A new short story by Taryn McDonnell
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Lying is a tradition in my family. My grand father lied to my grandmother. He had a long-term affair with a nurse at the hospital. Six years into the affair, my grandfather sat at the nurse’s bedside as she gave birth to their love child. It was the same day my infant mother had taken her first steps. He told my grandmother he was working late and to take pictures for him. It was eight years after when my grandmother received a call from the nurse’s sister who could no longer bear the burden of the lie. My grandmother told my mother that her daddy was going to live with a new family, and she wouldn’t be seeing him anymore. The only sense my young mother could make of it was that he left because she wasn’t a good enough daughter. It obliterated her hope to ever be anything beyond adequate, so she submitted to the world and kept quiet.
My mother married the first man who told her he loved her. My father, a domineering brute with a hot temper, was sweet and romantic in the early stages of their love. I read in my mother’s journal that it was the day after their wedding that my father had instantly transformed into what I always knew him to be. He had lied too.
It was only when she and I were alone that I could see glimmers of the woman she could have been. When I was young, we would stand bare-foot in the front lawn on warm summer days in our sundresses. As airplanes flew overhead, she would point them out to me with great excitement, “Look up at the sky, Bridgette! An airplane!” She would jump up and down with all of her might, waving her arms wildly and instructing me to do the same. “Jump up and down, Bridgy! Jump up and wave! Take me with you! Come on Bridgy, yell loud enough so they can hear us. Take me with you! Take me with you! Oh, please, please take me with you!”
I desperately jumped and screamed up at the sky, wishing somehow the pilot would hear us, land and whisk us away to somewhere new and exotic. What a day that would be.
My mother started taking up bad habits. My father was a beer drinker, so she started drinking his. Then occasionally a box of wine or some wine coolers would appear, however briefly, in the fridge. When she was laid off from the factory, her social life ceased to exist. I began to find large bottles of gin in the pantry. There were fewer moments spent on the lawn vigorously waving at airplanes, for she had accepted the fact that no one was coming to save her. Instead, she plopped herself down in front of soap operas, with always a drink by her side and allowed the world to revolve without her.
My father kept himself out of the house most of the time, and I was glad for it. When he came home, he would scream at my mother for the housework that didn’t get done. Without a trace of emotion, she would quietly stand, do what needed to be done and return to the television. She no longer possessed the energy to fear him.
Our tiny, old bungalow was situated in a woodsy area in a town of 1,200 – mostly pensioners. My parents decided it made financial sense for me to remain an only child, so I only had myself to be entertained by. I would take to the woods when I got restless and let my imagination run free. Sometimes I was a witch and concocted love potions in my secret fortress. Sometimes I was an explorer and would break into abandoned hunt shacks in search of secret treasure. Some days I would conjure up ghosts with my Ouija board so they could tell me who my husband was going to be and if I would ever be famous. Sometimes I was a young girl, just like me, trapped by an obsessed admirer then rescued by a handsome young boy from the big city, in town for the weekend with his parents.
Other times, I would try to make myself a part of my mother’s world. I would sit next to her, attempt to comprehend the plots of her soaps and try to drink as much milk as she drank gin. I was never thirsty enough to keep up.
Over the years, any liveliness that remained in her eyes slowly retreated deep into her mind where it likely disintegrated, for I never saw it again. I was too young to understand, so it didn’t break my heart as thinking about it does now.
Up until her retreat, my mother had mostly written in her journal about running away, travelling the world and going on dangerous adventures. Sometimes I was a part of those fantasies, sometimes not. The odd time, she would write about when the grocery store manager would notice her and smile, or when a co-worker would say something nice about her hair. Other times, she wrote about how she no longer desired my father, but would never leave him. She had made her bed, she wrote.
After my mother took to the drink, her entries became fewer and darker. She imagined what the world would be like without her—how I would be cared for, how my father would react, if anyone would notice at all.
When I was 15 years-old, my mother died in her bed during the night. It was the drink that took her, though it was she who took the drink.
After determining my mother’s closet didn’t contain a dress fit enough for the viewing, I stumbled upon a wooden lockbox with an envelope attached, marked “Bridgette”. Inside the envelope was the key. I had never seen the box before, and until I opened it, I didn’t even know my mother had ever kept a journal.
Her last entry was written the night before she died. It was a letter to me:
Take the lessons far and wide. Carry them with you wherever you may go.
Tell them I had fun.’
I stepped up to the podium at St. Mary’s Church four days after her death in my new black dress and patent black Mary Janes. I unfolded my crinkled-up piece of paper with quivering hands. As I set it down and smoothed it out, the priest scurried over and adjusted the microphone from my forehead to my mouth. I took a breath, and with a shaking voice, I told her few mourners she was a good wife and mother with an adventurous spirit. I told them she taught me everything I knew about becoming a woman and that she had set an excellent example for me. Lastly—keeping with family tradition—I told them she had fun.