Saturday, 22 October 2016

Into the Ether 

by Sandy Barnett Ebner

I walked into the kitchen just in time to see my mother drape a lace doily over a raw chicken, the same doily that had been sitting under a lamp in our family room for the last thirty years. The chicken, a 3-4 pound roaster from the looks of it, was sitting in the roasting pan my mother had been using since she was first married.

“Mom?” I said. “What are you doing?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” My mother sounded tense.

“Well,” I said, “it looks to me like you might be making dinner.” (It was eight-thirty in the morning.) I watched as she began to baste the doily with butter, using the short, smooth strokes honed over years of practice. Afterwards, she slid the roasting pan into the oven and turned to look at me.

“I’ll tell you something,” she said. “I spent my entire marriage cooking for you and your father. Now that he’s gone I just don’t give a shit anymore.”

This knocked me back a bit, not only because my mother loathed profanity but because she had always loved to cook, exchanging recipes with friends, scouring magazines for something new to prepare, announcing each dish as it was placed on the table, as if it were being served to heads of state and not her own family.

I was frightened, but didn’t want my mother to know that. This was a woman I no longer recognized. Her brain was damaged, the doctors said. She was losing any filters she may once have had. She was no longer afraid to say the wrong thing. She simply said what she meant.

When she closed the oven and turned towards the sink, I walked to the stove and opened the oven door. It was completely cold. I reached in to retrieve the ruined linen, wrapping it in a kitchen towel to throw away later. My mother didn’t notice, or if she did, chose not to say anything. Shaken, I sat at the kitchen table, watching as my mother washed her hands. Her moods had become so unpredictable that I said nothing as she chattered on about this and that.

“Honey, do you realize that Margaret decided to divorce Frank?” Our neighbors, Margaret and Frank, had both been dead for years. I had grown up with their daughter, Rachel, who now lived in Costa Rica, designing jewelry and flitting between boyfriends.

“This is under the COS, of course,” she said. My mother’s famous ‘Cone of Silence’, a phrase she had been using for decades, eventually, for some reason, switching to the acronym.

“Yes,” I said. “Absolutely.”

I thought about all the other strange things she had done lately. The car keys in the freezer, the front door left standing open all night. None of these things were as strange as what she had just done with the chicken, but I knew what they meant. I was slowly losing her, one day at a time, and I had no idea what to do about it.

“Sweetheart, are you crying?” Was I crying? I hadn’t realized. She crossed the room and wrapped me in her arms. Suddenly she was herself again. These transformations came so quickly now that I couldn’t keep up. But it was these rare moments, when my mother was really my mother, for which I was most grateful, because I knew they were all I had left. So I let go of my emotions, my fear, and gave myself up to the feel of my mother’s touch.

* * * * *

Sandy Ebner lives and writes in Northern California. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, The ReviewReview, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, the HerStories/ My Other Ex anthology, and other publications. She holds a bachelors degree in journalism from California State University, and is an alumna of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. She is a contributing writer to Change Seven and previously served as the creative nonfiction editor at MadHat Lit and MadHat Annual (Mad Hatter’s Review). She is working on her first novel, and a collection of essays.