My mother loses herself in the sounds of fingernail clicks and the dull thuds her forehead creates when colliding into the corners of our home. She dwells in these crevices where two walls meet, biting her lower lip until she bleeds. Releasing all the tension she carries throughout the day until the diaper she wears under her patchwork jeans overflows.
And she smiles.
Despite the smell. Despite me watching her, imagining the rapid clicks are a form of Morse code, a puzzle only I can decipher. A noise she makes just for me. I go to her, even though the smell of shit and lavender makes me cry. At least, this is what I keep in my mind as I wrap my arms around her waist and rest my chin on her shoulder.
“Tell me where you are,” I whisper in the same voice she saved for scraped knees and bedtime stories.
“Birds mocking tales,” she giggles through parted chapped lips revealing blood stained teeth.
“Turn around,” I say. All I want is for her to look at me, to acknowledge my presence in a world outside of her corner.
And, if our eyes meet, to ask her why she won’t let me join her in a world of her creation.
The doctor says my mother has Alzheimer’s, a word that I’ve learned starts with a sigh and gets caught on the “Z.” I keep the word to myself, letting it linger in every sentence I’m supposed to say but hoard in my mind. When my mother becomes lost in one of her corners, I fill the quiet with the places she might be.
She is 12 with white ribbons braided into pigtails that rest just above her shoulders, the part cutting the surface of her scalp in half revealing hazel skin. Toes send tidal waves along the surface of the lake where she watches her brother drown. She swallows her words for two years, believing that if a cry for help does nothing to save a life, what’s the point in speaking. When she decides to speak again, she will always twist the story of her brother’s death to match her mood or to gage the amount of emotional stress those around her can handle.
My mother loathes pity in all its forms.
She is 14 with a white ribbon twisting around her pointer finger, hazel skin her father loves, turning purple and cold. Toes send tidal waves along the surface of the lake where she watches him stand in the shallows, talking with bullfrogs and fireflies instead of going to work. She watches him go, carrying his brown leather suitcase with holes and handle patched with duct tape hanging from his side, beyond the screams of her mother followed by the clang of pots and pans crashing into walls and shattering windows. Beyond the lake, until she is left wondering why he left her behind amongst the sounds of the bullfrog songs he also claimed to love.
She is 18 watching a white ribbon float on the lake’s surface, blades of grass scratching her hazel skin. She glances at her mother through the kitchen window every time the sun catches the glass, knowing her mother will keep on drinking until her anger feels fair, scream until there is nothing left but to face the darkness that awaits her. She watches her mother’s shadow fade in the kitchen window, wonders how many steps her father took before he felt safe enough not to look back. She counts how many steps it takes to be free from her mother, not knowing that, even after her mother dies, the counting never stops.
She is 30 watching her baby play with a white ribbon in her fist, fingernails occasionally scratching her hazel skin. Sunlight punctures storm clouds, soaking them in raindrops large enough to create their own lakes and tidal waves, washing away what remains of her past. She thrives outdoors, listening to the sweet songs of Cardinals and Bluejays, her child matching the movements of her lips. Neither of them knowing she has already lived half her life.
“Tell me where you are,” I ask again and this time she glances at me.
At least, this is what I hope for.
In the world I create for us, I am four years old. An age where I am able to speak while knowing the pleasures of being carried and napping in the warm crook of my mother’s neck. She keeps stories of her brother from me, her father and mother becoming tender figures she models herself after. I ask her any question that comes to mind, fingers tracing her unchapped lips before cradling her hazel cheeks in my palms.
And she responds, not with fingernail clicks, but with arms that embrace me. Chokes the life out of songs by shattering the high notes and out-of-tune attempts to remember all the words. Who sees me. Hears me, and makes me believe that all the love is still there.
Without her voice.
Without her mind.
But this is not the world she has left me for.
Her teeth release her lip, gnashing with rage inside her cheeks. Her mouth quivers, body stiffening in my grasp. The clicks come in rapid succession sending signals I don’t understand.
“Please,” the words catch somewhere in my chest and everything I’ve hoarded threatens to come out at once but instead, I let them stir in my mind.
My mother has Alzheimer’s and has forgotten my name. No, she’s forgotten more than that. She is lost and I can’t reach her because she no longer knows who I am, who I was, who we were. And, because of this, I can no longer find her.
“Tell me where you are,” because I’m afraid to be without you.
Her lips part and, for a moment, I think my name somehow lingers on the edge, wanting to invite me in.
K.B. Carle lives outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and earned her MFA from Spalding University’s Low-Residency program in Kentucky. When she is not exploring the realms of speculative, jazz, and historical fiction, K.B. avidly pursues misspelled words, botched plot lines, and rudimentary characters. Her work can be found in The Offbeat, Fiction Southeast, The WomenArts Quarterly Journal, and FlashBack Fiction. For more information visit her at http://kbcarle.wordpress.com/ or follow her on Twitter @kbcarle.