by Bara Swain
The last thing she said to her son as he crossed his mother's well-tended lawn was: "Son, the label is sticking out of your shirt!" He reached behind his neck and pressed the tag inside the collar of his blue Oxford. With a thumbs-up to the frail, lone figure waving from the porch, he threw his paisley-covered luggage into the back seat of the rental car, and made a mental note to ask his wife for a durable brown suitcase for his birthday. With leather straps, he thought, as he rolled down the window and called out to his mother: "See ya!"
The son pulled away from the curb. As the Jaguar picked up speed, he was struck by a thought: I might never see my mother again. And then: Should I take the parkway or Route 1 to the airport? He adjusted his rearview mirror, turned left at the next intersection, and merged onto the Garden State Parkway. Suddenly, another thought struck him: My mother is dying. And then: Five more exits to Newark Airport.
Six hours later, the son's wife clung to his neck and said: "Sorry I'm late. I missed the airport ramp." He said: "Just shut up and drive." She withdrew slowly, tucking the tag of his shirt back into his collar. He thought: Don't let go. And then he thought: I'm so frightened!
Suddenly, the son began to weep.
"I know," said the son's wife, as he repeated over and over: "I love you."
Two days after her mother died, the youngest daughter threw herself out of a moving car at the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. That the green Datsun was traveling at a rate of three miles per hour did not lessen the impact of the daughter's descent. Her oldest sister banged on the steering wheel and wailed: "It's all I have left of my mother!" The youngest daughter's other sister screeched: "Don't ever do that again! It's just a ring. Now get back in the goddamned car!"
The enraged youngest daughter chewed her cuticles and thought: Who gave her the right to take my mother's wedding band? And then: I'd rather ride in the trunk than sit next to her! "Open the rear door," demanded the youngest daughter, and she climbed back into the car.
The tunnel traffic thinned. The Datsun picked up speed. The dead mother's daughters were silenced by their own thoughts: Screw her. Screw her. Screw her. The middle daughter reached over and patted the youngest daughter's arm. She whispered: "When you stop biting your nails, I'll give you a beautiful ring, too."
The youngest daughter thought: It's not the same thing. And then: Oh, my God! Oh, my God! She punched the upholstery and screamed at her older sister: "Oh, my God! Why are you wearing my mother's wristwatch?"
For the second time that day, the youngest daughter threw herself out of a moving vehicle. She thought: Wouldn't it be funny if the car doesn't stop?
III. Basic Training
"Dignity," said the mother. "I expect you to act in a dignified manner."
The dead woman's granddaughter tugged at her blouse with one hand. In the other, she carried a bouquet of daffodils. "Grandma hated yellow," she whispered to her brother. "Mom should've gotten the roses."
"Red's my favorite color, too," whispered the dead woman's grandson.
"Children," said the mother. "What did I just say?" And then: "There it is! Plot 365."
The dead woman's grandchildren raced to the grave. Their mother followed. She thought: He needs more exercise. Maybe I'll ask his father to take him swimming later. And then: I think there's a sale at Altman's. I'll buy her a new blouse. That one's too tight. "The ground is muddy," said the mother. "Try not to get dirty."
The dead woman's grandson poked holes in the earth with a stick. The granddaughter traced the stone's engraving with her finger. Their mother thought: They're just kids, Mom. I don't think they'll remember you. Even my girl. Please don't think less of her, Mom. She's only nine. It's just a game to her, I think. And finally: "Children, are you ready to go?"
The dead woman's grandchildren followed their mother to the car. Suddenly, the granddaughter sprinted back to the grave. She leaned over the soft earth and raised her blouse above her shoulders.
Her mother thought: What is she doing!
The granddaughter choked. "Look, Grandma," she wept. "It's my first training bra."
About the author:
Bara Swain is the recipient of a dozen writing grants for dramatic readings of plays and fiction at the Kaufmann Theater, American Museum of Natural History (NYC). Other venues for her award-winning plays include the Dubuque Fine Arts One-Act Play Festival (IA), Festival of Women Playwrights (MO), Tennessee Williams Ten-Minute Play Festival (TN), and the Turnip Theater Featured Writer Series (NYC). Her prose is anthologized in Love is Ageless: Stories about Alzheimer's Disease and Survivor Stories: Speaking Out About Cancer, and appears in Long Shot Magazine, Lodestar Quarterly, Stickman Review, Tattoo Highway, Moxie Magazine, riverbabble, and in the chapbook, Daifuku: Delicious Short Fiction and Poetry. Bara is the facilitator of the Lamia Ink Writer's Alternative and the Dorsal Editor at Doorknkobs & BodyPaint.