Mother and daughter reunite under drastic circumstances.

Goodbye Forever

By Amber Fernie

For the Triumphant Return Award

May floated down the hallway on autopilot, the steps registering in her feet, if not her brain. Everything around her was a three dimensional photograph, frozen in the once new colors and designs of her childhood, only dull now, and dusty. She found herself stepping over one particular floorboard she knew to be squeaky. In her youth, she had done the same thing during surreptitious midnight excursions to nowhere in particular. Not much to do in this town, but not much was better than the fevered pacing she would otherwise have done in her room. Now, avoiding the floorboard had more to do with the somber veil which seemed to have draped itself over the entire house. Making noise would have been a sacrilege here, where a woman lay dying.

Upon opening her mother’s bedroom door, May felt the blood drain from her face, and became unsteady. She had a vague awareness of being seated, but wasn’t sure how. Her mind had been filled with images of a young beauty singing and praying, tall and strong, blonde hair shining. But that woman wasn’t here. This fading person who had taken her place was small and fragile, and May couldn’t reconcile the two.

They hadn’t spoken in years. The last time they saw each other was through a window, where May had fled to the passenger seat of a boyfriend’s car, defiantly refusing to respond to her mother’s pleading hand pressed against the glass. That same hand had left a red mark on her cheek moments before, not for the first time, and she decided then and there that she was leaving for good. She had never returned, until now. Maybe it was the urgency of the voice on the phone saying she must come right away, but she was as surprised as anyone to find herself immediately packing.

May could see that whoever was doing the upkeep was trying, but things just weren’t up to her mother’s standards. The yard was overgrown, dishes sat untouched in the sink, and there was a pile of laundry tossed haphazardly in the corner. As she gazed into the gray face of this barely recognizable woman, the messy surroundings only added to the surreal nature of the unfamiliar amongst all this familiarity.

And then her mother’s eyes opened. They were the same blue-green as always, and it was enough to sweep away the haze of disorientation.

“May? You’re here?” she said.

“I’m here, mama.”

“I was hoping to see you.”

“I’m here.”

“Are you going to stay?”

And there it was.

The question cut through years of pride and hurt feelings, and demanded an answer. She looked within herself to find the wellspring of righteous anger from which she’d mustered the reasoning to stay away, but all her rage had fled, and left only a hole of regret, and a yearning to tear down the defensive bricks she’d so carefully constructed between them. She wanted only to throw her arms around this ailing woman and shout “I forgive you!”

But that would never do, not in her mother’s youth, and not now. The very idea that she’d done anything for which to be forgiven would infuriate her. So May merely squeezed her hand and smiled softly.

“Yes, mama. You rest. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Making her way to the kitchen, she began washing dishes. Tomorrow, she would start on the laundry, and see what condition the lawn mower was in.