Mother

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I counted away the minutes on the clock, watching as the numbers slowed. The green digital figures on the microwave were taunting me, laughing at me as I started to shake. My reflection in the window was grayed and blurred -- distorted with the rainwater that obscured the view of town outside. I pressed a hand up to its surface, my skin ghastly pale compared to the glass's beautiful blue. My eyes stared back at me, hollow and bloodshot because I rubbed them so much.

The aroma of cookies wafted up to me through the metal of the oven. I marveled at how it happened -- I certainly couldn't go through metal. I would have reached out to touch it but Mother always told me not to. I will always hang on to every single thing Mother told me -- she isn't here to tell me things now so it's my job to remember what she said. Even if what she was telling me was a reprimand, I'll relish it; like that time she caught me throwing glitter to the people on the street. I wanted to make them happy -- sparkly things make me happy, after all. They remind me of Mother's old music box and when she'd given it to me for my birthday. Of course, the glitter on the music box was real fairy glitter, not my fake store-bought stuff.

My eyes drift from the window and the clock to the oven, where I can watch the cookie batter bubble and fizz like pancakes on a griddle. I hop off my spinning-chair and glide over to the little oven window, sinking to my knees in front of it. They hurt a little, as I'd scraped them yesterday riding my bike down the driveway -- I just took my training wheels off a week ago. I shift my position a bit, trying to lessen the discomfort. To no avail, I stick out my lower lip and make my eyes bigger, getting to my feet.

My socks are pink with little strings hanging off them all askew -- I get bored sometimes. Their colors go with the off-yellow tiles in the kitchen, like honey and tea. My eyes roam over to the clock again, and my mood withers immediately. They'll never be done cooking. Never.

I bite my lip, looking with a forlorn gaze at the rain outside. It's so dreary out -- Mother never liked the rain. Today reminds me of her. Papa tries, I know he does, but he never takes me to feed the swans in the park. He never drives me to the pet shop to look at lizards. He never asks me for a puppet show. I think it's something only mothers know how to do, really. That's why I decided to go look for another one. Another Mother. Another friend.

I go to my room, greeted by my books, my stuffed animals and my scrap book in progress, its poor contents all over the floor. I step gingerly over a hand-drawn portrait of my fairy godfather (my fairy godmother left me) and pick up my backpack, sewn for me by one of my friends from school. I open the purple flap and look around my room, smiling when I see my book. The one I made all by myself.

Even Mother doesn't know about it -- I was going to show it to her when I turn six, but I guess I wasn't quick enough. My book is all my favorite books combined. I took the best pages from all my bookshelf (and some library books, too -- sorry, Mother, I had to) and tied them together with my favorite red yarn. I decorated the pages with glitter glue and stickers to make them look better -- chapter books are so boring to look at! I made a cover and a back page and stuck flattened flowers on them, both to make it smell good and please Mother. Mother loved to garden. She still loves to.

I scoop up my book and drop it in the backpack, soon followed by the daisies I picked at school, some pictures we took at the beach, a little stuffed kitten and her ball of yarn, my rock collection and a box of crackers... just in case. Papa was upstairs working on something... like he always is, so he didn't see me leave. Calmly I slipped on my rain coat and boots, smiling at my reflection in their yellow rubber. I took my umbrella from the coat hanger and left the house, the cookies left with fifteen minutes to go.

I skipped down the cobblestone walkways leading to the swan pond, the one with all sorts of grasshoppers and snails to follow. I took care to leap squarely into every puddle I saw, making sure my boots were no longer yellow by the time I'd reached the weeping willow tree. It stood over the swan pond, guarding the fragile surface of the water. Mother told me never to get close to it as the swans had little baby swans hidden in there. I remember asking her why they hid -- I was brave enough not to hide, and swans were so majestic I couldn't think of why they were afraid. Mother said it was because baby swans aren't like grown-up swans, not yet anyway, just like I wasn't like her.

As if she knew... she was gone. Gone forever. I could never be like her now.

In a sudden attack of self-pity I kicked a pebble into the swan pond, one with pretty blue swirls that I normally would have stored in my pocket until I could put it with my rock collection. With a pang I remembered that Mother was the one who'd given me the idea of a collection in the first place, she was the one who'd handed me the first rock. I ripped off the backpack and flung its contents into the mud, feeling not one pinch of regret as my book soaked up the brown, gritty water. Mother was gone. She knew nothing of me anymore. I didn't need her, she left me. She... she left me.

I unexpectedly felt bad for the baby swans. She left me. I put on my best I'm-gonna-show-you-face and stomped around the pond towards the first reaching tendrils of the weeping willow tree. She left me.

I jumped back as harsh screeches and hisses became audible through the leaves. I furrowed my eyebrows like Papa does and stepped forward, crunching twigs underneath my rain boots. There was a tense silence as I emerged into the weeping willow swan house, met with the black-masked glares of the elegant white birds. Some started to hiss, ruffling their feathers so they looked like those weird lizards I saw in school books. I held back a laugh, refusing to be intimidated.

The bigger swans inched forward, their heads bent low in front of their chests. The others stayed back, the fathers did -- they were guarding their eggs. As if. I smirked. It was funny how my father wasn't like that. He wouldn't stay back like that.

Would he?

Had I ever really given him a chance?

When Mother went away, Papa wouldn't tell me where. He wouldn't give me anything more than a look with eyes shinier than normal. I thought he was keeping a secret from me. I hate secrets when I'm not the one keeping them.

But maybe... maybe he never knew. Maybe Papa was like me, maybe I could help him! Maybe then he would ask for a puppet show, because then he would know what the difference was from a good one and a bad one.

And, of course, that was when the mother swans wanted me out. Their beaks flashed bronze in the dappled sunlight and shadows, like a rusted silver sword. I let out a little breath in surprise, I hadn't known mothers could be mean.

So I ran away from the willow-swan-house, I ran as fast as I could like Papa wanted me to. He wanted me to be like the girls on television, the ones who scored goals and made crowds cheer. I'd make him proud. I'd make him happier than he'd been ever since Mother went away. But I'd make Mother happy, too. I'd have my own T.V. show selling clothes and handbags like the one Papa had helped me buy her for her birthday. I'd...

I fell face-down in the mud, my book slimy under my rain-boot like a salamander. I sniffed, something like rainwater in my eyes, and picked it up, put it back in my empty backpack, and ran towards the sidewalk.

"Molly?" called someone. "Molly?"

I sniffed again, my fingers cold and numb and white like crystals on the beach. My pants were all muddy and I was sure Papa would be angry at me... he bought them for Christmas, after all.

I reached down and flicked a stray piece of dirt off a pretty diamond pocket-stud and smelled cookies.

The cookies were ready! The cookies were ready, the cookies were ready! "Papa?" I shouted in my best soup's-on sort of tone. "Papa, I made you cookies!"





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