"You're late," my mother told me through the screen door. "Your aunts waited two hours to welcome you home, but they have lives, too, you know."

I sat on the stoop, my bags at my heels. The cold brick chilled me quickly. Was it too soon to miss the Arizona sun? After ten hours in transit, all I wanted was a hot meal and a bed, but two thousand miles has no meaning to a woman who has never left the neighborhood. "You can check with the airline by telephone. They would have told you my flight was delayed."

"I wouldn't have to do these things if you lived where you belonged." I was an extension of her body, flesh from her womb. She made me. Why wasn't I grateful?

I rummaged for the book I had nearly finished on the plane. I flicked my wrist toward the outside light. "Don't turn it off when you go to bed."

After a few pages, she opened the door. As I gathered up my things, she stood with her cheek cocked in my direction. I pecked it, acknowledging her conciliation, and followed her to the couch.

"I hope you haven't made too many plans with all those friends of yours. I tried with the checkbook, but I couldn't get it right, and those fees are just criminal. The city raised the taxes on the house again, but I didn't pay them. I don't understand how the world can treat a widow so badly. I talked to the new priest down at church, but he wasn't helpful at all. I think it's because he grew up in one of those communist countries."

I rubbed my temples, and prayed for her to offer me a glass of water.

"I don't know what you have to look so tired about. Your brother has real problems." She handed me a stack of papers. "He's getting sued over some ruckus in a bar with an off-duty cop that really had nothing to do with him."

I put the stack of papers on the coffee table. I scribbled, ask me how I am, then offer me a beverage on the back of an envelope, and passed it to her.

She tested her glasses at three different distances before she read my note, then put it down and pinched me, a habit that has annoyed her siblings, her husband, and her children in equal measure. "Don't get me started, all the worrying I do because you live so far away and then have to fly, and I just know I'm going to get some terrible call one day, and I won't be able to bury you properly, just a closed casket without you in it. Every time I think of it I just get sick to my stomach--did I tell you about the cramps I've been getting? They wake me up in the middle of the night and I just lay there feeling so sick and I wish it would just come up so I could start to feel better, but it never does." She bowed her head, her palms pressed hard against her temples. "Lord help me, o Lord please, please help me."

Her mantra. She expected the Lord to solve her problems, too. I patted her shoulder as I walked past her into the kitchen for some ibuprofen with my water. When I returned, I picked up the stack of papers she had tried to give me. She was still rocking and calling on the Lord. Lucky for him she had a backup plan.

About the author:

Valerie Fioravanti's fiction has been published in North American Review, Hunger Mountain, Harpur Palate, Green Mountains Review, and Cimarron Review, among others. Her work has received multiple Pushcart nominations and special mention in Pushcart Prize XXVIII.