You probably don’t remember me. And really, how could I blame you? I struggle to remember me—the me who so easily turned down Mom’s invitations to join her on kayaking trips or walks, or punished her with silent treatments for perceived wrongs, as daughters often do. The me who’d never written a eulogy.
It wouldn’t be fair to expect more from you. Besides, three years is a long time when it comes to an unexceptional encounter you had with a faceless, nameless stranger. (I don’t think I told you my name, anyway. I might be wrong. Grief has a way of warping past events.)
In any case. I’m the unknown number who popped up on your phone screen one spring afternoon in 2018—distracting you from the work form you were filling at your cubicle desk, or interrupting you as you stood in the dry goods aisle and calculated the cheapest brand of fettuccine, or providing a much-needed excuse to step away from a half-filled TurboTax page. Whatever you were doing, it was mundane enough for you to risk getting trapped in conversation with a telemarketer by pressing Accept.
And there I was on the other end, gazing out my kitchen window at the one stray cumulus cloud in an otherwise clear sky, its plumage morphing as it drifted past, oblivious to the world below. I was caught off guard when you answered, startled by a voice too young and deep and without the rasp of a tumor pressing against your esophagus to be the person I was expecting.
Do you remember my confusion? My sudden shift in cadence from something low and familiar to the higher-pitched tone I always fall back on when making small talk with strangers?
I remember yours—your up-flicked inflection as you asked who I was. I remember pulling back my phone to double check the contact illuminating my screen. I remember sitting at a table scarred with two decades of scratch marks, tiny notches from knife tips gouged into the oak—remnants of family dinners, of chicken parmesan and tuna melts and enchiladas cooked by Mom. I remember skimming my eyes over the snow-covered backyard, coming to rest on the sun-glistened hump under which Mom’s garden was buried. I remember remembering, and I remember the red-hot shame that diffused into my cheeks at having forgotten in the first place.
That’s something the hospice nurses never warned us about: between all their murmurs of responses are unpredictable and make sure you’re taking care of yourselves too and I’m guessing less than a week now, it must have slipped their minds to mention that sometimes, in the aftermath, you just…forget.
I used to, anyway, back in those first few months when my brain was still trying to separate my post-Mom existence from the twenty three years prior during which her presence had been a constant, an ingrained, a to-be-taken-for-granted. Once every couple of weeks, there would be a moment—a few breaths’ worth of time—when I’d glance up from my novel or iPad or the half-chopped carrot on the cutting board before me and wonder where Mom had gone.
Is she in her room? as I strained my ears for the creak of a floorboard, the caw of a cushion spring under someone’s readjusted weight, the tap of fingers against keyboard, a cough.
When’s Mom supposed to be home? as I surveyed a driveway dusted gold from the streetlamp, undulating with shadows of wind-blown trees.
But the house would inevitably be quiet, the darkness unpunctured by headlights, and my solar eclipse of memory would come to an end as the moon lumbered on, the world brought into view once more.
I can’t tell you why these eclipses happened. Only that they did, and it was one such eclipse that led me to call you.
I can’t really tell you why I’m writing, either. Is this letter my explanation? My reclamation of a moment I’ve never been able to expunge from my mind? My confession of the lie I told you just before rushing to hang up—a mumbled “wrong number” that echoed in my empty kitchen as I stared up at a newly cloudless sky? I’m not sure.
I suppose, in the end, all I want you to know is this: if a faceless, nameless stranger ever calls again, wondering if Marcia is there, please forgive me. I just want to ask Mom where she’s gone and when she’s planning to come home.
Sara Solberg is a writer from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She graduated with her MFA from Northern Michigan University this past spring and has since been busy working as an administrative assistant to support her real career of writing fanfiction. She has strong opinions about octopuses and Marvel movies. Sara’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Pinch, X-R-A-Y, Hippocampus, and elsewhere. A full list of her publications can be found at sarasolbergwriter.wordpress.com.
Photography by: Hungary Camera Club