Writers were blindly matched for a collaborative writing project with another writer. The resulting stories/poems appear below.
Interested writers chose which genre they wanted to write (fiction or poetry). Writers were randomly matched as a starter or maybe a finisher on the theme of MOTHERS. All teams consisted of two people who each had three weeks for their portion of the story/poem. Final stories/poems were read at the April 16th unveiling.
RESULTS OF 2014 WRITERS SMATCHUP WITH THE THEME OF "APRIL SHOWERS"
"Dreams and Nightmares"
Starter – Patty Joslyn
My mother's mother's mother is pressed under glass
She an echo of me
Almost remembered by me
The words great and grand are no mistake
Her hair a wave that carries me to shore
Around her neck a strand of pearls wrapped three times
Her lips are lines of wonder
Her hands my mother's hands~bent and thin
Her neck is my neck~thick and aging
She is sitting in a chair
Fine lace behind her head
Looking at a Holiday magazine
The cover dark boats in dark waters at night
The year is 1949
She's reading of the Mississippi River
The Mark Twain Cruise
A twenty day adventure one can take to go back in time
I can buy a back issue today for $42.85
Or another cheaper in greater disrepair
Yet it wouldn't bring my great-grand-mother back
I have two photographs of my mother's mother's mother
Nailed to a wall
It's the only way I know her
Finisher – Harriet Gleeson
To the heart and mind
I called you ‘mum.’ That’s what daughters did
But I never knew who what you really were
Never your deep desires.
I hear you pacing the verandah,
May Henrietta daughter of duty and social mores
Corroded by bitterness
Potency thrashing helplessly no-one understood
The times I remember being with you
In the house we shared fear.
– I paralyzed at the eruptions of frenzy –
You cooked and cleaned, sewed and resented
Tongue clenched in your teeth
Tension visible in every move and grimace you ever made.
Why marry the wrong
Gentle man who could not
Match your drive not help you
Fulfill your desires … whatever they were …
You driven capable of much
Into the wrong world at the wrong time.
Now it is too late to know.
"Echoes of Mom"
Starter – Zelda Zuniga
I was in awe of her when I was little, tugging on her skirt in silent insistence for the newest gadget set at kid level in stores. She wouldn't bat an eye and I acquiesced every time. It was a dance we were both good at. Her strength belied her small frame and the five siblings she had every day tagging along. It was at times a simple, silent, unseen pinch that put us in line. She was caring and strict, bold and beautiful. Her tiny form always surprised men who'd see her with a twinkle in their eye and assumed she was a nanny for a big family. They would be surprised and sad when they found out we were hers. She was glamorous, yet I didn't know it at my young age. I saw her beyond physical beauty and still saw beauty. She was my idol, my life, and my fears.
Throughout my childhood, my vision was solid. She was fierce, brave, wonderful, loving and our young lives revolved around her as our sun. If she flared up, we dove for cover. If she spread her warmth around, we danced and laughed in it. Her smile was infectious, her ability to laugh, cry with the news and embrace life wherever we were.
It was our trip to her native land that opened my vision. We were enjoying our trip, her land far removed from mine. I shared her joy of shopping and would buy all the local handmade products, my weakness in souvenirs. When I looked at items too heavy and too large for the airlines, I thought twice, not wanting to pay extra. My mother simply said, "Go ahead, get that." A good daughter, I obeyed.
It was at the airport when I saw her in a different light, actually it was more like a spotlight.
My oversized, overweight luggage was being processed and my mother was leaning in with a wad of money in her fist, speaking in native tongue to the airline clerk. Suddenly, he started perspiring, and I was thinking she had more money in her hand than he made in a month. He was glancing over at the security guards. I focused in slow motion at the entire picture. I thought about the underground market the country was famous for. I thought about my pristine mother, our force-field we had against all evil growing up. Where she came from and how she left. The clerk dripped sweat. My mother was almost whispering, but it was intense and clear. The guard barely noticed.
Finisher – Sharon Gilligan
I remembered the time when I was eight and I managed to pocket one of the baubles I coveted at the Best Bargains Store. It was a silly game in a plastic box with a picture of a cruise ship glued to the bottom. Holes were punched in the picture and ball bearings rolled around inside the box. The object was to tilt the box until all the balls were in the holes. This made the ship’s windows look lit up. I didn’t care about the game, but the idea of a cruise ship going to exotic places entranced me.
When we got to the check stand, my mother put her purchases on the conveyor belt, but, of course, my filched prize did not appear. A security guard grabbed my arm, “Come with me, young lady.”
“Take your hands off my daughter, Mr. Barnes.” Mother had quickly read the name plate on his rent-a-cop uniform. Her face was within inches of his, and it told him not to mess with her.
“Your kid stole something, lady. It had a shiny face. Might of even been a watch.”
When I sheepishly produced the ninety-nine cent game board, the guard looked embarrassed. My mom snatched it from me and put it on the belt. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I told her she could pick something out, but I forgot to have her give it to me.” After it was scanned, she handed it back to me. When our eyes met I knew I had gotten away with nothing and would pay for this thievery for a long time. She just didn’t want to shame me or herself in public.
By now I could tell the airline clerk and my mom were in a standoff. They were both leaning in almost touching with steel in their eyes. I approached the counter and hissed, “I saw that. Take your hands off my mother.”
The clerk’s eyes bulged out and he sputtered, “You accuse me. I not—“
“Do you want me to say that louder so everyone will hear?”
Without another word, he jerked his thumb and sent the oversized bag down the luggage conveyor belt. Mother put away her wad of bills, but at the last minute I felt sorry for the clerk and slipped him what I had left of the local currency—about twenty-two bucks American.
"I Am Waiting"
Starter – Nona Smith
There are a few of us milling in the hallway this afternoon. Maybe not exactly milling. More like waiting. Just hanging out.
I put my hand on my mother’s bony shoulder and she looks up at me with a wan smile. I can see she’s not worried. Not today. Today she’s content to sit patiently and pluck imaginary lint from her twill slacks.
Next to us an Asian woman with thinning hair clutches an open passport. She’s speaking Korean, but none of us in the hall this afternoon speak that language. Her voice is filled with anxiety and despair, and it’s clear to all of us she’s pleading for something. She holds the passport out then clutches it to her chest again.
“Say it in English,” a ram-rod-straight woman in a white uniform tells her. Her voice is soft, but it lacks compassion for the woman who has lost her English words, if she ever owned any.
A highly tanned man, one who might be considered lanky if he were standing, sits on the other side of Mom. A blanket is wrapped around his shoulders making him look like an Indian chief in an old Tom Mix movie. He’s studying his lap with great concentration. From time to time he looks up and asks no one in particular to take him back to Room Two.
The uniformed woman without compassion catches my eye. She stands behind the man and shakes her head. Silently, she mouths the words, “He belongs in Room Four” and nods her head in that direction. But she doesn’t take him there either. Instead, she rolls her eyes. I look away, not wanting to validate her callous attitude.
There are already more people than usual in the hall when a woman with tiny hands and a moon-shaped face is wheeled in to take her place among us. Occasionally she leans forward in her chair and raises her hands to her face. “Help me, help me,” she bleats. Her voice is urgent, distressed. Between cries, she settles down, her body relaxes and a vacant look comes over her.
It pains me to watch this woman, but the others, including my mother, seem unaffected by her.
I bend over and touch my mother’s cheek. Briefly, she looks up at me.
“Mom, would you like to go outside for a ride? See the spring flowers?”
She doesn’t answer. She’s gone back to her lint plucking. The Korean woman clutches her passport. The man with the blanket studies his lap. “Help me, help me,” the woman with tiny hands moans. The uniformed woman in white appears indifferent.
We continue to wait in the hall, each for our own reasons. The woman in white is waiting for her shift to be over. I am waiting for an appropriate amount of time to pass before this visit with my mother, who is unaware of who I am and why I’m here, can be considered duty accomplished. The others are waiting because they no longer have anything else to do.
Finisher – Norma Watkins
I hardly notice when the light changes. By the time I do, the room looks distinctly blue, with that harsh light cast by fluorescent tubes. The woman with the passport checks me out and speaks in perfect English. “I think he’s better now.”
The man with a blanket stands easily and, with a look I can only describe as pity, places it around my shoulders. “Can’t you see he’s shivering?”
“They always shiver at first,” the woman in white says. “It passes.”
“I turn to my mother for explanation, but I do not recognize the woman next to me. She looks at me with sweet sadness.”
I start to get up. I want to tell them I’m only here for a visit with my mother. I want to tell them my car, the dark green BMW, with caramel leather upholstery and a backup camera, is parked in the Visitors’ Lot. My legs don’t work. I say the words, I hear the words in my head, but their eyes fill with questions.
“Can you understand what he wants?” The old Korean woman, speaking her perfect English. The passport is now a fan, a pink fan. She waves it back and forth, back and forth.
The woman in white shakes her head. “Babbling. Thinks he’s making sense, though. It’s terribly hard on them until they realize.”
“Will you do speech therapy?” the woman who was my mother asks.
“Of course.” The woman in white shrugs. “Limited success, however. Sometimes singing helps.”
“Let’s sing,” my mother suggests. They begin a ragged chorus of “Down by the Riverside.” The Korean woman encourages me with her fan to join in. I play along. I have a good voice. I begin to sing. I hear my baritone and the words in my head. The song peters out.
“Oh, dear.” The Korean woman says.
The lanky man speaks. “He’s crying.”
Mother puts a hand on my arm. “Don’t be upset, dear. It’s a lovely day. Would you like to take a ride outside and see the spring flowers?”
Starter – Doug Fortier
Joe walked from one shady spot to another, keeping Tucson’s hot July sun from making him any sweatier. He couldn’t stop walking; he’d been away from the care-home most of the day. On the alley side of a strip mall with smelly dumpsters, he halted behind one when a girl with naturally blond hair appeared in a doorway ahead of him. Tall and thin like himself, she wore a yellow knit dress that circled her mid-thigh, clung to her tiny waist, and managed to envelop her full breasts. High heels curved her legs. He feared his eyes were bulging, that she’d see him in the shadows.
She didn’t look because she’d focused on someone inside as she talked with animated gestures. He couldn’t hear them. An older woman with her arm extended, dressed in high heels, jeans and a provocatively tight low-necked sweater, thumped the girl on the chest with an index finger, pushing her off balance into the alley.
Joe wanted to know what was going on, but they went inside and closed the metal door with a solid thunk. He braved the sun and went around to the front of the short mall to see what business was sixth from the end. Between a Super Taco and a nail salon, he saw a store with three gold balls hanging from a sign, “Mrs. Martin’s Pawn.” It had accordions, and cameras, jewelry and guns in the window.
Both women were at the back of a showroom with racks for game boxes, exercise equipment, kitchen appliances, TVs, DVD players, and lots of sports equipment. He didn’t let himself look toward them when he went in to browse among the offerings, but worked his way closer, sometimes crouching to check the tag on an item.
“So what are we going to do?” the older woman said.
“I don’t know,” the girl said. Her voice had a husky tone he found alluring. Joe sensed the pull this girl had on him and moved even closer.
“If you’re not going to fill the hours, to mind the store, you better think twice about collecting a check.” The older woman’s voice became nearly inaudible. “And you’ve scared off every man or woman we’ve hired.”
Joe’s body stood without him thinking to do it, moved to the counter, and words came out on their own,.“You happen to be looking for a pawn broker? I’m your man.”
Mrs. Martin, the first to react, introduced herself. “I’m the owner and namesake, who might you be?” The girl hardly moved at first. Her hesitancy changed to a relaxed smile.
“I’m Joseph Joseph Carroll, my friends call me JoJo.”
The girl gave him her hand and did a mini-curtsey, “I’m Loretta, pleased to meet you.”
“What makes you think you’re a pawn broker, Mr. Carroll?”
“JoJo, please. I’m young, Mrs. Martin, but I’m a quick learner. You won’t be disappointed.”
Loretta smiled openly, showing her straight white teeth. “You don’t have experience, JoJo?”
Instead of answering her, he looked to Mrs. Martin. “No, ma’am. I don’t. But I can do the job if you’re willing to teach me.”
Mrs. Martin turned on one heel toward a roll top desk where she pulled a form from a nook. “Fill this out for the government and show up tomorrow at nine o’clock. Loretta will show you what needs doing. It’s my day off.”
Joe looked toward Loretta who nearly melted him with a smile. Her perfect body and hair captivated him, yet he hadn’t registered a most important clue.
Finisher – Henri Bensussen
Pondering his luck in snagging a job and a possible girlfriend in one fell swoop, Joe headed back to the care-home. The sun blistered his skin and he wished he had an icy beer to look forward to rather than ice-water. The heel of his shoe slipped on something. He looked down, hoping it wasn’t dog crap, and saw a silver dollar, a string of them leading to the gutter. No one seemed to notice him bending over, gathering them up and stuffing them into his jeans pocket. Ten silver dollars. He looked around in wonder and saw a saloon across the street. Things were definitely turning around for him. As he walked over, Loretta came into view, headed in the same direction.
He waved hello. “I’ll treat you to a beer,” he said, when she came up to him. He jingled the coins in his pocket and tried to smile like he’d seen people do on TV.
Loretta’s eyes, dark brown, like Mrs. Martin’s, stared into his. “Are you old enough to not get us in trouble?” She took his arm. “Course you can buy me a beer. Also, some steak and eggs with hash browns. I haven’t had anything today except coffee and a left-over cupcake from a birthday party a week ago.”
“I guess I can manage that.” JoJo hoped his money would last for at least one beer for himself, and as he thought that he felt the weight in his pocket increase, as if his ten silver dollars had doubled.
They found a table in a dark side-room, their orders were taken, and beers arrived. He had plenty of cash in his pocket and felt like he’d eaten a raft of the special brownies his friends in California had made as a good-bye present when he decided to return home to Tucson, or whatever home a place like Tucson offered.
“Tell me about the birthday party,” Joe said. He sat back in the booth, prepared for a story.
“Mom’s thirty-ninth.” Loretta’s teeth gleamed in the light from a lamp screwed to the wall. “She loves cup cakes. Which reminds me of a big coincidence: you’re a Joe and so is she.”
“I wish I’d known my mom.” Joe looked around the almost empty room; anything to not be accused of staring at Loretta’s cleavage.
Loretta’s face softened. “Orphaned?”
“Maybe. All I know, I was dropped at a church door at the age of one and put in an orphanage, run by the sisters of St. Joseph’s.”
“Which must’ve led to your name—but Joseph Joseph? We’re there two orders of St. Joseph?” She laughed and took a sip of her beer.
“They told me the only words I knew were ‘Jo’ and ‘No.’ I kept yelling, ‘Jo, Jo, No, No.’” He dared himself to stroke Loretta’s hand. His heart jumped, and he felt giddy when she didn’t withdraw from him. “After a series of foster parents, I ended up in the army, Afghanistan etc., and now I’ve got a room in a care-home till I can get on my feet.”
“PTSD, Joe?” She slid closer to him on the cowhide seat and pinched his thigh. “I have a few techniques that might help.”
Joe’s leg uncontrollably trembled. He took another swig of beer before continuing. “Care-home doesn’t allow smoking, or drugs, or beer. It’s all about behavior. We do group practice a lot.”
“They do allow sex, just not on-site?”
Before Joe could react to that comment the waiter appeared with food and Loretta’s face lit up. Joe watched her eat as he finished his beer and a batch of French fries. Something about her was so familiar, it was like looking in a mirror and seeing her instead of himself. “It must be nice to celebrate birthdays with your mother,” he said. “She must’ve had you at a young age.”
“Child-bride. Actually, not the bride part. Had me when she was fifteen; got pregnant again a year later, then she left the guy, and tried The Street. Worked her way up to owning the pawn shop. Now she’s trying to train me to not follow in her footsteps, or at least skip the street-walking.” Loretta sopped up the final bit of egg with the last forkful of potatoes. All that was left on the plate was a steak bone and grease.
“What happened to that baby?”
“The one your mom had after you?”
“Oh, we don’t talk about it. Mom had no money, no way to care for it. Gave it up for adoption by some good Christian family. That’s all I know.”
“One more hard life.” Joe blew into his empty bottle. “So Mrs. Jo Martin is your mother. You have her eyes.”
“That’s about all I inherited from her in the way of looks.” Loretta stared into Joe’s face. “You have eyes just like hers, too. In fact, you look a lot like me.”
“No way.” Joe felt his face redden. Loretta was beautiful in a way he wanted to be, but this was all a bunch of coincidences. He did what he always did when conversations turned too confusing, and tried to make it into a joke. “Course I’d like to be just like you, with your figure and all, but I suffer from the curse of the male hormone. My chest is flat and my feet are a size 10.”
Loretta’s voice turned dreamy, as if she was in another world. “My little brother would’ve been a year younger than me, 23.” She grabbed his wrist. “How old are you, JoJo?”
Starter – Adrienne Ross
“Julie,” she said to me when I was a child, “Julie, you can ask me anything.” I asked her a lot of questions. What is a dildo, I asked? How does a man’s penis get stiff? Will you please buy me a letter jacket and a prom dress? She always answered, too fulsomely.
Now I’m in my fifties and have children of my own --kids in college, adults really -- and my mom is 95 years old. Ninety-five years old. She’s doing good, in a way, but in another way I see her deteriorating . Her skin alone is ravaged, almost disgusting. I know her so well that I know what’s on her mind. I know she’s thinking, constantly thinking, yearning, craving, wanting me to ask her the most intimate questions anyone can ask an aged parent. She wants to answer. At length. She wants to go on and on about her ailments, her disturbances, her worries, her impending death.
To whom else can she cry her litany? She doesn’t have many friends left. Two of them, the sweetest, are a little demented. The other is in reasonably good mental shape, but frail and slightly disabled and really doesn’t go out. My mom goes out. She walks a mile with the aid of a cane, nearly every day, she does her own shopping and takes care of herself reasonably well, with the help of the housekeeper I’ve hired for her. Still, she has old-people’s mishaps. Still, she wants to hear me say, What’s it like, mom dear, dearest mom, beloved mom, what’s it like to be old? Still, she wants to tell me all about it. It’s not that she wants me to know. It’s that she wants to tell, in the most minute graphic way possible. But of course I don’t want to know. I’m repelled by the possibilities of her response. I’ll never get that old. No one my age can get that old.
What’s it like to get old? I don’t mean old like me, a mature middle-aged adult, but really old, old like you, mom, with creased and folded skin, sparse hair on your head, invisible lips, flab hidden -- but not well -- by long sleeves? Please don’t tell me what it’s like. If you do I will be too prepared. So that old age will not hit me suddenly like an earthquake in the night, causing me to leave my bed in my nightgown, dazed and searching for something, anything, my name, my place, my slippers, before I flee into the outside world which already is misshapen and distant and surreal? Ah, dear mom, you seem so calm when your unsteady hands overturn cups, when you sometimes fall on the sidewalk necessitating an exhausting trip to the E.R. where stitches are put in your knee and intrusive questions asked. Are you ready, I don’t want to inquire. Old age, as you well know, leads inevitably to death. Aren’t you afraid? Of not being, I mean? Don’t you worry that upon dying you will simply disappear from the world? And what about before your death, that’s the part I’m especially not asking about.
Are you drinking caffeine? Wine? Enough water? Any problems with bowels or bladder? Balance? Sleep? Oh mom, darling mom, I don’t want to ask you any of these questions. I know you are perishing to answer because the aging process is on your mind every minute of every day. I’m afraid to know. I don’t want to know.
I remember when you were slim and tall -- of course I was a kid then -- and now you’re shrunken and bent and bulging. I feel good, mom, and I run a mile 3 days a week and do yoga, and I look really good. And you look awful. Your voice is cracked and your wrinkles alone are horrifying. Oh my darling mom, what is it like? Don’t tell me, please. I just don’t want to know.
Finisher – Tansy Chapman
I’m not so drunk I can’t hear the bitterness in my voice. I should stop. Bob says he’ll leave me if I don’t quit whining. And off he goes to the gym—can’t take his eyes off the Spandex. He always did like younger women. Makes me feel as replaceable as an old tire. Mom never asks about him or why I’m often alone at night when she calls to tell me the latest about her bunions.
She’s jealous I have Bob, not like her, a single mother. Sure, Mom, you bought me things and answered all the sex questions. But admit it; you liked shopping and loved sex. First-hand knowledge. You were beautiful. But, for crying out loud, I was twelve when it started. Didn’t you wonder what was behind all of that? You never asked about the creeps you left me with, while you worked nights. I tried to tell you. Some people just don’t want to know.
Three-quarters of a bottle of wine, and nearly fifty years later, and I just figured it out—you were old when you had me. Not as smart about sex as you thought. How many men had you cast aside before my father? One nightstand you said. Well, you know what, Mommy dearest? I don’t believe you. Wouldn’t surprise me if you’re still at it. I read Viagra’s all the rage in the old folks home. You don’t even think of yourself as old. That’s your secret: you don’t worry. I’m the one with the problem.
What a waste of time. Enough with the booze. I’m going to find my Dad on the ‘net. And tomorrow I’m off to buy Spandex. Maybe, darling Mom, you can give me some tips. You’ll enjoy that.
"The Lost Mother"
Starter - Jewels Marcus
It was a picture book about a small
Critter looking for his mother
My younger brother loved
To hear over & over
The sad refrain…
“Are you my mother?”
“Noooo, I’m a snort
Dejected & bereft
Sad little critter searched
And searched again
While mother was
Employed in a research lab
Working around the clock
So people animals
Could wear safe makeup
Our own mother came home
Tired and defeated
Cuddling us close
And reading –
Finisher - Nancy Leila Wallace-Nelson
And Choco was his name
A homely bird with pinstripe feet.
He’d lost his mother, or she’d lost him.
He had no way to know her level of intentionality
in his being lost and alone.
He only knew he needed his mother.
He was desperate without her.
He roamed with intention, seeking his mother.
He asked various animals “Are you my mother?”
They all turned away in scorn,
for he looked not one bit like them.
They were not a homely bird with pinstripe feet.
Tired and very alone, he finally found a big female bear in an apron,
who said “I could be your mother.”
She scooped him up in her big furry arms,
and took him straight home to meet her other babies:
a hippo, pig and alligator who resembled her no more than did little Choco.
I read that book, “A Mother for Choco,” by Keiko Kasza,
at least once a day, when teaching troubled children,
who shared the commonality of parents lost or inaccessible.
One particularly challenged young boy
read the book at least three times a day,
until one charmed afternoon,
when he looked up at me with excited assurance, and said:
“I could be his mother.”
I smiled and said, holding the tears,
“Yes, you certainly could, and you would do a good job.”
For that one precious instant,
we had awakened within that lost young man
the spark of hope that lies within us all:
the hope that we will find the way
to be our own mother;
and make a cozy home
for all of our lost inner children.
Starter - Jay Frankston
She takes the seeds from her womb,
scatters them to the wind
and sings to them, the Mother.
And the wind lifts them high
above fields, above fears,
takes them round and round then lets them fall.
And flowers and trees
and children grow from the earth.
And the sun shines upon them
and makes them blossom.
And time watches,
counts, and waits for them.
Donald Shephard – Finisher
And waits for them
to perish unborn or flourish
flowering, sprinkling the Mother
with gaudy rouge or subtle green-mauve,
with lifting-heart joy or wrenching-gut grief,
attracting thrips and leaf-cutter bees,
or spreading pollen onto purple-
dusted breezes and yellowed winds.
Coating frog ponds and toadstools
with efforts-wasted and causes-lost,
which rot into grass duff, mulch and humus.
Propagating thus, she populates her bountiful
world where all life dies and is entombed
before she repurposes every atom.
Sun shines upon the seeds from her womb
raising children to sing her praises
on the soughing winds of time.
"Too Many Mothers"
Starter - Leslie Wahquist
Mothers. We all have to have one. Just one, thank god. Or so one hopes. I have three. I know. Stay seated - I’m going to tell you about it because I have to talk to somebody. I need to buy three mothers day presents today and right now I’d rather just shoot myself in the brain.
This mother thing started the moment I was born, of course. That would be mother number one, my biological mother—a term I was taught to use with Dawn. She gave me up, but then took me back – more than once, actually many times—the latest give-away was just last week when mother number three sent plane tickets for me to spend summer vacation at their horse farm in Kentucky, and mother number one said “Pack your bags.”
At the time I was conceived Dawn was an idealistic seventeen-year-old, travelling the west in Marc’s panel truck getting stoned to Cat Stevens and Jackson Brown. Every evening no matter where they were, they kissed at sunset and shared one good thing. This is how Marc found out about me and he wanted to live happily ever after with my mother. He painted a rosy picture for her of their blissful future but it failed to persuade her so he tried traditional macho tactics, pinning her to a wall and having her in a rough, take-charge sort of way (she told me she enjoyed that, ew) but it didn’t convince her to keep me. As a last resort he broke down sobbing, followed by a long pouting spell my mother found “unappealing and nonproductive” – (her words). Eventually he deserted, never to be seen again. Dawn was efficient with her pregnancy and delivery and immediately set me out for adoption. She became a phrenologist and now she’s fascinated with the function of my brain molecules; obsessed with ferreting out which of her genes passed into me. I am her science project. I do my best to thwart all her hypotheses before they can gain momentum.
My adoptive mother Jane, the one with the secure marriage who had to pass all sorts of psychological tests, proving domestic stability and financial security in order to get me—is currently in rehab at the state prison. She is a good person, but a terrible mom and proof that those things aren’t reliable indicators of parenting potential. I write her every week—she’ll be out in eighteen months and she promises to get me back and be the mom she should have been. She goes on and on about it but to tell you the truth I’m over it. Jane fell apart when I was in the third grade—when Michael showed up. Michael was here promoting an equestrian event at our lame county fair when he fell madly in love with my dad.
Michael is now Jane’s ex-husband’s wife because it turns out that my dad is gay. Apparently that’s why Jane adopted me in the first place—they never consummated their marriage! Isn’t that crazy? Then, she gets this anonymous text photo leaving no doubt Dad and Michael are consummating their heads off and it throws her for a literal loop. It’s what drove Jane into her “destructive downward spiral” –(Michael’s word)s and why she did the drugs and the whole breaking—entering and assault thing. So this leaves Mommy number three, the overbearing Michael who never lets me forget how much he adores me.
“But you are the only baby I am ever going to have, Sidney” he shrieks, covering me with kisses. YUCK. And again, YUCK.
Finisher – Maureen Eppstein
At least Michael has been a good influence on Dad. He’s more relaxed since they’ve been together. When I was a little kid he was always uptight and serious. Everything in the house had to be just so. He’d yell at me for every little thing, like if I left my shoes by the couch, or if I watched video instead of doing my homework. Worst was if I talked back at Jane. He’d go on and on about respect, and being grateful for the good home she had made for me. I mostly just tuned him out.
When Dad left and Jane started doing drugs, Dad wanted me to go live with him and Michael. Jane said no, she wouldn’t allow my life to be “corrupted.” As if it wasn’t already. I think it was Dad who found out where my birth mother lived and checked out whether she was willing and able to take me on. But, as I said already, it didn’t work out. She is just so controlling. I ran away the first time, back to Jane. But then she started stealing and got caught, and the police let me stay with Dad and Michael. But then Dawn wanted me back, and the four of us, Dad and Michael and Dawn and me, met with some counsellor woman and the adults yammered over my head, and the counsellor decided I should go back to Dawn. It lasted for a while, until … You know all this already, how I bounced back and forth. If she didn’t snoop so much we’d get along a lot better.
The final straw was when Dawn started telling me I’d inherited my irresponsible gene from my birth father, Marc. I figured if we had so much of our genes in common, he’d be able to understand me. I figured that there had to be someone in this jumbled up mess of parents that would truly love me. I had no idea where to look for him, so I got Dad to help. He’s good at doing searches like that. I think it’s part of his job. He didn’t want to at first. He kept saying things like not wanting me to get hurt, and how it was possible Marc didn’t want to be found. I was like, that’s impossible; how could a father who was so like his daughter not want her to find him. So Dad finally gave me this email address, and I texted what I thought was a friendly, daughterly message. I couldn’t believe it when I saw Marc’s name on an email the next day. I was so excited I could hardly open it. Worst mistake I ever made. He was so cruel. Said he didn’t want anything to do with me, and not to write ever again. He was married with children of his own and didn’t want their lives messed up by knowing I existed.
I called Dad and was crying into the phone. Dawn overheard. She snatched the phone from me and was yelling at my Dad, demanding to know what was going on. Then she threw the phone onto the bed and started in on me, how by trying to find Marc I was disloyal to her and irresponsible and a pain in the butt to everyone and deserved whatever misery he dished out.
That was a bit over a week ago. Two days later these plane tickets arrive. A few more weeks and it will be summer. Michael says in his note that my favorite mare, Sally, is going to have a foal soon, and I can help look after her. I think I’ll declare Sally my fourth mother.
Shoot, I still don’t know what to buy for mother’s day gifts for the three mothers I already have. Guess I’ll have to call Dad and ask if he has any ideas.
Starter: Laurel Moss
“I object!” She was pushing. I didn’t want to go. She pushed, I resisted. She pushed, I resisted. Many hours of labor and tired of the pushing, I squirted out. She exhausted and me under protest, loud and demanding. Of course great Aunt Anna once told me, “When your mother gave birth to you it was like pushing through a brick wall.” I think she resented me since then, my mother, not my aunt. I have reciprocated in kind. She pushing, me resisting. The dynamics of our relationship through childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood until the age of eighteen. Doll? I wanted a stethoscope. Dresses? I wanted pants. Mostly I wanted to read. Reading was respectable. When I read she treated me diffidently. She hesitated to interrupt me. She stayed her distance.
Mother had a difficult way of endearing herself to me and while rebelling I still tried to please her. In kindergarten, with Mother’s Day not far away, we students were encouraged to prepare Mother’s Day cards, and with a selection of colored pencils, I worked to create a masterpiece of loving greetings, flowers and frogs and hearts and bright sunshine and. “Of all the mothers in the world, you are the best and your hair is curled.”
I rhymed and printed my name and at home took my earned allowance to the flower shop, bought a dozen white carnations, and went home again to greet my mother, all happy and smiles. She came downstairs as I yodeled, “Hi Mom,” and put forth the bouquet. She looked at the card and smiled, but not at the carnations.
“But white carnations are for the dead,” she said.
Finisher: Katy Pye
The florist lady had told me they were a “lovely choice.” I loosened my grip, letting the flowers cascade to the floor. Mother didn’t scold nor bend to retrieve them. That Mother’s Day the push and pull of us set itself as dense as Aunt Anna’s brick wall. She said my mother turned hard before they left Mexico. I was in her belly. My father had died. Life was difficult there, she said. I only saw the toughness in my own.
I was seventeen when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Treatments left her too weak to struggle against me. Our gap grew. Aunt Anna, at 85, ran the household.
Senior prom landed on my eighteenth birthday. Carlos, a neighbor boy in my English Literature class, asked me to go. I’d rather read than date, but said yes. I needed to celebrate somehow. Aunt Anna got Mother to allow us money for dress fabric. Simple pattern, teal blue with bright orange, green, and yellow ribbons at the neckline and the elbow-length sleeves. School was three blocks away, so I walked to Carlos’ house to pick him up. He invited me into his parent’s cheerful living room and handed me a box. It was from the same flower store where I’d bought my mother’s flowers years before. I stared at the label as he lifted the lid. A wrist corsage of red roses, fern, and white carnations rested on white confetti paper.
“Don’t you know that white carnations . . . . ” I started to say.
Carlos slid the corsage over my hand. “Yeah, the shop lady said they stand for sweetness, protection, and luck. Oh, and pure love.” His face brightened red as the roses.
That night, I slipped into my mother’s room to tell her the fun I’d had with Carlos. She was asleep, her Bible open on her chest. I picked up the yellowed newspaper clipping that lay on the page. In Spanish it read, “Dozens of Villagers Disappear—Feared Dead.” My father and his four brothers, listed as an anti-government, Indian rebels, were the first names. I looked down again at the Bible. Placed into the crease, was the Mother’s Day card. Across it lay the pressed faces of five, brittle white carnations.