When she got her mail after work, Linda recognized her mother’s familiar script on the top envelope. She gave a sigh, then shuffled it to the bottom of the pile and rode the rickety elevator up to her apartment. She waited until she’d changed into sweats and had poured a glass of wine to open the envelope from her mother. As usual, there was a clipping inside, this one from a women’s magazine, with a Post-it stuck to the top that read: “Thought you might find this interesting!” followed by a heart pierced by an arrow. The clipping was about a new weight-loss program. Linda shook her head, blew out another breath, dropped the clipping and envelope in the trash, and took a long swallow of wine.
The rest of her evening passed like most. She surfed the internet while she finished another glass of wine, then microwaved two low-cal frozen dinners, and ate them with a third glass in front of the television while watching one of the Hallmark movies she’d recorded. When it was done, she switched during commercials between her regular trio of reality shows, pausing only once to get the remains of a carton of no-fat Rocky Road ice cream from the freezer, then went to bed a little after ten. As usual, sleep came grudgingly.
A few days later, Linda opened a text from her mother while she was on break at work. It read: “Thinking of you!” and was followed by a smiley face emoji with two heart eyes. A link attached to it had to do with a dating app for compulsively shy people over the age of forty. Linda stared at the screen and found herself biting the inside of her cheek. She felt her shoulders slump.
A colleague who’d come into the break room asked, “You okay?”
Linda slid the phone in her pocket, pursed her lips into a tight smile and said, “Sure. I’m fine.”
She didn’t hear from her mother again until that Friday evening. She was at her laptop on her second glass of wine and had just started going through emails when she opened one her mother had sent that afternoon. It began with a link having to do with steps for doing a personal makeover at home followed by “XO, Mom”. Linda deleted it. She sat perfectly still for several moments, vaguely aware of a siren winding itself away across town, then called up all of her mother’s emails and permanently deleted those, too.
She awoke at nine the next morning to a perfect fall day full of white light, crisp air, and trees in full color. She looked forward to beginning her regular Saturday routine with a visit to the donut shop on the corner, but found a voice mail waiting for her when she powered up her cell phone after getting out of bed. It was from a charge nurse at the hospital in her hometown telling her that her mother had been brought in by ambulance during the night, admitted with internal bleeding, and was scheduled for surgery at noon. Linda put her hand over her mouth and began to weep. Ten minutes later, she was on the road beginning the three-hour drive to the
town where she’d lived alone with her mother for the first thirty-four years of her life. To occupy her mind, she changed radio channels frequently, but it didn’t help.
Linda arrived at the hospital just after her mother had been taken into surgery. She sat by herself in the waiting room while a muted television mounted up in a corner played a children’s animated video on continuous loop. She kept a Styrofoam cup filled with coffee from an industrial-sized urn in the corner and alternated between pacing the room and sitting on the edge of a couch smoothing the rub on her corduroy trousers in the wrong direction.
Shortly before four o’clock, the surgeon, still dressed in scrubs, finally came and told her the operation had gone fine. He said, though, that her mother was still not out of the woods and would need help at home or admittance to a skilled nursing facility for at least a month until she’d be able to manage on her own. Linda gasped with relief, nodded, and said she’d stay with her mother and care for her at home as long as was needed. She asked when she could see her. He told Linda she could wait with her in recovery but that she probably wouldn’t awaken for at least another hour.
The recovery room was large with curtained bays. An attendant led Linda to the one where her mother laid on her back hooked to wires and probes, with a nasal cannula providing her oxygen from a canister on the wall. Although it had only been six months since she’d last visited, her mother looked much frailer, older, almost shriveled. Linda pulled a hard plastic chair to the bedside, sat, and took her mother’s small hand in her own; it felt almost weightless.
Linda watched her mother sleep and thought about their many years together. She thought about the ballet classes and cheerleading tryouts of her youth, the checks that arrived monthly from the father she’d never met, the countless diets her mother fashioned for them to follow together even though she herself hardly topped a hundred pounds, the new outfits her mother insisted on buying her regularly until Linda finally moved away. The clock on the wall made a small hump at each new minute.
Her mother finally awoke as the light outside had descended towards gloaming. She turned to Linda, gripped her hand, and her lips began trembling.
She whispered, “You’re here.”
Linda nodded and tried to keep her own lips still. Her mother clasped her hand tighter and said, “I’m so glad. Thank you. Don’t ever change. Stay just the way you are.”
Linda nodded again and kissed the back of her mother’s hand.
William Cass has had over 200 short stories accepted for publication in a variety of literary magazines such as December, Briar Cliff Review, and Zone 3. He was a finalist in short fiction and novella competitions at Glimmer Train and Black Hill Press. He has received one Best Small Fictions nomination, three Pushcart nominations, and won writing contests at Terrain.org and The Examined Life Journal. His short story collection, Something Like Hope & Other Stories, is scheduled for release by Wising Up Press in early 2021. He lives in San Diego, California.