When I rescue my baby from daycare, the best part is waiting for him to look up and see me. He says, My daddy is here, presses his cheek to mine and looks out at the world that way. Today, he takes my face in his hands and says, Give me a kiss, lays a big one on me. And the way he does it reminds me of her.
It’s always the same Lysol and potty smell and narrating, liberated baby and hot parking lot. Beyond the parking, a playground. I played there. I’ve lived here all my life. I’m out of breath by the car and try to gently cinch his belts. He’s getting so big, now, but it’s the same breathless walk, same iterations. Iterations. More than I can explain.
It’s his Grandmother’s birthday and he doesn’t understand why she’s not home–we all don’t, and Dad brings her up as often as he can. He’s in a prison of it; their huge house, the two recliners and no one as yet will sit in hers, not even the baby.
I’m 40 and only learning to tend to ghosts. It’s not going well. We saw each other once and it’s been silence since. I didn’t see her, really, but she saw me and told me she was there. I woke up crying and I never will again.
My low talking father, laconic brother, leave her in the lulls between their sentences. A couple times a day I think to smile up at her in the popcorn ceiling. We’ve never been religious, but if there’s more than nothing, I can contemplate two afterlives. Either way is always missing out. Briefly lucid in the ICU, not understanding where the others were, she wiped her eyes and said, I invited them to dinner just last week. That might be the only time I ever saw my mother cry.
Missing her is the only uncomplicated feeling in my life.
I ought to bury this in my computer; it can only hurt someone. We didn’t bury my mother but burned her all to ashes. I don’t know where they are.
My baby won’t remember her. When he’s old enough that I know he has forgotten, we’ll tell him all about her, how she wanted so badly to pick him up, like her one wish, but wouldn’t risk it. I’ll tell him about the trouble with her hands, waxen yellow, purple, swollen walnut knuckles. I’ll forget myself and tell him that nobody ever had a better mother, and he’ll say, What about my mother? And I’ll tell him, Of course, my son. Of course.
Lucas Flatt’s work has appeared in Maudlin House, Puerto del Sol, and Typehouse Literary Journal, among others. He won the 2016 Larry Brown Short Story award at Pithead Chapel, and teaches creative writing at Volunteer State Community College.