I don't call my mother anymore to ask the question that no one else would think to answer. Anyone else would make a face at me. Anyone else would say, "You must be kidding." Anyone else would stop my mouth mid-sentence. "How am I supposed to know?" is what anyone else would say, but not my mother.
Mother would answer with authority, "Of course, he will. You're a wonderful mother. Never. Not on your life." Whatever my mother once said, I believed her. She would say...oh why go on with all the many ways that she would answer when Mother can't anymore?
For a time I went on telling her everything.
Oh mother, it's my body, my body, my body. The boys sometimes. Often Jack.
Even now I still want my mother to answer about Jack. Will Jack come around and be his own best self again? Will he?
If she could only manage a sentence, a simple yes I don't need to talk, talk, talk anymore. I am over that. I don't have to give my mother the details--I don't even want to tell her. Why talk about the boy's expenses? Why talk about what he's cost us in the kleig lights of his terrible ambition? What can Mother say to the noise he makes? Why should she know?
I used to tell Mother whatever it was that happened, and she told me stories, too. We are not so far apart in age, Mother and I, so that we liked to play at sisters and talked as sisters might, intimately. I could look at Mother's body when she showed me what the doctors had done. I wasn't afraid--oh, maybe of some things. Her men, I will admit, too often I could picture too well my mother, large, loose woman that she is, spreading herself for him, and him. The man she flew to San Francisco for was large like Mother, and loose. She told me how his shirts bunched underneath his breasts. His shapeless back, too--no bones--his back was a tobacco-brown, a yellow-brown, a color with perhaps too much dirt, yes, dirty, a dirty brown, oily skin, oily black hairs, a hair cape over his shoulders, and my mother was under those shoulders. She told me.
My mother doesn't talk about men anymore.
The phone line is electric with her pauses and the sounds she makes in her efforts to sit up. The dead keep walking in on us. My grandmother and Mother's Daddy, of course. Daddy has sent Dave with the car; Dave is driving to her. Dave! How my mother says she loves Dave, and she cries over the phone, "Dave! Hurry up, please. It's time."
My mother is a girl at camp. She is trying very hard to be good, but it is very hard indeed to be good.
My mother's voice is a girl's voice. She speaks very sweetly--she sounds idiotic!
Talk to me, Mother, please. Tell me in your surest voice, "I never doubted for a minute. I always knew." Talk to me, Mother, as once you did, in your hard phone-voice. Tell me, "No one dies. Of course not. I promise. Never."
Copyright © 1997 Christine Schutt.
Photo of Christine Schutt copyright © Bill Hayward.