My silent mother returns to our silent home with stitches in her brow, swollen cheeks, her warmth extinguished. I’ve barely slept since Power took her away and sleep even less now. Each morning, I dab her wounds and brush her skin with my lips, crushed to find her scent is gone.
We don’t talk about the boys. We don’t mention how they doubled our days, promised us purpose, helped us hope. We don’t dare to wonder where they are now. They were foreigners and strangers, yet also ours. Their absence rattles our bones.
Power must have used force from the start, cracking my mother on the third day. What happened to her afterward, I wonder, when Power came for the second time, went straight to the attic, busted the secret door, and didn’t find what it had been promised?
I tell myself, had I not told the boys to run, all her suffering would have been in vain.
At night, I relive the moment right before Power dragged my mother away, when my eyes told her to keep quiet: I would never forgive her if she sold out the boys.
I make new soaps and experiment with the recipe—more herbs, less sunflower oil—not knowing what I hope to accomplish.
Time passes and my mother’s wounds heal. Even her warmth flares up: she strokes my cheek and says, I would have survived the moment of my betrayal, not the memory. But her words cannot restore me. The world in which I am innocent and brave seems no more real than the world in which I can fly.
She used to smell so reassuring, woody and wondrous, like a poem in summer rain. I wish it were my nose, my guilt embodied, and she has returned unchanged.

Claire Polders is a Dutch author. Her stories and essays are published wherever they are appreciated. Her first novel in English, A Whale in Paris (Atheneum/Simon&Schuster, May 2018), is a kid’s book for all ages, co-written by her husband. You can find links to her short prose at