Over There

by
CathyAnne Murtha

As my guide dog and I stood in line at the checkout of the River City Market at CSUS, I asked the cashier what I considered a simple question. “Where are the napkins please?” her response was hurried, but sincere, “over there.”

Emerging from the light rail for the first time, I managed to catch the attention of a passer-by, “please sir, can you tell me where I might catch bus 63?”  A kind voice offered a pleasant response before disappearing into to the cacophony of the early afternoon, ‘you can catch it…‘over there.’”

So many things reside over there – napkins, bus stops, pencils, pens, clothing racks, department stores and even my shoes!  A never ending supply of important and indispensable items and locales all reside in this place that is shrouded in mystery and intrigue.

I stand in perplexed silence after learning that something is over there.  It’s a place I have never been and have no hope of finding on my own.  My guide dog is skilled at finding chairs, stairs, elevators, escalators, helping me cross streets, and can even find me the Diet Pepsi display at Food Town; however, when I tell her to find “over there” her little bottom hits the floor and a small whimper tells me that she is as confused as I.  We will not be going “over there” today.  Over there has caused me a bit of vexation, a lot of confusion, and on occasion, made my heart race.

I have discovered that “over there” can be a dangerous place.  One day, while crossing a street, I heard a driver’s irritated voice shout out a warning of a truck bearing down on me from over there.  Shadow artfully dodged the oncoming vehicle and pulled me to the safety of the curb; our hearts were both racing as we took a few moments to compose ourselves.  Close encounters with over there can be frightening experiences.

Although many blind people have wondered about the exact location of “over there,” few have dared to venture forth in an exploration of the mysterious place.

One day, while standing in line at the supermarket, I asked the clerk where I might find the aspirin.  With a cheery smile in her voice, she informed me that the aspirin was located “over there.”  With a weary sigh, I decided that I would take the extra step that would unravel the mystery, which had vexed my compatriots since the beginning of time.  Taking a deep breath, and attempting to look nonchalant, I smiled at the clerk, “Where,” I asked, “is over there?”  I imagined the girl’s shocked expression.  I felt her sharing condescending and concerned looks with her fellows in the store.  The silence grew palpable as they mulled the possibility of allowing a blind person access to the forbidden land.

She had no choice; she would have to tell me how to find “over there!” I had won!  Exhilaration swept through me as I waited in breathless anticipation.  A victorious smile crept to my lips, my hand tightened on the handle of Shadow’s harness; we would soon be going over there!  The clerk’s voice reeked with resignation as the decision was made, “That way.” She said.

(c) Copyright CathyAnne Murtha 1996

Foreshadowing of Fear

by
CathyAnne Murtha

This is a story my Mother told me when I was a teenager.  It is from her perspective because only she can tell of this experience in her life.  My Mother had a sixth sense of people.  This was her first experience with her foreshadowing.

 “It was in her eyes.  I will never forget the unearthly sparkle which emanated from the eyes of that child.  She was only a few months old but, when I looked at her, I felt a chill unlike anything I had experienced in my entire life.  She was a beautiful child with wisps of shining golden hair and eyes of cornflower blue.  Her face was perfect; I remember touching her tiny chin and marveling at how wonderful nature could be to bless one with such a miracle. Her first tooth had begun to erupt.  When she smiled, one could see the little white nub poking through the pink of her gums.  I had enjoyed spending my days watching Amanda become an individual with a real personality.  It had become my custom to wander over after school and spend the afternoon playing with Amanda and allowing her to think she was helping me with my homework.   Even though it was midsummer and the heat had been oppressive for weeks, I felt a chill to the marrow of my bones when my eyes met Amanda’s on that hot August day.  The child was happy, smiling, but the surreal twinkle that met my gaze was unnerving.  It was as if she was saying, you know, don’t you?  The frightening thing is — I did know.  I knew the child was going to die as surely as I knew the sun would set that evening.  I turned on my heels and fled to the sanctity of my bedroom across the street.  I never returned to that house — not even for the wake which was held three days later.  Many people think having premonitions is a blessing. Let me tell you that it isn’t.  Knowing that you are going to lose a loved one or friend is not something to be envied.  I have had premonitions like this all my life; I think the most painful loss was Bill.

“Bill Tuohimaa was a Finnish boy from Wisconsin and a Navy pilot.  The navy spends five million dollars to train those boys.  We had been together for two years when he was called overseas on active duty.  He had returned on leave several times and we had shared some wonderful afternoons walking along the shores of Long Island.  We would bring bread crumbs for the seagulls and gather shells along the shoreline.

“Bill was six foot four in his stocking feet and had blond hair and slate gray eyes.  Most of his buddies had a “reputation” around the base.  Bill was different.  When I was with him, I felt safe, loved and secure.  I don’t think I have ever been able to recapture those feelings in all my years of living.  When it was time for Bill to return to Okinawa, I held him in my arms and felt a dark cloud overwhelm my heart.  I trembled as I looked into his eyes, terrified that the surreal glow of my nightmares would be lurking in his gaze, ready to mock me; yet, all I saw was the love he held for me, the promise of our future, and the confidence bread of military service.  His eyes were strong and confident.  One final squeeze, a final kiss, and our customary salute sent Bill up the gangplank to his aircraft carrier.  I knew in my heart, I would never see Bill again.

“Two weeks later, while home for a visit with my brother, I received the letter from the State Department. Bill had been shot down over the sea of Japan while on a reconnaissance mission.  I was thankful Don was at my side when I received the letter.  He caught me before I collapsed to the floor.  I sometimes wonder how my life would have changed had Bill lived.

I surely would have married my Navy pilot and he would have been your Father.  You would have been a Navy brat.  Well, the Navy part would have been new anyway!  Rather than marrying my tall blond Finnish beau, I married a short dark German.  I guess there is no telling where one’s heart will lead.  I had received a premonition about your cousin, Timmy, one summer while we were visiting at Uncle Harold’s.

“It was one of our annual summer trips which you children hated.  You three would spend the entire six hours fighting in the backseat of the car.  I think that was the year Marie looked up,  said she didn’t feel well, and proceeded to throw up all over me.  Your dad had to drive another three miles to find a place to pull over.  The smell and feel of that warm vomit as it seeped into my skirt is something I will never forget.  Marie was crying, you and Danny were complaining of the smell, your Dad was shaking his head in disgust and I was sitting in a puddle of regurgitated breakfast when a woman came storming out of a neighboring house demanding we leave her property immediately.  My wet skirt was clinging to my legs, my car seat was saturated and I was near tears myself.  I finally turned on the woman and told her if she couldn’t help then she had better leave because I was going to clean up my family and had no intention of sitting in that puddle of puke one second longer.  Yes, I actually said puke.  Oh, I see you remember that moment.  Yeah, it does seem kind of funny now, doesn’t it?  We arrived at Uncle’s rather late that evening.

“I was sitting on the overstuffed green chair in the living room.  Once you settled into one of those chairs, you practically needed a crane to pull your out!  I had put you three into bed and taken shower.  It felt good to be out of that car.  I had just settled in to play penny a point cribbage with your Uncle when I heard Timmy on the phone in the kitchen.

I didn’t have to be in his presence to know that Timmy would not be with us much longer.  My heart felt cold.  Your Father was sitting next to me and must have noticed my color fail because he asked if I was OK.  I was beyond words, speechless, I knew that the young boy in the next room would not celebrate another Christmas.  I also felt I knew how my nephew would die.

“Timmy loved motorcycles.  He had owned several of them.  I remember his favorite was black and red, the sun would glint off the silver trim giving it an ominous beauty.  He would spend hours tinkering with the motor, polishing the chrome and using special cleansers on the tires to make them shine.  A few months before his death someone told him that he would die on a motorcycle.

“I never found out who it was that told Timmy he was to die.  I do know he took the warning quite seriously and sold all of his bikes.  He took the money and invested in a little Toyota.  Your Uncle still treasures that car 25 years after the death of his only son.  I wasn’t surprised when I received the phone call.  My brother was devastated and your Aunt, well she was uncommunicative for a long while after the accident.  Tim had decided to help a friend one evening.  His friend was too drunk to drive and, while some others took the friend home in a car, Timmy offered to drive the motorcycle to the friend’s home.  On the way up  a treacherous stretch of road which consists mainly of hairpin curves, Timmy slid onto the shoulder, overcompensated, and was hit head on by another driver.  His friends were not far behind and saw the accident occur.

“Several of them ran to Timmy’s side while another traveled the remaining quarter mile to the city of Anoka.  While crossing the bridge, his friend saw your Aunt in the line of traffic which had formed as a result of the accident.  After the police were informed of her presence, she was brought to her son.  She was allowed to spend a few moments with him before the coroner took him to the morgue.  He had died on impact.  There were no good-byes, no final opportunity to speak words which are held in the heart but never voiced aloud.  He was gone and I knew it was going to happen.  I had heard it in his voice.  After hearing the story of the sale of his motorcycles, I knew that the foreshadows I feel are a matter of destiny and, no matter what I do, I cannot stop the inevitable.  There have been others, far more than I care to remember.

“Sometimes I am afraid to look at my family and friends. I look back on the death of Bill and think of all that my brother and his wife went through when they lost their son in that motorcycle accident.  I grow fearful of looking at my own children or into the eyes of your Father.  When your dad grew ill with Leukemia this last summer, I avoided eye contact for as long as possible.  I was terrified I would see “the sparkle.”  I am thankful that his eyes always remained clear and strong.  Each time you children come home for a visit, I feel the familiar fear of loss.  I have never seen that frightening glow since the death of Amanda but the communication was so strong, the bond so forceful, I have never been able to put that fear aside.  I think that, sometimes, you scare me most of all;  if I ever saw that ethereal glow in the eyes of my daughter, I feel quite sure I would go insane.”

Homecoming

by
CathyAnne Murtha

The walls were of plain plaster.  White.  The kind of white which hurt your eyes and made you squint a bit.  Her footsteps echoed through the barren rooms, her heart ached from the emptiness which surrounded her.  Her hospital stay had left her feeling weak but it was this house, this emptiness, which had snatched the last remnants of hope from her grasp.  Memories.  That was what was missing.  The house was totally devoid of memories.  Looking upon the smiling visage of her husband who had, for over thirty years, been her constant companion and best friend brought a curious twang of melancholy to her heart.

After thirty years of marriage, he didn’t know her.  He didn’t understand what lay deep inside her heart.  Her memories.  All of them had been wiped from her life and scattered to the homes of strangers.  He had panicked, she understood how he must have felt upon hearing of her illness.  The Rheumatic fever had gone undiagnosed until the effects of the illness, suffered during childhood, returned to haunt her during her middle years when she should have been enjoying the life she had come to love in the California sunshine.  She had returned home, to Minneapolis, to visit her family and friends.  The doctor in California had warned both her and Ralph that there was a possibility of a recurrence of the heart problem, but she knew her own resilience and will to live would see her through.  Now, as her eyes sparkled with emotion and the strong arm of the tall gray-haired man at her side slipped around her slender waist, she felt numb.  In his desire to be by her side in what he thought to be her waning days, he had sold everything they owned to purchase a plane ticket for himself and Rose, their youngest child.  With the remaining funds, he had purchased a home in Minneapolis so that she could recuperate in the bosom of her family.

The hospital had been lonely and although she was grateful to have her husband at her side she had dreamed of one day returning to her home in California.  The little house beneath the warm California sun with the palms swaying in the breeze.  The rustling of palm fronds and chirping of birds beyond the filmy curtains of her dining room window lifted her spirits as nothing ever had.  She would look upon the world through the creamy gauze, experience the scent of  lilac on the breeze which would creep beneath the ruffled hem, sip upon freshly squeezed orange juice, and refresh her spirit with the dawn of each new day.

The shining surface of her dining table, polished to a glassy sheen, held memories.  Each chip or nick in the polished wood was a memory.  A moment in the life of her family to be treasured.  The hand tatted doilies which adorned each end table in her home brought a touch of her own magic to the little house.  She had been ever so cautious in her care for her linens.  Hand washing them in Ivory soap, rolling them in a terrycloth towel and, finally, laying them out to dry in the brilliant sunshine which would bleach them snowy white.  She wondered upon whose table her doilies now resided and if anyone could care for them as she.  Would they use ivory soap? Would they know to roll them in the towel?   She felt an uncomfortable lump rise in her throat as she recalled all the moments shared on the overstuffed sofa in the parlor.  Quiet moments of reflection as she waited for the birth of a child; the sticky fingers, bearing remnants of jam from lunch, which grasped the cushions as a tiny face appeared and squealed with delight at discovering Mommy peeking back; the moments shared as her children grew to adulthood and shared their special moments with her.  Memories of her daughter’s boyfriend nervously wringing his hat to tatters as he sat on the very edge of the cushion awaiting Rosie while Ralph loomed menacingly overhead drifted through her memory and brought a silent chuckle to her lips.   The four poster bed she had shared with her husband and upon which two of her six children had entered the world brought a sense of comfort and continuity to her life.  She remembered the Eiderdown quilt given to her on her wedding day.  She recalled the softness of the quilt as it settled over her in the big four poster bed.  Wandering into the bedroom of her new house, she found two army cots propped against the wall.  She ran her finger across the rough canvass.  Sawdust swirled in a mist about her feet, it’s sweet scent reminded her of the building of her home in California.

The home for which they had saved a lifetime and in which they had planned to share their golden years.  She and Ralph had agonized over the move.  The prospect of leaving their children and friends behind had been a heart rending decision, but one which she had never regretted for they had shared happy moments in their little home filled with the treasured mementos and possessions she had brought with her from Minnesota. Now, her doilies, dining room set, davenport, end tables, bed, linens, and so much more were sold for a pittance to strangers who would never know the joys that lived within the spirit of her treasured belongings.  She wondered who would discover the initials Ralph had carved into the headboard of the four poster on their wedding night.  She had giggled with delight when he had scooted his 6’3″ frame beneath that bed and carved their initials RT + GT in a delicate heart in the base of the headboard.  She had hoped to leave her belongings as a legacy to her children, now she would have to hope that the love she bestowed upon them would be enough to nourish them and keep her alive in their hearts.

A smile lightened her spirit as she thought on the grandson whom she had just kissed good-bye in International Falls.  Danny, his cherubic face had smiled upon her as so many others had in the past.  She had said good-bye for the last time and asked Catherine to keep her memory alive in his heart.  Her eyes grew moist as she looked upon the barren walls and unfinished floors of the house which was to become her new residence in Minneapolis.  She knew in heart that she would not have enough time make it her home. home.

She no longer felt the will to continue.  She knew that her ravaged heart would not allow her to live much longer and her battered spirit felt no desire to fight.  She understood why he had done it.  He loved her.  He wanted to be with her and would go to any lengths to accomplish this end.  A flurry of sawdust preceded his footsteps into the room.  She swiped the silent tears from her eyes and beamed a smile upon the man who had loved her well and was eager to explore a new adventure.  Their view of the rough-hewn house which her husband now called home was very different.  He saw the potential, she saw the reality.  His spirit was strong and his love for adventure rivaled her own.  She had come to a time in her life, however, when adventure no longer appealed.  The joy she would have once felt at a new beginning in a new home was gone. Her energy was drained by the effects of the fever and all she wanted to do was lay down beneath the soft eiderdown and sleep in the big four poster bed of her sunny bedroom in California.  Now, however, that was someone else’s right and she no longer had a place in this world.   She had grown up, married, and raised her children in a house not far from the neighborhood she would now call home.  After a decade of absence, the community still remembered it’s own and welcomed her back to the fold.  For six weeks, her life revolved around church, family, and friends.

As the weeks passed, the house began to take shape.  The walls no longer made her squint but the echoes, oh how the echoes resounded in her chest.  She would waken on her cot in the morning and feel the pounding echo of the hammers.  She knew her days were short and was glad that she would not feel the pounding any longer.  Her visits to church became less frequent, the card games tired her more easily than she had imagined possible, and her children became as ghosts in a haze as they moved silently in and out of the bedroom where she was confined for the last few weeks of her life.  Her family and friends were at her side as the dust motes danced in bright shaft of sunshine which shone through the window of her bedroom on May 3, 1955.  With one last smile and squeeze of her daughter’s hand my Grandmother slipped from life.  Her last memory would be of her husband’s gentle lips touching her own and of his silent tears dampening her cheek.

Death of the Indigo Golem

by
CathyAnne Murtha

The rainbow portal shone more brightly than ever before.  The golems who cared for it had spent much of the morning polishing the facets so that their colors might reflect with a brilliance which would impress even the most jaded of guardians.  Having stored their cleaning supplies, they were playfully competing with one another to see who could catch the attention of the most facets and gain prominence over it’s fellows.  Indigo was the first to notice the commotion, raising his hand to silence the playful laughter of the others, he pointed up toward the shift of Astral, a look of concern clouded his expression.

The others gathered around and listened as the clash of armor, the soft whisper of swords and the anguished death cries of the guardians filled the air.  They exchanged looks of terror and looked to the rainbow portal. They had never entered the portal.  The world beyond the end of the rainbow had never been explored, it lived only in fables which had been passed down to the assemblage in the little room.  Death and destruction lived among the Faes while the golems lived in peaceful co-existence with one another.  It was their job to maintain the portal – a job in which they took much pride.  The peaceful nature of the golems prohibited them from venturing from the many faceted domain.

A startled cry from violet brought their attention to the door A lone warrior, his armor glittering from the reflected rainbows, strolled confidently into the room and sneered at the innocent golems.  It was clear that he intended to enter the portal!  The golems looked to one another.  he must not be allowed to enter the land of the Fae’s.  It was dangerous and they did not want to be responsible for the death of the man who glittered in the radiance of their light.  With amazing quickness, they moved to block his passage through the portal.

The man stopped and looked upon the rainbow golems.  With a sneer of derision and one quick movement of his hand, the ground shook and the golems tumbled to the floor.  As Indigo looked up, he saw a vast army of trolls, humans, gnomes, and sprites descend upon his tiny band.  He stood and attempted to defend the portal, to save the lives of the small army who was intent upon entering the portal which promised certain death.  He had witnessed many entering the passage, yet none had returned!

Red dropped first, her cries tore into his heart as he watched her life blood, a fiery torrent of crimson, flow from the wounds which had been inflicted upon her by the glittering swords of the enemy.  He tore at one of the attackers who looked smaller than the rest, hoping that maybe he could convince her to flee the rainbow portal and return to the safety of her own realm.  A brutish giant stepped forward and slammed into him with a shield which appeared to be made of dragon scales.  Indigo fell to the floor stunned.  He watched his friends scrambling about, seeking protection from the waves of energy being thrust forth by the mage like creatures.  He saw clerics chanting in a strange tongue to a god named Ulthor and gazed in wonder as the wounds of the trolls were magically healed.  How could he and his fellow golems stand against such magic?

Clamoring to his feet he once more tried to appeal to his attackers, yellow, blue, and violet were gasping for breathe as they continued to bear the brunt of the attack.  large gold-hilted swords were smashed into the faces of his friends, he watched them drop to the floor and whispered silent prayers that they might be relieved of their pain quickly and mercifully.

A swirl of sand engulfed the little golem as his gaze fell upon his own reflection in a crystal facet.  The playfulness in which he had participated only moments before was gone, his smile had been replaced by a mask of terror.  Sinking to the floor, he felt a hand slip into his own, he turned to see the eyes of blue meet his own.  The sounds of clashing armor and rattling scabbards were swallowed by the mysteries beyond the rainbow portal.

He knew the guardians lay dead above him and that his life was slowly slipping from his grasp.  With his final breath he whispered a prayer that the strange god known as Ulthor would watch over those who had left his own life in shambles.  He knew his journey was at an end but the horrors that awaited those who had passed beyond his domain faced terrors only imagined in the most twisted minds of the immortals.

Confetti

by
CathyAnne Murtha

It was only a flittering little thing which caught the eye of the Seraph of Melarn.  A tiny glittering swirl on the breeze that brushed by with a faint whisper of chimes.  The Seraph Ashira smiled knowingly and summoned the angels of the realm to her side.  Her idea was presented to the Archangels and filtered through the ranks of the angel corps quite quickly.  A new and exciting adventure awaited all who wanted to participate.

As with most exciting events in the realm, the secret was soon divulged to the Lords and Ladies who whispered with fevered excitement into the ears of the heroes.  All eyes turned to the lands of the low morts as one tiny creature began to climb the ladder toward hero.   Angels slipped into mortal form and helped guide the little one on her way.  Lords appeared at her side to offer guidance and assistance.  The low mortals with whom she grouped began to see something ethereal in their peer and they, too, began to help her on her path.  The little creature accepted the assistance of all with a bright smile and grateful spirit.

One day, while sitting beneath a tree in the elven foothills, the little sprite looked around at her friends and felt an overwhelming gratitude flood her heart.  She had received so much from so many and wished there was a way she could show everyone how happy she was and how much love she felt for all those who had touched her life.  Gazing into the brilliant blue sky, she saw the flash of wings and heard the laughter of angels.

A brilliant smile graced her face as she realized that she wanted to soar through the heavens helping those in need.  She wanted to swoop down and bring laughter and love to those who felt lost or alone in a strange land.  Looking at her own insignificant wings, she knew she had no hope of flying to such heights alone.   Popping a lemon drop into her mouth, she began to ponder the path which she wanted to travel and wondered how she might make it a reality.  A warm embrace from above enveloped her and she realized, for the first time, she was not alone.  The Seraph and Angels, the Lords and Ladies, the Heroes and low morts were at her side. They had been at her side from the very beginning!  The tiny mage felt a shower of love cascade down upon her from the heavens.

Flying to the side of her friends, she spoke with breathless excitement of her dream.  Pointing skyward with sparkling eyes she told them of her desire to become an Angel.  Her friends looked at one another with knowing smiles.  Their little friend had finally discovered what they had known all along – embodied in the tiny sprite mage was a dynamic spirit which, when set free, would enliven and renew the skies over Melarn.

The little mage now became the property of Melarn.  No longer was she an entity of her own.  The realm joined together and nudged, pushed, prodded, encouraged and cheered as she neared her goal.  The final moments were shared by all the angels who, slipping into mortal form, helped her acquire the last bits of experience she needed.

Having received the congratulations of the realm, she stood surrounded by all those who had held her dream in store for her while she had traveled the long road to stand at their side.  One by one they had given her a piece of their own spirits and she was their creation.  The laughter, joy, optimism, gentility, curiosity, mischief, generosity, and love which was embodied in her were all gifts from those who had touched her life.

Ashira smiled upon her and with one quick motion took the mortal life she had known and gave her a new and exciting existence as an angel of Melarn.  The qualities embodied in the little mage burst into a shimmering cloud of love and showered the realm with happiness as Confetti became an angel.  The love with which she was showered was so immense that it could not be contained in one tiny sprite angel and she continues, to this day, to shower those she loves with a shimmering cloud of love, compassion, and joy in the form of angelic sparkles bestowed upon her by those she holds most dear.

The Mom Dress

by
CathyAnne Murtha

As a young mother of three children, eager to be set free from the restraints of my mother’s apron strings, I naturally longed to impress her with my abilities and independence. Unfortunately, after ten years of trying to wrest control of my life from my mother, I found myself at a point where I had to consider another tack. Begging for freedom, pleading for my right to make my own decisions, and threatening to throw a horrendous tantrum if she didn’t let me live my life by my own rules had fallen short of their intended goal. I had one more idea which I felt sure could succeed if I played it just right. I knew that my idea was one conceived in the mind of a genius and would result in the scales falling from my mother’s eyes. She would see me as the true adult which I had become and our relationship would turn down an untilled path of respect and mutual understanding. In short, my mother and I were to become fast friends who could share secrets and face life as equals. Well, I said I was young, did I mention I was also naive?

A warm spring day had dawned and I felt a sense of excitement at the days pending activities. I had returned to my childhood home with my children to spend two weeks basking in the glory of my parents’ love. I rose from bed and was met by my mother who was hustling down the hall bearing a minty blue garment in her hands. She had an air of excitement in her step; today was the day of the women’s luncheon at church and she was eager to present me to her friends as her oldest daughter, returned home for a visit from the great state of California. The dress was a typical “Mom” dress: three-quarter sleeves and matching jacket, the dress tied about the waist with a cloth belt and was, in short, one of the ugliest frocks I had ever had the misfortune to lay my eyes upon. Imagine my dismay when this minty blue frock, bearing indescribably grotesque swirls of red and green, was placed in my arms.

My mother intended for me to wear the dress to the church luncheon. She expected that I would be seen in public in a dress which, when viewed by my three young children, evoked a discomforting gagging noise from my middle child, a gasp of dismay from my oldest and a chortle of bemused laughter from my youngest. My resolution had been to cooperate fully with all of my mother’s wishes, thereby winning her undying respect and admiration. As the polyester frock lay in my lap and I faced the ridicule of my children, I realized that I could not, in good conscience, wear that atrocity in a public forum. Gathering my resolve, I marched down the hall to the dining room where my mother was visiting with some neighbors.

The women were shocked that I had’nt changed into the dress for it was nearing the time to leave. I told my mother I needed to talk to her. She told me we could talk on the way to church; I had better hurry and change so that we might arrive at the church in time to find our seats before the cooking demonstration began. I let the words sink into my tortured mind. Wasn’t it bad enough that I was expected to show up at the luncheon in a “Mom” dress? Did I really have to suffer through a cooking demonstration as well? I sighed with resignation as the four women smiled upon one another and basked in the glow that only the all-knowing can enjoy. I retreated down the hall to a chorus of happy words about how lovely the dress would look once it was draped upon my unwilling body.

I entered the bedroom and bore the ridicule of my children as the dress slipped over my head. I rummaged in my luggage for the can of static guard my mother had purchased for me the day before and gave the dress a good spray. It finally relinquished its hold on my legs and relaxed. The label of the dress clawed into my neck with ferocity. I knew that to cut the offending tag from the neck of the gown would be akin to shooting myself in the foot, so I decided to bear the indignity for as long as it took. With one last resentful glare at my children, who were rolling on the bed consumed by gales of laughter, I emerged from my room and walked the long hall to the dining room. I was met by a general gasp of approval, reassurances of how lovely the dress was; then the women embarked on a discussion of the perfect accessories for such a perfect gown. Pearls! It was decided that my mother’s pearl earrings and necklace would be the perfect accouterments to the “Mom” dress. My mother saw my shining eyes and smiled happily as I stemmed the flow of tears which were threatening to pour forth as the beads were clasped about my neck. I stifled an outcry of pain as the clips of the earrings bit deep into the tender flesh of my ear lobes. I felt my mother’s hands sweep my long hair into a tight bun and said not a word as my toes were crushed into the torpedo-shaped toes of my mother’s pumps. My mother’s love, I was sure, was worth the derision of my children and the sympathetic chuckle that was offered as my father brushed by on his way to an afternoon of football with his grandson.

Everyone knew whose daughter I was that afternoon. My mother and I looked like morbidly mutant twins from the fantasy of some sadistic horror writer. Her friends accepted me, completely, and commented on how like my mother I truly was. I cringed inwardly but beamed a great smile at the “compliment.” I wore the dress and suffered the pain of the pinching shoes because it made my mother and her friends happy. In the end, I was sure, a new relationship would emerge between my mother and me. I was sorely mistaken.

Instead of finding a new respect for me, my mother gave me the atrocious dress and asks to this day if I wear it. Since she is in Minnesota and I am in California, I happily assure her that it is a mainstay of my wardrobe. The dress is carefully folded and placed on a shelf of my closet. I run across it on occasion and shudder at the memory of the scratchy tag, which is still sewn firmly into the bias of the neck. I have four more replicas, in a variety of vibrant colors and fabrics folded neatly beside the offensive frock. My mother was so glad that I liked the dress, she offered me three more just like it. Although my wardrobe has increased, the respect of my mother has remained a constant. On the bright side, her friends think I am the best thing since winter underwear but my mother still likes to run my life from afar. I did come up with a solution, however. I tell her what she wants to hear and, once I hang up the phone, live my life as I deem fit. It is, perhaps, not the perfect solution, but my mother is happy and that is all that really matters in the end.