Archive for mothers and daughters


Posted in The Word: Stories with tags , , , on 03/22/2013 by Janet Fitch

The Word: FLOWER

Susie sat on the floor to arrange the flowers. Her mother heard her better when she was low and in front. People always loomed so over her shrunken form.  Susie examined the materials that had composed a mixed bouquet from Gelson’s–various shades of orange.  She’d hoped her mother would like them. Her mother liked orange. When Susie was a child, the largest room of the house, the playroom, had been painted a violent tangerine.  The starburst saffron gerbera, she decided, would be the focus, and the tallest of the eucalyptus spikes would be the center.

Music filled the air, a Mozart string quintet, with two violas.  Her mother loved music, but had forgotten how to manage the radio.

The rose blended  with the spicy scent of carnations and the green of chrysanthemum, the resinous eucalyptus. “How are things going, Mom? Making friends?”   Susie always waited to arrange the flowers until she’d arrived in her mother’s room, so she’d have something to do with her hands while she tried to make conversation.

“Some and some,” her mother said.  “In any place, there’s all kinds.”

Her mother looked good, sitting in her peach wing chair from the old house.  Better than she had any right to. Her thick hair,  gone perfectly white, looked just as good as it had in its former state–expensively blonde  and carefully layered. She was nicely dressed in black and gray, modern. Susie had managed to leave the pastel track suit behind.

“Bill’s in Boston, for his son’s graduation,” Susie said from the floor, enunciating clearly. “Sean’s  getting his Masters, in education.”  Snipping the stems of the button chrysanthemums.

“He speaks very good Spanish,” her mother said.  “He can talk to the people here, tell them what I want.”

“That’s Noah,” said Susie.  Her brother. “Bill’s my husband. Remember, he plays the guitar for you.”

“I know,” said her mother.

She measured the gerbera’s long stem against the vase, judging the best height for it, recalling the basics from her ikebana class with ancient Mrs. Morita at LACC. How she’d struggled with her pathetic two flowers and little branches of foliage. But she learned.  The idea was to create the shape of  a large dome using just a few sprigs of greenery, a couple of flowers, a branch.  Ikebana was about making the most impact with the least materials, a true arte povera.  Before taking the  class, she would never have thought to cut a large bloom short. Now she clipped the gerbera low, and let it come forward as the focus. “Pretty?” she asked.

But when she looked up, she saw that her mother’s gaze was trained on the swaying cypress across the street.

“I love that view,” Susie said. The light through the jacaranda, the breeze in its feathery fronds.

“Have you been here before?” her mother asked.

Susie held her breath,  felt the zing!  in her lungs.  She had built that chest of drawers herself, an assemble-at-your-own-risk kit from Crate and Barrel. The nightstand too.  She’d assembled each of the room’s four lamps—two hanging Craftsman fixtures on either side of the bed, a magnifying lamp and the corner’s torchiere.  She’d built the ikea worktable.. She’d selected every garment in the closet, put away every sweater and scarf, arranged tchotchkes and shelved the books, hung every painting.

She picked a sprig of carnation and snipped it, trying to keep her voice level. “Yes, I have.  Many times.”

The question was, why did she do this? Why keep visiting someone who had no idea who she was, and didn’t really care?

Her mother liked the new place all right, had made friends, knew where she liked to sit for meals—the round table by the window—Susie was happy for that.  But the flip side was—her mother’s  indifference. Her own mother treated her exactly as she would  a presentable stranger. Cordial but distant.

Why did she come at all?

The old woman gazed out the window at the afternoon sun filtering through the jacaranda, listening to Mozart. They had chosen this room because of the view, the trees, the hillside, the green wall and the Spanish apartment and even the traffic’s steady hum.  Now she was content.

It  beat the hell out of how she’d been–desperate, anxious, calling a million times a day,  Everything an emergency. It wasn’t long ago that Susie took off work to bring her mother to the doctor when she was panicking, my throat’s closing up! And when she got there, her mother told the doctor her foot hurt.

But now those calls had ceased, and in addition to the sheer giddy relief she had expected to feel, came a shock and a sadness she hadn’t anticipated. Although she didn’t miss the constant need, the complaining and demands, it had always been accompanied with love and tenderness. ‘I don’t know what I would do without you,’ her mother used to say. ‘You’ve really changed a lot.’ (From the sullen teenager she’d been, about forty years ago!)

But now that was over.   And this was what was left.

And she came because she wanted whatever was left, she would make do with that–the way you inhaled the last fragrance of a summer rose.

She picked up the arrangement in its vase, and positioned it on the side table. It was beautiful, airy and striking, a real painting. Her mother would enjoy it, even if she didn’t remember who had made it.

Well, she’d certainly got the most of that small bouquet. Filled space with the modest materials at hand. She kissed her mother goodbye,  hugged her, feeling the sharp fragile bones of her shoulders.  “I’ll come back on Sunday.”

She left the radio playing, they could turn it off when they took her mother to dinner.  The old lady sat with her eyes on the trees, listening.  At least she had not forgotten Mozart.

Part  of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word.  “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

 Next week’s word: BITE


The Sleeper Hold

Posted in Moments of Clarity, The Word: Stories, Writing Exercises with tags , , , on 08/27/2011 by Janet Fitch

The Word: Tears

Georgia brought her mother dinner on a tray, El Pollo Loco, rice and slaw. Her mother lay propped in her bed, in a less-than-clean pink tracksuit and thin, draggled hair–which she insisted could only be washed once a week by Tami at the beauty parlor, set and sprayed to last the following week. Pro Wrestling blared on TV, her mother’s new hobby. Friday Night Smackdown.

“Sleeper hold,” the old woman called out, pointing to the TV. “Look, Georgie.  Aw, that Viper’s a monster.”

By the time she looked up, a nearly naked man in a mohawk and hip boots was smashing another man over the back with a folding chair.

She could barely recognize her mother these days, her face and legs all puffy. T The doctors had run test after test, they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. They’d been trying to control the swelling with diuretics, but so far nothing worked. Worse, she’d been forgetting medication, or else pulling stunts like applying half a month’s worth of analgesic pads all at once, so they’d had to arm-twist the pharmacy to refill the prescription ahead of time.

On TV, two large oiled men grappled and grunted. One got hold of the other and attempted to pound his head into the floor. Her mother lifted the rice to her mouth, not taking her eyes from the screen, getting half of it on her bosom.  “Piledriver.”

Georgia wished she’d been firmer about getting her mother out of the house,  back when her father died. But she hadn’t, so here she was coming over after work to feed her mother before going home and throwing something together for herself and Arthur. A good stiff drink was what she needed.  She was tired. She was fifty-six years old and bone weary. Sometimes she would like to just take her mother and apply the sleeper hold.

She went back downstairs to see if there was anything that needed throwing out. She’d asked Charlene, the caregiver, to keep the refrigerator updated, but the woman wasn’t getting paid enough to care about milk souring in the refrigerator. Her mother was sure the woman was stealing toilet paper, canned goods. “Why does she need to bring shopping bags to work?”   Georgia checked the trash, the refrigerator, sniffed the milk.  Everything was fine. She went around the kitchen like a hound, sniffing.

The floor proved wet around the old Westinghouse washer.  She was tired and hungry, and now there was this leak. She saw it all.  The repairman, late. The expense. It was an old machine, should she bother repairing it? But to replace it, for what? She took a mop and some bleach and mopped up the wet floor. If only Charlene could put the damned machine in her shopping bag, and the rest of the house too, and good riddance.

She knew she should just go home.  It was almost eight, a long day.  But the smell was stronger in the hall.  Noticeably so.  With a great deal of trepidation, she opened the door to the closet. Yes, there it was–musty, stale, like old ladies.  Age, decrepitude, feebleness.

It sapped all her strength. She’d always been the youthful looking one, of all her friends, everybody said so, but now nobody said it.  Her jaw, softening, her neck had its own flesh turtleneck. She wasn’t sleeping well, and she’d noticed just this morning how much she was coming to resemble Somerset Maugham.

Steeling herself, she pushed the coats aside, freeing up the area that led to the basement.  The smell flooded up. Dank, cold.

She didn’t like basements.  Her own house didn’t have one. Who had basements in Los Angeles?  Even as a child she was afraid of it.  It was dark, earthy smelling.  You could hear the creaking old house settling overhead. She’d gone down there just a half-dozen times in the fifty years her parents lived in this house, and only with her father, holding his flashlight.  The rotting ship’s ladder of a stairway.

Of course, the flashlight was dead. She went back out into the kitchen and found a 12 pack of D batteries. Outdated, useless.  She found two more flashlights, three, but none of them worked. Finally, armed with her cell phone, she returned to the dark opening of the basement and shone the feeble light down.

Water lapped halfway up the water heater. Water covered the lower vents of the furnace. Dirty, stinking, stagnant water  Water hid the bottom two rungs of the flimsy ladder.

Georgia sat on the top step and gazed into the murky water.  She felt the weight of the house on her shoulders, the house and her mother in it.  She had no ideas. Not a single one.   Tears slid down her cheeks, and she didn’t even bother to wipe them with the back of her freckled hand.  She could feel her mother upstairs, watching men in Mohawks and skull masks grapple and pin one another, roaring with outrage and murder.  But this, this water, this is what was happening to them. It wasn’t a wrestling match.  It was the slow filling of basements, the thing that eroded the foundations.  Silently, only announcing itself by the smell of decay.

She went up to the room and kissed her mother’s forehead.  “There’ll be a plumber coming tomorrow.”

Her mother tried to see around her as a man in a Batman mask threw himself at a man in black leather pants with flames coming up the sides,  wrapping his legs around the other man’s neck. “We need more toilet paper, that woman’s been taking it by the sixpack.”

Something was being stolen here, but it wasn’t the toilet paper.  “Sure Mom, I’ll bring some tomorrow.”

Part  of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word.  “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

Next week’s word is:  pepper