Joni Abilene

Sometimes I Call Her Mother, Sometimes I Call Her Mom

She calls me early afternoon after I’ve done the dishes and laundry, and a few hours before I expect the kids home from school, asking if I can go with her to one of those ‘Cash For Gold’ places in town. I don’t want to go, but I haven’t seen her for weeks now. Sometimes seeing her is painful, because I’m not the daughter she raised. My hair is always the wrong color, my outfit too plain. We work better with long absences so that both of us forget. I sit at the kitchen table with the phone pressed to my ear, and take too long with my answer. I’m conjuring a lie, a good one that won’t sound selfish. But I can’t think of any.

“Do you need money?” I ask. “I can give you some.”

“I just want to see how much they’ll give me.”

She drives up in her ancient blue Saturn with the funky smell coming out of the vent, and I hop in. I crack open a window. It’s like moldy peanuts. In the next second an object is dropped into my lap. “Look through there and tell me if you think any of it’s worth anything.”

It’s the old cedar box with the red, satin lining. Like a mini treasure chest with jumbles of gold strands; the opal ring that my sister stole and then returned; the amber stones that were too big to wear, but I used to stand in front of Mom’s dresser with them draped across my neck. The Count gave those to me. The Count of so and so in Cairo. I smell incense and oil, like walking into church on a spring day. My brain does a Pavlov and sends the cold touch of holy water to my fingertips. The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

All the earrings are clip-on. Big. Gaudy. But I remember her wearing them, and the dresses she wore them with, and her red hair cropped clean so they always showed underneath.

“What do you think?” She’s pulled into the parking lot at the yellow and black adorned stand that used to be a photo hut.

I feel sad. Her charm bracelet, the one with a little figurine from every country and state she traveled to as a flight attendant, sits in my palm. I always wanted her to give it to me, but to do so she would have to trust me, or die. I longed for one, but not the other. I could wait. I could always wait, forever, forever. And if I couldn’t have it, my daughter could.

“These people are sharks, Mom.”

“I know.”

We go inside. A woman sits at a desk with a half-sewn dress next to her. Maybe her daughter’s prom is coming up. I expected a buff dude with knuckle hair and hidden tattoos.

We sit. She sorts. She pulls and looks, prods with a long stick with magnet at the tip. The magnet finds metal in everything, even the coins in their triangle leather pouch. More Cairo. Those go on the left. A little pile forms to her right of little things like one thin gold chain and one ring and one coin.

When she picks up the charm bracelet I shift in my seat. The stick moves over the Statue of Liberty figurine with its tiny spy hole of the New York skyline. Then it moves to the Eiffel Tower. My breath holds. The hula dancer with swiveling hips. She drops it to the left.

The wand is laid to rest and the woman slides the unwanted items across the desk. “Eighty-nine dollars for these three over here.”

Mother is disappointed. “Oh, I thought it’d all be worth more.” She’s thinking of her life. All sorted and picked out. So am I. “But still, eighty-nine dollars isn’t bad.”

A check is written, identification is shown. We leave.

“Sharks,” she says in the car.


Joni Abilene spent most of her childhood in a tiny, dust-filled library in Eastern Kansas. When not actively writing, she whittles away her time playing guitar and collecting books and records. For more info, visit her blog at:

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