The woman drives the mother home, but takes the long way in order to stretch the time. It’s important to her now to feel as though she has a handle on things like ‘time.’ The car is quiet except for the jagged exhales, the hushed crunch of blue tissue-paper sticking out of gift bags covered in little lions and storks and bears that have been stuffed into every crevice of the car. There is the sound of jostling water in a glass vase that’s been strapped in with a seatbelt in the backseat. The repeat struggle of stems whose lily heads bounce, too heavy for all the stopping and starting at brake lights.
Note the distinction in the diction: Woman. Mother. If I could choose a part to play in this story—which, maddeningly, I cannot—I think I’d choose neither. Maybe I’d be the lilies because of their proximity to the woman, and because of their witness to this moment. Because they are strapped in, held back. Because of their heavy heads. That would all feel familiar.
The big reveal is, of course, that the woman is the mother. A mother-to-be, alone, she is still becoming one, still learning what it means to think of herself as both. She’s just beginning to know how to hold herself together, how to take herself home. She is still adjusting to the sounds of the possible futures that she’s been left with, the feel of new words in old rooms: “Single” and “Mother” and “Scared” and “Scared.”
If she could be anything else in the story—and I wish she could choose to be something else—she might choose the vase. Not because of those obvious metaphors (she blooms, she contains) but because of the satisfaction she might feel in getting to be fragile, like glass. She might have loved the chance to smash. But she thinks of her belly and has to hold it together. Which feels unbearable. Which is unjust.
Which is to say, there is so little to be done about grief. Maddeningly so. The best we can do is try. All we can do is gauge. When to come close, when to step back. All we can do is move around it while she moves through it, in the wake of her husband who is gone. We try. We wait for, but hope and pray not to hear, the echoes of a crash.
Really, if I could be anything in this story it would be the seatbelt. One half of me strapped below the belly where my nephew is learning to love his mother’s voice, hers alone. One half of me strapped across my sister’s chest, putting pressure on my sister’s nervous system, to slow her breath, bring down her heart rate, stall the cortisol. There’d be such a simple kind of certainty in my function. Wouldn’t that be something? To know, for once, how to help.
Angela Sue Winsor is a writer and photographer from South Florida. She received an MFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina Greensboro and an MA in English from Auburn University. Her writing has been featured or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Third Coast, Southern Humanities Review, NELLE, Saw Palm, and elsewhere.