This is the final collaborative story in the two year sequence written with Eden Baylee. We’ve both enjoyed it all and hope very much you have, too.
Prompt: My mother was doing that thing she did. That thing with the rag in the sink.
Title: Mother of All Lies
Parts 1 and 3 EB, parts 2 and 4 BK
Mother of All Lies
My mother was doing that thing she did. That thing with the rag in the sink. After squeezing dish soap on the stainless steel sides, she ran hot water at full power until it created steam. With rubber gloves on, she plugged the sink and swooshed soapy water around then scrubbed the surface vigorously before pulling out the stopper. A rinse of hot water followed by cold water, another wipe with the rag, and it was finally time to start doing the dishes.
That was just one example of Mom’s obsessive compulsive behavior as I grew up. It’s been twenty years since I left home, and I can’t believe how I’ve turned into her.
A friend once asked me: “Why are you wasting soap and water by cleaning the sink before filling it with dirty dishes?”
I snapped back. “Do you strip naked and sit in a dirty bathtub to bathe?”
She was taken aback by my reaction, but no more than I was. I had had the same question for my mother when she did it but never asked. She probably learned it from her mother was my best guess.
Unfortunately, questioning her now would no longer be helpful.
The physical distance between us didn’t help but her unwillingness to try texting, emails, WhatsApp and the rest meant that we’d become… well, not quite strangers, but seeming to exist in separate realities. I suppose I also secretly thought her affections seemed to have transferred to my two daughters. On the phone, her questions about me and my husband, Joe, were few and predictable but when she switched focus to Marie and Imogen, a creepy sort of cuteness crept in. She was desperate to see them, of course, but they’re both already pretty good at manipulating people and a visit to her would probably give them an even bigger sense of their own importance.
I guess I have to admit that, on top of that, they might also be affected by the weirdness of some of her other ‘rag in the sink’ habits. That was by no means her only bizarre ritual: stacking the brooms in order of size in the hall cupboard, hanging her collection of dusters – one for every room in the house – on the clothes line when rain was forecast, never using a cup or mug twice on the same day… These and others were followed as religiously as any catechism.
“I’m sorry, Mom, we can’t come by with the girls. They both have birthday parties on Sunday.”
The pause on the other end of the line was deafening. I bit my lower lip and remained silent. Over the years in arguing with her, I’d learned it was futile to defend my point in earnest. It was better to let her think it through and respond, even if the wait was agonizingly slow. Just when I thought I couldn’t stay quiet any longer, Mom said, “I didn’t call about the girls. I want to see you … that’s if you’re free.”
Her tone, restrained rather than demanding was unlike her. “You mean, you want to see me and Joe?”
“No, just you,” she said.
“Are you all right, Mom?” Suddenly, I felt a twinge of guilt. I’d lied; the girls had no parties this weekend, but I didn’t want to ask them to visit their grandmother and hear them whine about not wanting to go.
“I’m fine, in the general sense of the word, but …”
“But what?” Silence, then it sounded like the receiver hit the floor. “Mom? Mom! Are you there? Are you all right?” Seconds later, the line went dead.
There were no neighbors I could call. My only choice was to drive over to her place, a thirty mile round trip.
God knows why I didn’t get a speeding ticket on the way but I was there in…
“14 minutes, 43 seconds” said Mom.
She was sitting in her usual chair in the kitchen, a cup of tea on the table in front of her, her elbow on the table and, in her raised hand, her mobile.
“Not bad. Maybe you do care,” she said, putting the phone on the table and, before I could answer or swear, or ask what the hell she was playing at, she went on…
“Did you know that animals that lay eggs don’t have belly buttons?”
Then, after a pause, she added… “Well, why should they? No need for umbilical stuff, they get all the infant-bearing out of the way by squeezing out a couple of eggs. Very sensible.”
“Mom, For God’s sake! I thought you were…”
Her raised hand stopped me.
“Marie was on the line this morning. Imogen, too,” she said, her voice low, quiet.
“Said they’d like to come over on Sunday. Asked if I’d make a chocolate pie. I said I was busy.”