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Ghost Mother

by Cezarija Abartis

  September 2011 Fiction Anthology  |  Contents  |  Authors  |  echapbook.com 


I remember when I was alive, and I happened to saunter by a mirror as I was eating a perfect pear with freckles of ripeness, the image of my mother might float up underneath my face, for a moment making mine wavery and watery. Here there are no large mirrors, only the pocket mirrors we had in our purses.

Last week it was my father’s face. Yesterday it was my mother’s face but young and dreamy–eyes shining, bereft of the tears that filled her eyes in her old age. Of course, she had good reason to weep then–alone without her husband and without me because I had died too. “Under the doctor’s knife,” Mother would say in her old-fashioned way. I never recovered from the surgery after my car drove out of a parking lot and into a semi. Wrong place, wrong time. I had finished teaching my class on the Odyssey and intended to meet an old friend at the exhibit of Turner’s ghostly seascapes in the museum across town. I have a terrible sense of direction and there were detours and it was raining. I got lost, so I stopped to ask for directions at the convenience store. It turned out to be an inconvenience store.

When I first arrived here, I looked for Mr. Beymer, the teacher who inspired me to become a teacher too. I thought we would have long and satisfying conversations about Hamlet. I have not found Mr. Beymer, but he must be dead, for he was thirty, forty years older than I. So many old people here, shuffling along, but what surprises me are the crowds of young people–they died of fatal illnesses, I suppose, or, like me, in car accidents.

One teenager held a small, solemn baby in her arms and looked around, searching for somebody. I wanted to befriend her, but she did not speak English, and I don’t speak Russian. I followed her for a second, until she disappeared into a crowd, and I heard her joyfully shout, “Mama!”

I watched over my alive mother, whispering in her ear when a car was bearing down on the corner where she was waiting for the light to change; I whispered to tell her to step back from the woman who was going to sneeze viruses all over her; I nudged her out of the house before the flood carried it away. She attended to me when I was a child and caught pneumonia. I saved her life seven times. But not that last time. I watched over her like an angel-daughter, but something distracted me and then I fell asleep, and she had a heart attack, an acute myocardial infarction. It wasn’t very cute, she said (my funny mother), as she lay on the floor, wanting to pass. I tried to compress her chest with my transparent hands. But it was too late. An ambulance arrived, thanks to the neighbor’s call. But it was too late. Mother disappeared into transitional processing.

When my father died years ago, she decided to take up the violin. She practiced Kreutzer’s Etudes. My teeth hurt when the bow screeched and scraped. This was when I was alive. After I died, it did not hurt to listen to her play, . She still had bad tone, bad attack, but I did not care. I sat invisibly in the back of the room and nodded approval, as if I were the mother, as if I could be seen. She went home after her lesson with Mr. Major, laid her head on the kitchen table, and wept. I could not stop her tears.

Mother wanted my little Eva to study the piano, but Eva preferred the flag corps. I watched over Eva too. And my dear husband, Daniel. The ghostly life is busy.

My last conversation with Eva was loving. Daniel and I had decided that she could have the kitten that she’d been begging for. We intended to take her to the Humane Shelter to choose one the following week. I walked her to the schoolbus and kissed her cheek. I smoothed the collar on her jacket and told her to be good in school. “I always am,” she said. “I’m just like you, Mommy.” She gave me a big smooch. That was four years ago, though it seems like eternity.

I thought that teaching was hard enough, but it was only practice for the afterlife. I wanted to be the keeper of all the people I loved, but I could not stay with them in the same way: they could not talk to me. I could talk to them, but it was a one-sided conversation, not very gratifying. The other spirits floated next to me and said they were waiting for their families to die and join them. I found this horrifying. I did not want my Eva to be cut down in life, nor my Daniel. When he remarried, I was even moderately happy. She was a friend of mine, another teacher. I was content to wait till the end of the world for them.

I overheard Daniel telling Joan that he had a dream about me. In his dream, we were newly married, and he was old but I was young. We sailed on an ocean liner to Antarctica, where we built an igloo . “And did you live happily ever after?” Joan asked, her eyes tense and wide .

Daniel shook his head sadly. “I woke up.” Then he smiled and patted Joan on the shoulder as if she needed consoling. I was close enough to see the tear on his eyelash.

One time my mother offered me a pear, but I would not eat it. We had been fighting about my going to a college in another state.

“We can’t afford out-of-state tuition,” she said.

“I want to go to Iowa,” I said. “That’s where Jimmy is going.”

“Jimmy.” She flapped her hand through the air in disapproval. “You deserve better. You’re so much more than that dope.”

“I want Jimmy, only Jimmy,” I shrieked.

She bowed her head and sighed. “I’m sorry I called him a dope. Here, have a pear. I bought pears. I know you like pears.”

“I don’t want your pears. I want Jimmy.” I ran out of the room.

When I was a small child, I thought my mother was beautiful with her calm eyes and hair clouding around her face; when I was a teenager, I wanted to separate from her; and when I grew wise I wanted to find her and embrace her.

Sometimes I would hear a sound—a click of a heel or a whisper of cloth or a crunch, as if someone bit into an apple or a pear. I would turn, but no one was there. This time, I looked farther off.

I heard a kitten meowing for its mother. I picked it up and held its warmth in my hands. I carried the kitten to a bench. It sat on my lap and played with the cords of my jacket. We both felt the sun on our faces.

I caught a glimpse of my mother strolling with her mother. I shouted and jumped up. They approached and sat on the bench beside me. We embraced and held hands, the kitten purring in my lap. “You remember Grandma?” Mother said, relaxed and stretching her hand out to caress my forearm and then pet the kitten. “I’ll take you to your father.” Mother and I had a lot to catch up on.

She told me about the books she had read, the violin pieces she had practiced, that she loved me, that she had a pear for me in her pocket. I told her about the discovery of planets in faraway galaxies, that I watched over her when she was alive, that I listened to her practice the violin, that I searched for her.

She leaned toward me. “I was right here,” she said. “Right beside you.” She patted her heart.

end of story

© 2011, Cezarija Abartis

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