By Cheryl Loux
My hands shook as I pressed my hair back to make sure it formed into a neat bun. I must look terrible, I thought. I inspected my dismal reflection in the glass window of the door. The weight of exhaustion was heavy upon my face. The previous sleepless night took its toll on me. I rubbed the dark circles under my light brown eyes as if they would magically disappear. I arched my eyebrows and licked my dry lips. I have always been told I look just like my mother. This was funny to me because we are really so very different. I fumbled in my handbag for the key to my mother’s house. My sister had given hers up long ago.
My mother had always been difficult. I shuddered as I remembered the time I got the courage to move out on my own.
“I think it’s time for me to have my own place,” I had said, staring at my mother’s back. She busily washed dishes. I noticed that a cool mood darkened the room despite the rays of cheerful sunshine that illuminated the kitchen. My nervousness swelled at each passing, silent moment.
“That’s nice.” My mother stingily offered a response. She had then slammed the cabinet door shut, causing me to jump a little in my skin. The cabinet door rattled loudly. “I hope it’s someplace decent.” She finished.
“It is nice. You could help me pick out furniture,” I said. My voice rose slightly in hope at the end of my statement. At this point I was still optimistic that my mother would show some pleasure in something I had done. I hoped that the furniture offer would somehow pacify the anger I felt emanating from her like cold, little rippling waves. Her anger made me feel as if I was standing in a bright spotlight in front of a hostile, vengeful crowd.
“Yes, that would be fun.” She finally said. She then turned her concentration to the counter top and wiped it with quick circular motions. She never looked at me during this conversation. She just completely ignored me. I remembered sitting there with my teeth clenched, nauseated with guilt. And now, several years later, I felt that same nauseous sensation as I did back then as I stood at the front door. I did not want to stall any longer. So, I braced myself, put the key in the lock, and turned.
“Hello, Tonya.” My mother smiled. She looked down from the loft. I notice her smile falter as she looked at my appearance. Not good enough again, I thought.
“Hi, Mother.” I tugged at my collar. I forced a smile as I noticed my mother’s perfectly made up face. This only made me more self-conscious of my own less made up one. This made me uncomfortable, so, out of nervousness, I pressed my lips together, wishing that I had put on lipstick instead of a nude lip stain.
“Well, you look nice.” My mother said after a pause. She came down the stairs, her robe flowing behind her. She gave me a quick hug and a mock kiss on each cheek. The smacking sounds of those false kisses echoed unnaturally throughout the quiet house. “It’s good to see you, Tonya.” I am sure it is, now that I am divorced, I thought.
“Good to see you too,” I said. I could smell the soft fruity scent of my mother’s perfume as I returned the slight hug. I inhaled silently, trying to maintain the pleasant smile cemented on my face.
“Coffee?” My mother asked. She walked toward the kitchen. The funny thing is that my mother never actually made the coffee, but she always offered it. I always prepared it and today was no different. After my sister left, I wanted to keep the peace and avoid what I secretly deemed the coffee conflict. It was this type of conflict that finally aired what had festered between my sister and my mother for a very long time—my sibling’s battle for freedom. It ended with my sister packing her things and leaving, throwing the house key at mother and my mother shouting that my sister would surely fail and to not call home when that happened.
Today, I knew it would be more than a simple bout with my mother. This was to be the war to end all battles between us. I got the coffee pot and filled it with water. I rinsed it out several times despite it already being sparkling clean. I was not looking forward to this conversation. My hands started to tremble. I tried to calm myself. If my mother saw any sign of fear she would surely pounce like a mad, hungry animal.
The warm fragrance of French Vanilla coffee filled the air. I sat at the kitchen table, hands clasped tightly in my lap. My stomach lurched as if I were on a plane during take-off. I suddenly regretted eating breakfast before this visit.
“Since you’re now divorced and I am sure you can’t afford the house in Austin you two had together on your own, when will you be returning to San Antonio?” My mother was always one to get right to the point. Her tone was so confident. She expected failure. I could tell she was in her “I told you so” mode. She was prepared as the conqueror and I was the conquered.
“Actually, I’m not moving back here. I got a promotion that will take me to Washington–Washington, D.C., that is. This move will happen quickly. I leave in a week.” I blurted. I crossed my legs and smoothed my skirt. My words hung in the air like some sort of invisible, yet potent smog. My mother sat in shocked silence. Had I toppled the conqueror? I swallowed hard. I was unable to meet my mother’s gaze so I stared intently at my own feet. I was familiar with this disapproving silence, but even so I chewed at my bottom lip. I fought a feeling of smallness that was like a large heavy ball in the pit of my stomach. And the war now begins, I thought.
“A week?” My mother stared, eyebrows raised. “How will you support yourself?”
“I just said that I got a promotion, Mother.” I shifted in my chair.
“You can’t be making that much. D.C.? It’s expensive and filthy and I won’t even mention the high crime rate. And you said you leave in a week? You always make things so difficult, Tonya.”
“How?” I asked, frowning. I was confused, even through my own fear. I suddenly felt this heated wave of anger flow through me. All my life I had done what my mother had expected of me. How was that being difficult? I thought.
“You make silly decisions. You married a man you hardly knew. Now you’re divorced at age 30. I knew that was a mistake from the start.” She hissed at me.
“Yes, it was a mistake, but it was my mistake. Not yours. It’s not always about you,” I said. My voice rose just a little. My heart began to beat rapidly. My fingertips tingled.
My mother was surprisingly shocked at my new defiance and newly found voice. So was I for that matter. My mother was quiet for a moment and sat there with her mouth dropped opened. She then shut it with a snap and pressed her lips together. Hmmm, I thought, it was her turn to be nervous. She shifted in her chair and pulled her robe around her. I saw that she was actually shocked because I realized that I had never spoken to her in this way before.
“Don’t use that tone with me,” my mother finally said.
“Don’t use that tone with me.” I leaned forward as I spoke. I guess I am not so conquerable after all, I thought.
“Do what you want.” My mother rolled her eyes dismissively as she often did when she was not in agreement, but her attempt to make me feel uncomfortable fell flat. She then resorted to the stinging words she had shouted at my sister. “Don’t dare call me when you fail.”
“I’ve made it this far on my own. I think I am very good at taking care of myself by now.” I said. I noticed that I was no longer nervous, nor was I angry anymore. I sat back in my seat and crossed my arms. I felt relieved and I think that showed because my mother still wanted to win this battle. She then decided to attack my sister.
“You’re just like your sister. And you’ll end up just like her-going nowhere and doing absolutely nothing. And I am sure having a bunch of babies is in your near future too.”
“So what if I am like her? She’s not so bad.” I was quick to respond. My sister wasn’t even here and this wasn’t about her.
“She is awful. I thought at least you could do things–” My mother began.
I was swift to cut her off. I then said to her, “Your way, Mom? Why can’t you respect me for the person I am? It’s always the same with you–if it is not your way then it’s the wrong way.” I felt light-headed after saying this because it was the first time I had spoken what I really felt to my mother. I finished my statement with, “And I think children are great.”
“I’m not the enemy. I’m your mother.” My mother spoke to me as if she was reasoning with a small child. She completely ignored my finishing remark about children.
“I’m not the enemy because I want to live my life on my terms.” I responded and I mirrored her condescending tone. “I have made my decision to leave Texas. I didn’t want to have this conversation over the phone.”
“I still think you are making a mistake, but you can do what you want.” My mother flipped her hand in the air. “Coffee’s ready. You know how I like mine.”
I then looked at my mother and I realized for the first time that I would never please her. I would never be in her good graces. We would never see eye to eye. My life was mine to live and mine alone. There was then a very awkward silence. We sipped our coffee. I felt the invisible chasm between us grow wider and wider.
“It’s getting late, Mother. I have to go. I have many preparations to make.” I said at last.
“Of course you do.” My mother’s tone was again dismissive, but it had lost its edge and did not cut me as it had once done before.
I hugged my mother. She was now stiff and distant, but that didn’t matter to me anymore as it would have in the past. I was no longer the conquered. I walked toward the front door and put the house key on the small table there.
“You’ll have to lock the door, Mother.” I did not wait for a response. I closed the door behind me.
Category: Poetry, Screenplays, Short Story