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Mother's Day

"When she tells me to come back, I simply say I cannot"

Published onJun 28, 2023
Mother's Day

Photo by Todd Turner:

Her hand sought mine, and my heart flickered.

            A tsunami roared in the distance. I laid on the shore of a peculiar island. It was dense with ineffable arrays of bizarre and otherworldly plants. The island towered upward, sharp mountaintops slicing the clouds, ascending, jagged ridges lined with lustrous green life. Natural perfection, yet an aura of contrivance. It was unsettling. It was invigorating.

            I floated on my back in the still water. Her hands stretched out below me and held me just below the surface. 

            Her voice struck my ear with tearful urgency.

            Come back, she said. Come back, please.

            I could not hear her well, but I knew it is what she said. It is what everyone said. It is what I used to say. Come back. There have been moments when I leave my body: I soar across the room, look back and watch myself melt into furniture. Harrowing, sure; enticing, more so. The symptoms of insanity, perhaps. My craving for release. I do not call for myself to come back anymore. It hurts my throat.

            When she tells me to come back, I simply say, I cannot.

            She does not like my answer. She rips me from the water. Streams of it glide from my bare skin and collide with the ocean below. I am floating through the air now, ascending in a linear jolt, high velocity, delusion determination, but I know she struggles to carry me.

            The tsunami! she said.

            I knew the tsunami was coming. I could see it, long before I knew it would hit me. The shoreline seemed a nice enough place to lie down. She did not agree. She stole me from that desolate peace, deposited me in an endless revolution of paid faces and injections and pills. A façade. An elliptical mania with no discernible end. Talking for talking’s sake. I could convince most people that the tsunami was coming. They would stop trying and leave me be. Not her. She refused to see it. She did not cede to its inevitability. She rebuked it. She bucked it. She raged and ripped apart my solitude and denied my every attempt. It did nothing. The tsunami was still on its way.

            We need to get you to higher ground, she said.

            Are we not floating? I said.

            No, she said. We are leaping, not floating. I am carrying you on my back, trying my damnedest. I can help you. I can save you.

            It’s time, I said. Put me back on the shore.

            She cried then. She wailed and huffed and scorned the sky. She needed the truth, but she did not want it. She sped up her ascension, cursing the forest’s pitiless indifference, the weight of its silent insouciance. She reached for a tree branch, and it snapped. We fell then, in a dizzying spiral, until we met the solid ground. I felt wet sand on my elbows, on the heels of my feet. She had put herself between me and the abrupt earth.

            What are you doing, mother?

            You cannot do this, she said. Why do you put this burden on me?

            I do not mean it, I said. I mean it.

            The clouds opened, the smell of unadulterated rain rose. A raucous wind whirled in whips and spirals. I heard the trees around us revel in it all. They called out to the storm, beckoned its approach, begged for its quenching chaos. A beaming light appeared where the clouds had parted. It hovered above me, there in the far distance. Open your arms, it told me.

            Please, do not do it, she said. Do not leave me here.

            The light fell from the sky in a dive. It came within inches of my face, blinding my eyes, drowning everything in sight in an ambered hue.

            Please, she said again. I could still hear her. Do not leave me here alone.

            Something took possession of my body like the prudent hands of angels. It pulled me toward the clouds. It said it was guiding me home, I just knew it. Whatever it was, it wanted me this time. As I ascended, I could not look back to see her, but I knew she was still on the ground, motionless, sinking into the wet sand. The earth would swallow her, or the tsunami would drag her out to sea. I would not see her again.

            I tried my best, she said. You did your best, I said.

            The light became all I could sense. I could not hear her sobs. I could not hear the cacophony of warped sirens, the windy rush of sudden bodies, the overlapping shouts of thorough voices. A new home called. It whispered but somehow was louder and clearer than any of the other noises. She must have known, too. She seemed to have given up.

Her hand withdrew from mine, and my heart stopped.

Brett Atkinson is a secondary school educator and military veteran with a background in English and language and literary studies. Brett lives in Houston with his husband and five golden retrievers.  

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