It was dark out, the kind of black that seemed to cover the earth and sky completely, a suffocation that clutched at the wisps of light. One where you had to squint hard to see the silhouettes of a little girl and a woman, moving fast across the street.
The mother had an arm on her daughter’s, thin fingers curled over thin wrist, swiftly pulling them ahead, feet landing and taking off from the familiar concrete squares that lead to their shelter. She glanced around anxiously, peering into the pitch blackness that was illuminated only by dim streetlights covered in spiderwebs. Although it was a darkness someone might marvel over, it was also a darkness that made thoughts slowly turn into paranoia as one wondered what might be lurking behind it.
Her daughter loyally followed as quick as she could, skipping and tripping over cracks, only to be pulled up again by her mother, head bowed. The girl peeked up once, swiftly, and suddenly stopped, halting their progress to a screeching stop.
The mother worriedly glanced back, then around. She tugged her daughter’s arm in warning, but the girl did not budge.
“Mommy,” she said, gazing around at her dark, dark, dark surroundings. “I think I see the stars.”
Her mother peeked up, surveyed the clearly starless sky and the ever pressing black around them, and shook her head in annoyance.
“There are no stars,” she told the girl. “Don’t spout such nonsense.” and she pulled on her daughter’s arm again, and then their feet were flying across the street as the mother tried to escape, and the daughter tried to see.
The mother sat stiffly on the old, peeling leather seat of the beaten red car, staring at the ancient looking school that she had barely been able to afford for her child, at the kids streaming out the front doors.
It was a humid day, and the stickiness felt as if it were trying to strangle her. She wiped the sweat off of her forehead for the upteenth time and stared incredulously at the adolescents screaming in laughter, unbothered by the heat, by the sun beating down on them with all the force of approaching burdens. Her mouth turned down.
It was a not a great day for the mother, not at all, and it showed in her forced posture and the clenching and unclenching of her hands on the fraying steering wheel. Still, she watched as her daughter skipped out of the school, a bounce in her steps, yellow sundress seeming to flutter in the windless afternoon, and managed a weary smile as said daughter climbed into the car.
“How was your day, honey?” she asked tiredly.
Her daughter beamed. “Great! What ‘bout yours?” she chirpily replied, buckling herself in.
The mother paused, and wilted into herself for a moment, eyes shut. She let out a bitter chuckle. How was she to tell her daughter, her innocent, sweet, little girl, that she had possibly lost yet another low-paying job and wasn’t sure when she would be able to scrape a new one? How could she tell her daughter that they would have little to no money to support themselves? How could she indulge her girl in that kind of pressure?
Instead, she brushed a hand through her graying hair and ignited the car. “It was fine, darling. Just fine.”
They turned onto the road in silence, and the girl pressed her face to the glass window of the car, staring out into the outside.
The daughter turned to look at her mother in total seriousness. “I see a rainbow.”
The mother squinted into the blistering sunlight and the clear blue sky. She frowned. “There is no rainbow.”
It was cold, encased in antiseptics and icy, sterile walls. A woman laid on a bed, covered in a thin, blue blanket. She took in a deep, shuddering breath and coughed, eyes fluttering closed, then opening again.
A girl sat next to her, fresh out of college, carefully holding the frail hand of the woman who was her mother and blinking back tears. She softly patted her mother’s hand, staring at the wispy strands of gray hair that was splayed across the starch pillows, the wrinkles that encompassed her eyes, the eyes that she had inherited but had looked at everything in a different way.
The woman parted her mouth, desperate to say something, “I--” she croaked out, but her daughter squeezed her hand, and she understood.
Time passed slowly, and mother and daughter held hands and listened to the muffled conversations behind the door.
This was it, the mother thought, trying to ignore the vast emptiness in her chest. This was it. She could feel it in her bones, in the corners of her mouth, ever present, ever dreadful. She didn’t want to leave, even as she felt herself slipping. It was even worse that she could do nothing about it, that she could not go back and change the life she had lived.
Her daughter cleared her throat. “Mom, I-I see the light,” she said thickly.
The mother inhaled, exhaled, and slowly rolled her head to the left and to the right. She scanned the white-washed walls and the bright, artificial fluorescent lights, took in the IV dripping, dripping, dripping.
And then she looked at her daughter who clutched onto her hand with tears running down her cheeks. And the old woman smiled a smile that had not been on her face for a long time. “I think I can, too,” she murmured, words barely discernible.
The daughter laughed wetly, sniffing and wiping her eyes with her arm. And this time, it was the woman who squeezed, and the girl who understood.
And mother and daughter shared small grins and their last moment together.