Motherhood

Aisling O'Connell

        Parentucellia Viscosa, also known as the Yellow Bartsia, is a common wildflower in Ireland. It can be found in damp places and wet meadows. Once a year, yellow flowers grow from its sticky and hairy limbs. It is native and thrives on disturbance. The Parentucilias Viscosa population has decreased in the south-east. It is a parasitic plant.


1

        The man on the TV has just spent twenty-five euro on a copper soap dish. He believes it will make a profit. “You can never go wrong with copper,” he tells the camera with a smile. I shake my head at the screen; he should have gone with the silver one. These past three hours have taught me this. I am in the corner of this room, sitting on a tired, cream couch. Tired because if you look under the sheep cushions and knitted blanket, the little creases in the leather have begun to crack. You know this is a new Irish house as the fireplace is fake and there is a picture of JFK on the wooden paneling. My mother sits in a matching cream love seat, looking at her own mother. She is holding her hand. I hear edges of a conversation. My mother asks how my grandmother slept. "Terribly," she barks. "I could not stop coughing."

        I look away from the TV. My cousins were always jealous that there were more photos of me than them up on those walls. They are all from when I was younger, clear skinned and happy. I was not yet at that stage in life that we all try to forget. Adults pack teenage years away, only to bring them out as a party trick. It is no wonder I am ashamed. The man has realized his mistake with the copper. He lost 4 euro. His loss makes me smile. Again, I hear my mother ask how my grandmother slept. "Wonderfully," she says with a smile. It is almost an improv game where one must come up with a completely contradictory answer and everyone else must play along, except my Grandmother does not know she is playing.

        A sudden exclamation from her, "What a beautiful darling young girl you are!" I try to smile back. I no longer focus on the answers. They don’t make sense either way. Often times, I am nothing more than my beautiful eyes.

        This room is the only place silence creeps up on me. I have never been one to talk much, but at least then it is a purposeful silence. Here, it is a silence none of us want. There is nothing more we could possibly talk about. I watch my mother. Her eyes also focus on the screen. "Now THIS is a beauty," the man exclaims at a china plate.

        There is one place in my grandmother’s house that I like. I know it is not really her house; she did not pick it or buy it, nor does she own it. But I called it Granny’s house before I learned about adult troubles and debates, and so it remained hers. The place I adore is not really in her house either. Rather, it is outside: her garden. It surrounds the house with flowers in the front and the back. She used to pick out and plant them all herself. Becoming pregnant at 18 out of wedlock caused her to drop out of school and never finish her dream of becoming an art teacher. These flowers beame her canvas. My mother would go to her for advice. I have new geraniums but the beetles are getting to one of the plants. Should I move them indoors? What is the name of the red flowers I used to love? Where should I buy hanging potters? The deer have been eating the hostas!  I used to sit and look at the plants while she would tell me their names, Latin and common. Because of the stroke that took out her left side, she can no longer plant them herself. My aunt plants now, with her direction, but it is not quite the same. Fairies no longer hide under the lilies, but maybe that is just my age talking.

        We’re leaving now. My grandmother whispers into my ear as I hug her. I lean back and look at her. She is smaller than me now, with colored red hair and eyes that are just as blue as they were in her youth. These colors pop against the blandness of the rest of her life.  I nod and smile. I have no idea what she said. I have long since stopped trying to figure out her jumbled words.

        As we sit down in the car, I ask my mother, "How did you sleep last night?" She chuckles politely as she normally does at my jokes, then a laugh bursts out. She can’t stop for a few seconds, wiping a few tears from her eyes as she finishes. She turns to me and is suddenly serious. "I hate her," she whispers to me. "I want her to die."

        She has told me a horrible secret. It sits in the air, heavy. The old and their burdens, I want her to know I understand. I am fourteen years old and I know it is all right to hate your mother when you have become hers.


2

        I am a secret patriot. I claim the US as entirely my own despite the fact that my country has committed atrocities and is scarred and broken. Deep down, however, I believe it to be good. I have that innocent and long held optimism that only immigrants and those close to them have. Ireland is not my home, nor will it ever be, but on the Fourth of July, I am in the waiting room of a hospital there. It is my grandmother again. My brother is scared and I am resentful. One visitor is allowed in the room at the time, so my Aunt and mother are taking turns sitting next to my grandmother’s still, sleeping body. She has fallen again, slipping on the beige tiles that unevenly line her kitchen floor. There is absolutely nothing to do in this waiting room. I think about how my children will treat me when I get older. I can’t bring myself to care.

        We are used to this, my brother and I, although we have never been this close.

        My mother shifts awake in the plastic hospital chair next to me. She looks so, so tired. She walks through the doors that my brother and I have yet to pass through, towards the room where my grandmother rests. I turn to my brother. He doesn’t seem to notice my mother’s absence, too busy staring at the vending machine. I realize that neither of us has eaten anything in nine hours.

        We finally leave the hospital at my Aunt’s insistence that my brother and I need food. I sit in the still unfamiliar left passenger seat of the car and fiddle with the radio station. There are only three good stations here and all of them play ads.

        We are taken to a Johnny’s Rockets, the Irish version of an American restaurant. There are bright neon signs, pictures of cars and long open highways, and plenty of American flags. The menu is filled with variations on the same burger and different milkshake flavors. A waitress, wearing a red and white pinstripe uniform that makes her pale skin look a sickly yellow, comes to take our order. As my brother and I sip on our vanilla milkshakes, I watch my mother push around the fries on her plate. She pours out some ketchup into the corner, sticks her finger into it, and paints a small face in the corner. She smiles for the first time that night.


3

        We sit at our kitchen table, munching on cereal, while our mother relates the latest drama. Granny yelled at the caregiver today. Aunt Fiona took Granny out the mall and she called the store clerk the N word. Granny is going on antibiotics again. Granny forgot her own name. I read the back of the cereal box and nod along to the plights. In and out of the hospital, it’s a constant cycle. When people ask if my grandparents are alive, I say both on my mother’s side are dead. She stopped living a long time ago.

        Today is Grandparents and Special Friends Day at school. I assume they added the "Special Friends" part for people who are like me. When I am dropped off, there is a photographer taking photos of all the other kids and their grandparents. Right before lunch, in exactly the middle of eighth grade English, as we debate the religious symbolism in the Old Man and the Sea, there is a special performance for the grandparents and their grandchildren in the gym. I am one of three kids who cannot go and has to remain in class. We were supposed to continue with the lesson, but I guess the teacher felt sorry for us because she let us go on our phones instead.

        The class ends and I linger as I pack up my bag. I don’t want to sit at a table with kids and their adoring grandparents as they eat the specially prepared lunch, soft and catered towards the elderly. My teacher notices my slow movements. "You know they just do this to raise money for the school. They never do this at public school." I nod. She mistakes my reluctance for sadness when really it is jealousy. I am jealous not that these kids have grandparents, but that their Moms and Dads have parents.


4

        I stare at the bright yellow M in the Walmart sign. It periodically flashes off for a few moments before turning back on again. I wonder when someone will fix it. I believe my mother pulled in here thinking we would be alone, but there are always cars here. It is 2 a.m. and she has picked me up from a friend’s house where I was supposed to spend the night. We had been sharing stupid secrets over popcorn and sour skittles.

        “She's dead,” she tells me. She’s not crying, but instead sits heavily in her seat, her back pressed against the black leather. I know she is thinking deeply; my mother is smarter than she lets on.

        “Your sister?” My mother’s only close relation in this world, even over my father, is her sister.

        “No, Granny.

        Those are the last words she speaks to me before the tears begin. My mother cries and cries. I tap her arm in a funny little pattern in my own pitiful attempt at comfort and stare at the M as it blinks out once again. It doesn’t come back. I wonder why she cries at this woman that took away her life.

        My mother has convinced herself that the reason she has picked me up at 2 a.m. is that any granddaughter should want to know immediately about such an important death. I believe I know the truth; she did not want to be alone.


5

        Years later, I am sitting alone in the living room. A black cat sits on my lap as I watch a gardening show. I think it is about a man who goes around to people’s gardens and fixes them. It is not a good show, but it is late and I am lonely. The woman whose garden he is supposed to be fixing suddenly begins to cry when he rips up the weeds that she has let grow over the dead red rose bush that was hidden underneath. The garden is ugly, but I understand. The Parentucellia Viscosa, it never really lets you go.