A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

Mother and Child
by Beth Stephensosn (Jul 2013)


“Don’t eat your napkin, Mother.” I take it away from her for the hundredth time. I have to tell her to eat and when to stop. The forty-year-old photo of her grinning in her doctoral hood mocks me from the wall behind her. Everything’s upside down between us now.

Yesterday, my nephew called and invited her out to lunch. Her expression suggested she thought it was a boyfriend asking for date. I’m glad she doesn’t remember the call today.

She’s crying now. I don’t know why. Could it be that she delayed the tears for me never being asked to prom or any other important event at school? Perhaps she was too busy rushing about to forums and symposiums to shed them then. She always had a lecture to give or a class to teach when my heart was breaking. Maybe she saved up all that sympathy and now it’s leaking out.

Or maybe she remembered for an instant all the people and all the places she’ll never see again.

She turns suddenly, scanning the bookcase, tears still in her eyes. Six hardcover volumes have her maiden name on the spine. She used her maiden name professionally. I always felt like she divorced Dad and me from her professional acclaim. She was a family therapist.

She’s crying harder now. “Don’t cry, Mom. Everything’s fine. Nothing’s wrong.”

She’s crying harder still. I go to the bookcase and take down her first volume. She’s wearing a flattering red suit in picture on the back cover. I used to tell her that the title, Moments of Ecstasy sounded more like a trashy novel than a parenting book.

 I show her the back cover. “See Mom? You’re famous.”

She moves her fingers over the photograph as though she’s reading braille. Her weeping subsides to a frown. She shakes her head and pushes the book away.

“Yes, Mom, that’s you on the cover. You’re a big success.” I was proud of her, despite my other longings. I once thought kids envied me having a famous mother. They probably didn’t even know.

She’s weeping again. She brushes the book off the table and wags her head.

“You’re a success,” I say as I replace the book on the shelf.

“No. I failed.” It’s been weeks since she’s spoken and longer since she said something coherent.

“You didn’t fail.”

“I failed you.” She raises her eyes to mine and seems lucid.

I don’t know if it’s true. I can’t contradict her. Her eyes are aware, studying me.

“I’ll be alright, Mom. I’ll get over it.”

She pats her hair in the old way she did before she went on stage to give a speech. She’s forgotten me again.

She picks up her napkin and wipes her mouth. She hesitates an instant before she puts it into her mouth.

“No, Mom. Don’t eat your napkin.”


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