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My Mother's Bowl MAG
Pierce was the one who in the end broke my mother's bowl. It once sat high above the cold granite countertops in her kitchen, directly from the antique dealer. The artist's stamp on the bottom was visible for a brief second as my mother's birdlike arms placed it atop her custom walnut cabinet. I recall little of the transaction other than that I approved of the purchase.
My mother, who had grown up in the middle-class, had tastes that, if allowed to flourish without the presence of the decorator, veered toward the ornate and dreaded noveau riche. This bowl was classical, handmade, and absurdly expensive, the perfect trophy of the lifestyle my father had granted us.
The bowl sat in that same place for two years, unused, apart from ritual dustings by the cleaning lady. It was a sick display of opulence that we could have such a bowl that served no purpose. In those years, I only knew its smooth, hand-painted brown exterior. Two years later, I was shocked to see its robin's-egg blue inside when I was entrusted to bring it down from that shelf, as we packed my mother's kitchen into cardboard boxes.
Now, in my mother's new kitchen, the bowl was packed between the food processor and toaster oven. The dingy white walls of the apartment offered no gracious expanses in which to place it. Showcasing it would have been ironic. The kitchen was crowded enough, mainly because my mother attempted to hold on to items that graced her kitchen in Westchester.
My father argued with her, telling her that the new place had no space for eccentricities like a pasta maker. He finally took the situation into his own hands, giving away the barely used appliances. The bowl was my mother's last trophy from those glory days when function was not a consideration. In those days, my mother would sit in our kitchen, clicking away at Williams-Sonoma's website, looking for useless items to fill her enormous kitchen. Getting rid of things reminded her of her childhood, when she was just as poor as we were now.
The bowl finally fell the day before Thanksgiving 2009.
“Where were you when you heard the crash?” I imagined we would ask later, jokingly. My father was out “looking for a job,” a euphemism that entailed driving to the nearest bar to watch the stock report and regale whoever was drunk enough to listen about the days when he was the king of Wall Street.
That day, left stranded without a car or husband, my mother was in the dining room, surrounded by a plethora of too-big decorations.
I sat, too, filling out financial aid forms for colleges that did not give me enough space to explain that I had not tried in school until this year because there was no need. I had no need. The stock market trusted Daddy to provide, and so had I – blowing off assignments that I was certainly smart enough to complete but simply lacked motivation to finish.
This year, I had no problems with motivation. Papers were scrutinized until three in the morning, tests studied for, grades tearfully argued over in an attempt to remedy three years of laziness. Teachers had noticed the sudden change. The girl who once came empty-handed to class with smart aleck comments – though perfectly put together – now rushed to hand things in on time, smelling of caffeine and desperation.
While I filled out each application precisely (as though my perfect penmanship would have an impact in the matter), my mother wrestled an absurd bouquet of gold chrysanthemums into a crystal vase. Then, the crash. She first looked down at the vase in her hand, momentarily confused that it was still whole. I rose to comfort her even before we confirmed the source of the noise, as she moved dreamily toward the kitchen. “Don't panic, I'm sure-”
Pierce stood on the linoleum countertop to get to the higher cabinets, a habit we had been warned about for years. His eyes, splayed wide, were fixated on the shards that littered the floor. For the second time in my life, I saw the robin's-egg blue of the inside of my mother's bowl, scattered like a mosaic across the linoleum floor.
“I was trying to help,” he said, lips quivering at the sight of my mother's distress.
Here was a situation my mother knew all too well: boys who asked forgiveness after destroying the things she held most valuable.
“Oh,” was all she said. Here, in the too-small apartment lined with too many unopened moving boxes, this trophy, which had never needed to be moved before, lay prone at her feet. In Westchester, the stillness beneath my mother's eyes had been covered by the glitz of her things. Now, stripped away from the shining glamour that gave her light, she was nothing more than her emotions.
She moved toward the remnants of the bowl as though it were a fatally injured child. “Oh,” she said once more, kneeling on the floor to finger the overpriced German ceramic.
I had never seen my mother cry before. Not when my father stood in the drawing room of our old house a year ago, swaying drunkenly, to say that he was very sorry for the mistakes he had made, things we had already read about in the papers. Her eyes had been dry when the bank shuttered the windows of our Westchester house. No tears the first time she drove us to public school.
But now, with the last semblance of her old life destroyed, her fragile shoulders shook. She covered her face with pale, wrinkled hands that looked bare without all her fancy rings. My brother and I gathered around her, holding her tightly, as though to contain her emotion.
We sat like that for a while, quiet, as the late-afternoon sun lingered on the remains of my mother's bowl, the robin's-egg blue pieces turned toward the light like underwater faces gathering their last breath.