When My Mother Comes Running

          The geese still do this as they did it then. On the muddiest winter days, they walked from the town pond to our small front lawn and left black tracks atop the porch steps. It was an early afternoon in January. I was six and he was four, and the tapping of geese feet spilled like rain against the windows. Our mother was cleaning the bathroom sink. We were playing on the kitchen floor in our socks. Then he slipped and went flying through the glass backdoor, and all of it—the door, my little bowl-haired brother and his blue checkered pajamas—shattered in the cold. That scattering of geese, the squawking. We rushed to the hospital. My mother ran the red light at the school intersection and the nose of the police car that always poked out from the bushes just beyond the bend came swirling towards us. When he saw the sight of what was, the policeman, with wide hurting eyes, escorted us the rest of the way, this bushel of red blue lights pulsing in front like a thousand star-shaped bullets, and my bleeding brother, stunned and swaddled in a light green bathroom towel, strapped into the car seat next to me.

 

         The pond was in the back corner of town, its water flooded with striped bass and the geese. Some mothers worried about the sharp beaks biting their children’s fingers. Our town was nearsighted and short-sleeved. Next to the pond, an old neighbor spiraled Christmas lights around her mailbox and kept them year-round. There was something charming in its asymmetry to everything else.  Our mother kept the house clean. Still it yellowed. Behind the pond a convenience store slouched with a blue rippled roof, a circular parking lot tight on its side where trucks spun their wheels in dry sooty ruts when they pulled out. The shelves in the store smelled like pocket lint. My brother and I knew the store well. The air smelled like candle wax. In late October, we cut luminaries from brown paper bags and dropped in small white votives to make the bags glow. With time, the town shuffled its feet: a real estate office moved next to the salon. The salon shut down. But the convenience store stayed put, as did we.

         These were the years when you think everything is in your hands but really it’s in your mother’s. These were also the years, sometime in the middle of them, when my brother told me he was gay. Nobody thought about this then, ever even considered it. In fifth grade, I read a chapter book about a Native American girl whose little brother got mauled to death by wolves. This scene haunted my sleep and shuddered like heat against the back of my thoughts the day he told me. I had to reconsider everything. There was nothing to be celebrated. He would live a hard, dangerous life.I wished there was a pill I could give him to make it all come undone. In my bedroom, we sprawled ourselves across the terse beige carpet. I was picking at a patch of chipped paint on the doorframe and he was fiddling with the radio. I had just told him about a boy who is super gross and I don’t like at all asking me to prom. It was April, 1976. My brother kept fiddling so I said, “and I think I’m going to go.”

         “Who is he?”

         “Gordon.”

         “Isn’t he the one that Darcy likes?”

         “She doesn’t know and she’ll be okay with it,” I said. “It would be mean to say no, don’t you think?”

         “I think you just like it when boys like you.”

         “That’s mean.”

         “No,” he said. Construction down the street kicked dust onto the window screen. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” he said. “I think it’s true for everybody.”

         “I told him yes. Do you think that’s alright?”

         Noah nodded. A truck beeped. The flurry of crabapple seedlings tickled my nose. And then he said, “I like boys,” and turned to look at me right in the face. “Close your mouth,” he said. “That doesn’t make this any better.”

         “Are you sure? What does that mean?”

         “It means I’m gay. Don’t be dumb.” He ran a hand under his arm and massaged the skin. This he did in silences. “It’s just a piece of me though, not the whole of anything.”

         One afternoon when I was younger in the sandbox with my mother, I told her how I thought my brother would look when he got older. Maybe he’ll have crooked teeth and grow his hair big and long like all the other boys. Over my dead body, she said. These men want everything bigger. How sad to think he’ll never have a family. The rain of this world often times felt unclean. It was too faraway for me to handle and Noah seemed more adult in his saying it. Then I thought how I don’t have any of the right feelings and I should try to adjust them.

 

         The man who owned the convenience store kept a collection of dusty porcelain bowls, with rims the size of sun hats, along the back shelves. I never knew if they were for sale. If the bowls weren’t, I couldn’t imagine their purpose; if they were, I couldn’t imagine why they were kept so dirty. As my brother scoured for peanut butter cups by the cash register, I dragged my fingers along the sides and bottoms of these bowls, then tilted the tips upward to see how clouded they got with muck. My mother did not like the man who worked there: we were to slide our quarters across the counter to keep our skin from skimming his. He had a stubbled chin and a straightedged posture. I wondered what my fingertips would look like if I touched him: dusty with candy crumbs, loose hairs, all the litter that glommed onto these porcelain edges.

         “Look at this,” Noah said one afternoon, picking up a crate of eggs from the store’s refrigerator. “Eighty six cents a dozen. It cost only sixty last year.” I had been leaning against the wall, thinking as I sometimes did about how little I achieved today. I had started quantifying days by how many times a boy noticed me. What other metrics do people have. I say this with nothing of pity.

         “How do you remember that?” I asked, taking the crate from his hands. “Let’s buy some for Mom.”

         Noah squinted at the other price tags, the strawberry yogurt and milk cartons behind the fogged refrigerator door. The ice bags turned the glass blue. He put his hands on his hips. “I’m worried the world is going to blow up,” he said.

         It was these sorts of things, although I was sure they were not because he was gay, that made me worry about older boys noticing something was off about him. I didn’t think they noticed, not yet. But today one of his friends pretended to trip him as a playful joke except Noah’s sneaker caught behind his knee. He spilled to the ground outside the classroom door. The friend helped him up sheepishly, wiped crumbs off his sleeves, patted him on the back. I probably watched my brother too carefully. When I reflect on this, my eyes hurt.

         He put the eggs back in the fridge and started walking towards the candy aisle. “My arm hurts,” he said absently. He often complained to our mother that his arm hurt, but this got buried under other complaints, bigger ones, that he had about the world. “Is there anything there?” He lifted up his arm for me to look.

         “No, you’re fine,” I said. “Stop worrying about everything.”

         “Don’t do that. I hate it when Mom does that,” He pushed two fingers under his arm, fiddled with the skin. “I can feel something there.”

         Behind us, the man was sweeping the floor. A girl walked into the store and the bells jangled. The man went to the counter and peeled a lottery ticket off the wall.

         “I think there are a lot of things happening that people talk about or don’t talk about and don’t understand,” Noah said. He ran his hand along the cereal boxes. “Have you seen the old yellow house?” he said. “That house down the street that’s now a mansion.” He picked up a cereal box and looked at the price. Then he ran a finger down its cardboard edge. “They tore that whole thing down in two seconds flat. It looks like they’re putting in a tennis court.”

         “The house with all the Christmas decorations?”

         “The one next to it. Remember that other house from last spring? It’s all so contagious. All this bigness. Mom buys into it, I think.”

         “Stop talking about Mom like that.”

         “I didn’t say anything bad.”

         “Not really,” I said. We passed by a woman and her daughter with their elbows pressed against the ice cream cartons.

         “Mom’s mad at me,” said Noah.

         “You’re probably overreacting.”

         “I dropped a bottle of her champagne out of my bedroom window.”

         “What? Why’d you do that?”

         “I wanted to watch it shatter. Aren’t you curious? Bubbles flew out in rainbows. It was spectacular.”

         “I don’t know, Noah.” There was something in him that was not in me. “That makes me nervous.”

 

         I saw our mother, sometimes, as this: a woman crumpled in the absences our father dropped behind. Describing his death is difficult for me, not because it is sad and faraway, but because I see it only in the way my mother chooses not to speak in the mornings. She was never meant to work; she barely knew how. She folded cardigans and blue jeans at a department store in the center of the city. There was a big plastic sign next to the train stop. The dot where our town was on the commuter rail had a tobacco stain covering it. It looked like a little black fish, this splotch. The stop spit men in blue business outfits onto the streets, the corporate world bristling off their stiff jacketed shoulders as they walked the steps each day. Each day Noah and I watched them, transfixed. It was hard to picture our mother among them. An hour after we went to school, she took the subway in and took it home an hour after school ended. It was in this hour that we went to the convenience store, watched the men, then walked home with just enough time to keep her from getting suspicious. We were doing something wrong, we thought, but never spoke of it: eat the candy quickly, check each other’s lips for crumbs, check pockets for any wrappers she might find in the laundry. In the afternoons, our mother looked after other people’s homes. With a bitterness that excited Noah but made my chest tighten, she would come home before bedtime and comb her hair in the kitchen, and as apple crisp browned in the oven, tell us stories about the baby blue kind of laundry detergent Mrs. Foster used, and the boxes and boxes of war letters the Parson family kept in their linen closet. They needed to be tossed, she told us. Her comb caught a knot in her hair. Only later did I think how these neighbors paid my mother because we needed help and they knew it. If I didn’t blink for long enough, sometimes I could see her in beige heels on the sidewalk up ahead, hair clipped with two light spotted barrettes, never considering that this was how it was going to go.

         From our mother, I inherited too easy a drift into self-submission. I was aware of it as much as I was aware of the hair on my arms. From her, Noah got obstinacy and a clear-cut, painful sense of self-ownership, the kind that only insulates, that soothes the throat like something cold and citrus. These qualities seem to contradict each other. They do not. Noah was an elaborate, eccentric storyteller. I was useful in a plain sort of way. Stiff September, and I had made a fire by pulling early wood from the forest behind our house. My mother sat on the auburn armchair while Noah did his reading upstairs. “Do the boys in your class do drugs?” She touched a finger to her neck. “Dalton’s mother said someone brought pot onto the soccer bus.”

         “That’s normal, Mom. All the boys do that.” I wondered sometimes if she knew, as mothers do, about Noah. If she knew in no particular moment, at no particular time, only in the absences.        

         “Not your brother. I don’t want your brother doing that.”

         “He’s not like that.”

         “What about girls? Is he dating girls?”

         “Stop worrying, Mom. He’s fine.” I shifted the logs in the fire place. She looked out the window as if trying to catch a hummingbird fall from the sky.

 

         On a Thursday in June, just before my birthday, that boy who asked me to prom invited me to study with him in the library. Halfway through my reading, he brushed my knee, then put a finger on my neck and his breath on my hair, and I went with him down to the basement of the building; we got into a red walled elevator and snuck to the lowest floor where only the workers go and there was a big green door with a handicapped bathroom sign on it. It said adults only in big black letters. Inside, he locked the door and held down my head. Still, whenever I feel like I am going to throw up or eat food that makes my stomach hurt, I start worrying that some adult in a wheelchair is waiting somewhere, trying to get inside. My brother had been right about me.

         That afternoon, Noah waited at the convenience store and I never showed up.

         Closer to evening than late afternoon, I walked the two miles home from school to our house with weak knees, around the mucky goose pond. I passed two mothers and their kids, the mailbox with the lights, and kept my eyes down. Something had to be giving me away. I looked at my shirt, ran my hands down my skirt to flatten it. But both were entirely clean; my shirt still pressed, my skirt barely wrinkled. For a moment, I considered putting mud on my fingers and wiping it all over my cheeks. These geese were too bold to even scatter out of my way.

         When I came through the door, the emptiness of the house prickled. My cheeks were red with the wind. I hated myself for leaving my poor brother stranded and shamed myself more for making my mother nervous. She was going to yell at me and I braced for it. The house was the silence that comes just before my mother thumps down the stairs to scold us, her face ill with worry; she would demand why I was late, why my brother was home before me, and I felt again like I was going to throw up, unknowing until the moment it would happen what I would say to her.

         And then here came the thumping of her steps and the dangerous jangling of her long earrings against her jaw. I would absorb this calmly and humbly from my mother, I would take the blame, I would go upstairs and apologize to Noah—he was probably reading in bed, the covers up to his chin—and explain what had happened. As her footsteps loudened, I worried she would notice something was off with me. She would see the mud on my tongue. A soreness saddened my front teeth.

         “Your brother’s in the shower.” My mother entered the kitchen. She took a pot out from under the oven. “I’m late so you’ll have to do this.” She took out the pork loin and three cans of soup. Her eyes were looking beyond me, at the back door. As I looked into them, I could see that all she was thinking about was the Parson’s house, their linen closet. She wasn’t mad. She hadn’t noticed.

         “Did anything happen to your brother at school today?” she said. She looked at her reflection in the toaster oven and padded blush onto her cheeks. “He seemed a little preoccupied.”

         “I don’t know,” I said. “Don’t ask me.”

         “Change your tone,” she said. “It’s nearly seven. Make sure he doesn't track water all through the hall. I have to go.”

         “Go, then.” I started to walk out of the room.

         “Don’t talk to me like that.” Her jawline sharpened in the light. “You’re being rude.”

         And then my brother came into the kitchen. The mist of the shower was still steaming off his shoulders. He was holding something tenderly in his fingers and placed it on the counter in front of me. When I saw the glass, a familiar guilt tickled me. The shard glinted up at us like a square of sea glass, the green tiles of the kitchen reflected within it. It was a triangular piece of the kitchen door that the doctors must have missed with their tweezers and magnifying glasses eleven years ago.

 

***

         I am alone in the house when the phone rings. My mother has driven north of the city to buy macoun apples from a special market. Outside the leaves are absolutely still. Inside I go through the mail. The way light hits the leaves brings them magically to peace. Then the wind picks up and whoops, there they go trembling. It is ten years since my brother left. I am living with the man I married on the edge of the city a mile from my mother.

         In front of her, my son has said only once, while coloring on the floor, that my side of the family is so small compared to his father’s. I know the moments when my mother starts thinking of Noah. They are not the same as mine. The way she reads every section of the newspaper slowly, the way she refolds all the laundry when she comes to my house. My son was born and she left the room before holding him. Now she bounces him on her lap until her feet fall asleep. After dinner, she excuses herself early to walk around the block or drive north of the city. She is looking for him. She does not count Noah like she counts my father.

         These ten years he’s called four times. The first was almost a year after he left us. I asked why he didn’t call sooner. He said it never caught up to him. I struggled for a long time with what that meant.

         “This is too much,” I said when he wasn’t answering. “I’m telling you. You’re fifteen, Noah. It’ll be harder to come back the longer you wait.”

         “Is Mom mad?”

         “She’s really hurt.” Strange noises beeped in the background of a long silence. “Where are you?”

         I learned quickly not to ask.

         It was an oddly shaped realization, as the years took a seat, that my brother was sharing a language somewhere in the world with people beyond me, one that was not luminaries and living room fires. It was even more alarming to watch the illusion of ours fade so tragically. I had a secret language too, of basements and the smell of cheap soap, but it was so ugly and pathetic it made me wince. As his leave of us lengthened, I became more comfortable with the idea that he may have experienced a different household than I did. Ten years is a long time. Maybe it changed the way I saw him or maybe it changed the way I saw our home.

         Early in the years, when I was still young and walking to school, I thought how long it would take to forgive my brother. My most vulnerable moments happened in bed or when I read any kind of book, and would start imagining what was happening to him. In class, the daytime intrusions came with calculus and the way a line slopes and peaks, that optimal tangential point to then dark rashes crawling up my brother’s neck, my brother locked behind big green doors, tall crests of strange city buildings, their windows a thick black mold and their streets spotted in blue that then became the trees outside the classroom window. I had harmlessly and wrongfully dismissed his leaving in the quiet, most unaware way of something that would eventually resolve itself. My mother, at first, told no one. She was terrified, inconsolably, of this. I would get to the end of the sidewalk and stop. One day I got on the train and rode three stops towards the city. Then I rode three stops back. Where to go. I hated myself myself for being so unbearably plain. A month turned into more, and my mother panicked. She told people in the supermarket quietly, put milk in her cart, rolled onto the next person whom she told even more quietly. People talked more than they helped. But what could they do? If you think about it, there was not much.

         My mom mentioned him once when she was cooking potato strips while I was reading at the counter. She said loudly as if volume would mend the loss, as if she were speaking to no one in particular, Noah used to like them crispy. I will never forget the grammar of that phrase, the way those verbs cushioned together. Another year halfway gone, and the silence bristled like a sun-shattered pond. The palm of a Sunday afternoon, my mother is standing in the kitchen with cerulean dotted cabinets, her shoulder blades thin behind her dress, and I am tiptoeing inside. Don’t say a word, please. Do not creak any disturbance. It is a delicate, big balance of things. Anna. Come. I made cookies. My mother and I look at each other and it makes me sick. I want to go upstairs. Did I undercook them? She gives a weak smile as I bite into one. No, Mom. They’re perfect. Only now do I realize how badly I wanted her to hug me in those moments like she used to.

         Once, my brother called right when my mother came through the door but he hung up because he could hear her through the phone.

         “Was that Noah?”

         I nodded.

         “Where is he?”

         “I don’t know.”

         “You don’t know?” Her eyes started heating up. “He must have said something to you. What did he say, Anna? Don’t lie to me.” And suddenly we were back in the old kitchen with the loud lights.

         Now I wonder how long it will take to forgive myself. I took my son to the convenience store this last month. The man who worked there then still works there now. He is nothing more than someone who never found his footing and doesn’t wash his bowls. How easy it is to misstep and get stuck. His muddy hands are not muddy at all. The man smiled hugely when we walked in, remembering me from way back. My son asks to go back to the store every time we drive by. He wants soda and candy. No, I say, not this time. Not this store. And this large irony combs my heart and I wonder what secrets my mother has that I still don’t understand.

 

         I put down the mail and pick up the phone.

         “Hey, Anna,” he says. The pressure of tears always builds behind my cheeks the moment I hear his voice.

         “How are you?”

         He sounds tired. We talk a little. Then he says, “I messed up,” and his voice tightens.

         “Is everything okay?”

         When he doesn’t answer, I say, “I miss you. I want to see you, Noah. Tell me where you are. Please tell me now.” It’s a tired phrase of mine.

         “Where’s Mom?”

         “She’s not home.”

         “Why didn’t she look for me harder? Why didn’t you follow me?” These questions are nothing but hollow after so many years. So I let them sit there on the line. Then I tell him again to come home.

         “Just tell me where you are,” I say. “I’ll come get you.” Out the window, I watch two neighborhood girls run across the street. The sky is the stubble of dim blue, the streets silent and sun-ironed with a few sporadic cars splashing through puddles along the curb, a quiet washing of sound.

         He is in the Baltimore city hospital, he says. A shock of terror, and then, “I think I’m dying.”

         “Give me to a doctor.”

         “No.”

         I yell at him to give me to a doctor.

         “Why didn’t you come after me?” His voice is now slipping into something that is long lost, the voice of our mother in the morning.

         “We’re coming now.”

         “I want Mom, too.”

         They say he is dying, and rapidly. He will die tonight. Come fast, they say. My mother is out. Come fast, they say again. Tell him to wait, I say. Tell him his mother and sister are on their way. He is dying right now, they say. So I find the number of the market in the telephone book and call it, and the young woman who answers finds my mother in an aisle full of apple cider and cherry tomatoes, and my mother starts sobbing after I say my brother’s name as if she has been expecting this. Around the pond, to the train station. She says she will meet me at the airport; she is fifteen minutes from it. He is like a dog that runs to the leaf piles right before it is about to go because it knows in the way nature knows itself. I am sure my mother will be at the airport waiting for me but when I get there I am alone. I cry to the airport worker and then to the next one, and rush down the terminal, feeling more like a child than I have in years because I am so conscious of myself. Two blue-jacketed flight attendants stand laughing at the gate and looking at the clock. My eyelids spot with little red diamonds, and every time I blink all I can see is the policeman with his wide hurting eyes. The plane is boarding. She still is not here.

         “Are you the Gorman party?”

         “You have to hold the plane.” My voice is shriveled and hot. The flight attendant, a brown woman with short hair, looks at her watch and then back to the plane.

         “Where is the rest of your party? Everybody has boarded.”

         “My mother is still arriving. Please hold the plane.”

         “She’s not even in the airport yet? I’m sorry. We have to take off.”

        

***

         “What’s that?” my mother asked, soaking a spoon under the sink. One corner of the shard crisped with a bit of dried blood. The whole thing was about a quarter the size of a tea bag. 

         “It was under my arm,” he said. “I told you something was there.” He pushed two fingers into his armpit. When he pulled them away, the tips were dark red. My mother and I were silent. Then she grabbed a napkin and wetted it in warm water.

         “Does it hurt? Can I see it?” She rushed to him, padding the napkin to his skin.

         “It’s fine, Mom.” He looked at me. I raised my eyes. “Just a little weird.”

         “It could get infected,” she said. “Let’s take you in.”

         “It’s fine.”

         “You understand that it could get infected.” She pushed his hand away and lifted his arm up slowly. “Let’s take you in.” The skin was puffy and deep. It already looked infected. That glass had been festering there for a long time. Out our oval window, three long-bodied birds pecked at the hard ground.

         He pointed at my mother. “I was right when I complained about this.” Sun streaked the kitchen floor with the harsh light of a clear blue sky. “I told you,” he continued. He looked at me. “I’ve been telling you there was something that’s been trying to work its way out. Neither of you pay attention.” My eyes started to hurt. He had no right saying that.

         “Don’t you dare tell me I wasn’t paying attention,” my mother said.

         “You weren’t!” My brother threw his arms in the air. Blood trickled down his side. “I’ve been telling you it hurts.” He spat on the floor, and then in a low voice said, “you have no idea what you’re doing to me.”

         The darkness that filled the kitchen then was astounding. The cast iron pot looked cherry-pink in the dangling kitchen lights strung above the counter. I never noticed how low this ceiling was. The stool under me was suddenly soft as tissues. The clear sound of bells chimed from the town center.

         Suddenly I wanted them both to look at me. I wanted my mother to notice.

         “Don’t you care where I’ve been?” They turned. I started to cry. My mother’s face was steady but as I dropped my head down to sob onto the counter, her eyes wetted, too. All inside of me was burning. My feet were burning too. I wanted my mother to hold me, squeeze my shoulders, make me a cup of tea.

         My brother’s face went plain. The harder I looked at it, the more his cheeks cooled. I felt a chilly and strange distance spread between us, and this made me so scared my entire body started to itch.

         Noah turned back to our mother. “I’m gay,” he said.

         “What did you say?”

         “I’m a fag, Mom.”

         Our mother’s eyes glowed in the light. I wanted to leave the room. My mother’s shoulders tensed up to her ears. She looked like nothing more than a woman losing control.

         “You can’t talk to me like that,” she said quietly. Her voice trembled. Hot tears ran down Noah’s cheeks. “I’m your mother,” she said. “Go upstairs—”

         “Oh, Mom, shut up.” He spat again on the ground. “You really think you can tell me—”

         “Upstairs!” she yelled.

         “I’m leaving, then!” Noah shouted. “God damn it, Anna.”

         “Don’t talk to your sister like that,” my mother said. Her voice was scratchy.

         My brother turned on his heels and stepped out the door. My mother stayed behind the counter.

         I grabbed my jacket from the floor and followed him outside, the image of my mother’s red face printed upon the air in front of me. He was walking quickly down the driveway. Geese scattered out of his way. At the road, he turned around to look at me. Bushels of blue lights flashed across my eyes.

         “Thanks for stepping in just then. You were a huge help.”

         He said it so meanly it broke my heart.

***

         There were things I could have said. Earlier, on the phone. A boy sits with his feet to his chest by the runway window, a baseball cap pulled over his eyes. A man is buried in the newspaper and these two young woman click down the hall with their suitcases. Everybody’s voices are too quiet; everything in this airport needs rearranging. Why is no one noticing? Why is no one moving out of the way. There are things I could have said, softly, as something for him to suck on. Thoughts of the soft yellow living room walls and the red logs, the dead hummingbird with green wings we kept on the porch because it was so perfectly preserved. He had found it in the grass and I had found him kneeling next to it—delicate as honeysuckle with water-colored tips on its wings. It looked alive except for its stillness. Before my son was born, I had never seen anything so fragile and empty. The carrot soup and the wisteria perfume on our mother’s wrists. Those big, dirty, empty, white bowls. Where is my mother? Why, when he was sick, had he not called sooner? Because he, like me, like my mother, like the boy that went flying through the glass door—none of us believed it. I push two fingers to my armpit; I wait for anyone to notice, that pale woman smoking a cigarette by the exit sign. I push the fingers into my eyes. We are playing on a snowbank on the sidewalk. He is snuggled in a blanket on the couch, curls of his hair peaking at the world. He is glowing. We swing together under the birch tree. The man with the cigarette touches his ear. My brother is somewhere in Baltimore and I can no longer see it.

         “You must board the plane. We have to take off. I’m very sorry.”

         The night after he flew through the door, the late patter of his feet down the hall was absent—he used to wake up in the early valleys of morning and run to our mother’s bed—and through his bedroom wall and my bedroom wall, I could hear him calling mutedly for her. I bumped my knee into the bookcase walking to his room. Mom? No, I said. It’s me. The wind was coming in through the window. He pointed at it. It was pushing against the glass too much and it might explode. The wind did feel strong, I told him; it crackled heavily in the tree branches. I sat down on the end of his bed. He drew up his wobbly knees through the blankets, and knocked the back of his head against the headboard. He put one little hand on his kneecap; his eyes were so big they swallowed his face. Mom came in then to comfort her calling son, his arms bandaged, his face sewn. She rolled up her sleeves and touched his forehead, then brought us mugs of grey tea, and the night rolled in the most concealed and whispered way and we felt the hurting that comes only with the release of what could be worse. We’re alright, my mother said. We’re alright.

         I turn to the attendant. I can’t go, I say. I can’t leave my mother.

The plane takes off in front of me moments before she comes. I’ll never forget the sight of her. My shoulders are shaking but the rest of me is hauntingly still. She comes running down the terminal. Her hands clench the air in front of her as if willing this space to move faster. Her face twists in a terror I recognize only in myself. The green scarf she has around her neck slips off somewhere just past the café and falls to the floor. She keeps running, her eyes locked on me. Then off comes her sweater, the purple one tied around her waist; the weight of her pushes forward and all these pieces of her clothes come falling. She is almost with me now. Then her bun comes undone and she trips on the slick floor but catches herself, the light brown barrettes land in clicks like pennies. I’ll never forget the way my mother was dissembling in front of my eyes. She left pieces of herself behind as she ran. Her scarf softly curled on the cold tile floor.