the afternoon. Barely hanging on deodorant, the accumulated unwash of travel, and something else hangs about her mother. The smell of something missing, something lost.

She does not cry when her mother tells her of his death. She does not laugh as she imagined she would. She does not smile. She does not frown. She does and feels nothing, except pity for her mother as she chokes on grief. She does not ask how he died. Suddenly she craves a cup of hot sweet cocoa. Her soul feels cleansed by the ostensibly unfortunate news. It deserves a celebration. Let his wife mourn him.

Her mother is distraught and distracted. She does not notice her dry unblinking eyes though the infinite prisms of tears. On impulse, she pulls her mother close and hugs the tall woman. She gets her stature from the man whose body now lies still. Even in his creating her life, he took. He took her height. He took before she was born. He took when she was alive. It is now when he has stopped breathing he gives.

She did not always feel nothing for him. Once there was what could even be called love. When she was little he was Superman, grizzled and gruff and warm. Something fell away as the years went and he showed distance, meanness, and anger. She noticed the small hateful things he did, the small ways he cut pieces off her mother and her. Things were done and words were said that were virtually innocuous to notice in the moment. Thousands of tiny ways he made them hate themselves.

Nothing was good enough for him: the food was bland, his shirts were still creased after ironing, the floor was never clean, they were fat, only certain kinds of women wear lipstick and trousers. Then there were the beatings, the ones that broker Mum and denied her siblings, the screams, and worse, the silence, the nights spent outside, the pitying looks from the neighbours, the whispers about the estate.

And so they loved themselves less and less. Her affection turned to a cold razor-sharp hate which swallowed her into a benumbed oblivion. This is where she was when her mother visited her with the announcement. This is where she had been for a long time. This was where she now called home. She found refuge in an emotionless place.

She was fortunate to go to a boarding school to escape him. Her mother was not. She dreaded the long holidays. She could now go home without fear. Sure, she would have to manage her mother’s emotions, but this was a small task. She can now openly read the book she bought herself on her way back from school last term, the one about some prostitutes in Denmark.

Her mother would never remarry, this she was certain. She had been ground into such a deep self-loathing she nearly forgot who she was, nearly forgot the pretty smiling confident woman she used to be, the one in the photo album kept hidden in one of the kitchen cupboards where Papa would never stumble on it. She would help Mum find the woman of years past and zealously guard her.

She smiles as her mother’s tears drop into her hair and tickle her scalp, breathing in the comforting slightly musty sweater smell. She wants to get back to class. The physics teacher is particularly entertaining today. But, not just yet. She will hold her mother a little longer, tighter.


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