In the large room I hear the high-pitched hum of the whispering voices behind me. I try to block it out.
I stared at my mother, remembering when we first moved to our home in Hobart, Indiana. Her hair was long and black— held back by two combs, allowing curls to gently caress the nape of her neck.
She rarely laughed out loud, but when the edges of her mouth turned up slightly, her large brown eyes glistened.
She loved flowers—especially roses. She’d pick only one from our garden at a time, smell it, and put it gently into a small bud vase. She always told me that it’s much more rewarding to appreciate the beauty of a single rose, because one could cherish the unfolding of every velvet petal. I didn’t understand it— at least not then.
I asked her one day why she never chose to have a career. “Being a mother is my career,” she answered. “Even more than that” she continued “It’s my entire life. Mothers should be home with their children.”
When I was at school and the housework was done, she would nestle down and watch TV. When I came home for lunch, I would find her in her special place at the end of the sofa, where she would tuck under her small, fragile legs and watch As the World Turns. A warm meal would always be waiting for me. There were never any excuses for not eating. “People in China are starving,” she’d say. Sometimes I heard her talk on the phone to her sister about the soap opera characters as if she really knew them.
On Saturdays she watched American Bandstand with me. She rarely went out, but she loved to dance. Many times she told me of the many ballrooms she had danced in when she was single. It always brought a wide smile to her lips. In fact, one night, very late, I awoke from sleep hearing a noise in the living room. I opened my door a crack to take a peek. Two candles were lit, the radio was playing softly and my mother was dancing.
Although she was a dedicated mother and always said she was happy, I sometimes wondered if she really was. One day I came home from school and she was sitting on the sofa in the living room in her best dress and high heels. Her make-up was carefully applied and she wore a different hairstyle.
“Why are you all dressed up?” I asked. “Where are you going?”
“Nowhere,” her voice cracked a bit “absolutely nowhere.” Later that evening she cried…
As the years progressed, and I grew up and left home, she stopped smiling completely, became depressed, and neglected her rose garden. It became overrun with weeds.
Not long ago I stopped by on Mother’s Day to bring her a dozen roses. The house smelled strongly of cigarette smoke. I commented that she shouldn’t smoke so much. She ignored the comment by taking a long puff of her cigarette. A cloud of smoke encircled her from the trail of cigarette smoke weaving through her yellow fingers. Her hair had been cut very short, cropped around her ears, and streaked with gray. She had lost weight. Her arms and legs were thinner than I had ever seen them; and her once beautiful dark eyes had lost their brilliance. She coughed quite a bit, explaining that she had been nursing a cold for quite a while. She said rum and tea usually helped, but this time it didn’t. We talked for awhile about ordinary things—how old I was, that she would be fifty-six years old soon, and where did the time go.
When it was time for me to leave, she thanked me for coming and bringing the roses. She picked one rose out of the bouquet, smelled it, and isolated it in its own vase. Then I kissed her good-bye.
Now I stand here, clutching a single rose. The buzzing of the voices is growing louder. How long have I been standing in front of her? She lay motionless in front of me with her best dress; her make-up is carefully applied, and she is wearing a different hairstyle. I want her to speak to me—to talk about ordinary things.
The stifling sweet smell is growing stronger in the room. It nearly takes my breath away. I look around. Roses are everywhere.
Copyright Library of Congress 1987
Spirits Magazine 1990, 2002
Hoosier Horizon Literary Magazine 1990
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