My Mama

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I remember her yellow hands. Her cracking teeth. Her ashtray breath.


My Mama was an actress. She could make the best chicken pot pie you'd ever taste. She was a Gemini. My Mama was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. And my Mama loved her cigarettes. Ever since I could remember Mama had a smoke in between her slender yellow fingers and was shrouded in a veil of smoke. When I was a young'n I thought it made her mysterious, alluring, elegant. It made her look like a movie star again, like the glamorous women in the pictures I saw at the cinema. But as her silver cigarette box tarnished, and I grew older, things changed.


Soon that sickly sweet smell no longer comforted me. When I got home from school, I wanted to be greeted with the aroma of baking cookies, not smoke and ash. The papers were sayin' that smoking is bad, that you get the cancer from it. I wanted my Mama to stop.


One autumn afternoon, I mustered up my courage, turned her chipped silver doorknob, and entered the cloud of smoke of which Mama lived in.
I told her I was scared, scared of losing her. I pleaded with her to quit.
For me. For her. Mama listened until I was done and then wiped with her yellowing fingers, the single solitary tear I had gone and shed, and said nothin' but this. "Oh baby girl, you don't have to go worrying about your Mama. I'll be just fine, you hear?" And that was all Mama said.


A few weeks after our conversation, the coughing began. All day and all night Mama would cough and cough and cough. It was like she was tryin to cough up her lung or something. During the night I would lay awake in my bed, listening to Mama in the room next door. During the day I would launder her handkerchiefs soaked with bile and blood. I knew something wasn't right.


One autumn afternoon, I took Mama to see Doctor Phillips. I waited in the orange plastic chairs and read a picture book. I was far too old to be reading picture books, but I liked this one. It was about dragons. I wondered if maybe Mama was a dragon, a big beautiful yellow dragon, always puffing out smoke. I didn't like the ending, the dragon was killed by a man in silver armor. I didn't like the ending.


Doctor Phillips came out and sat down beside me. I don't remember well what he said. I only remember that one word.


I went and stayed with my Auntie Katie, her house smelled like baking cookies. I'd go and visit Mama in the hospital every day after school, I'd tell her about my day (she never told me about hers) and bring her paintings of dragons that I made. Surrounded by silver machines humming and whirring, I'd hold her yellow hand. Every time I'd go and visit, Mama would look worse and worse. That night I asked Mama what was going happen. Mama listened until I was done and then wiped with her yellowing fingers, the single solitary tear I had gone and shed, and said nothin' but this. "Oh baby girl, you don't have to go worrying about your Mama. I'll be just fine, you hear?" And that was all Mama said.


One autumn afternoon, my Mama died.


We buried her in a gleaming silver casket. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.


The years went by and I got older. I'm studying to be an oncologist, so I can help other Mamas and their daughters.
Not a day goes by when I don't think of her. I think of her whenever I am offered a cigarette. By the convenience store clerk. By the man leaning against the side of my apartment. By the women in my study group. I always refuse. I refuse because I remember her yellow hands. Her cracking teeth. Her ashtray breath. I remember my Mama.





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