It’s my first time in the house since my mother died.
It feels the same as it always has, and yet it feels different. The physical house is the same, but it feels like the soul has been sucked out of it. I can see dust motes hanging in the air. I can feel her absence. There is no life here anymore.
It’s only been a week since the funeral. I’m surprised I’m already back here. I have the impulse to clean, but I know I’d only strain myself for no reason. We haven’t figured out what we’re even doing with this place yet. No one wants to move in. As if it’s haunted.
I walk through the kitchen into the pantry and nearly vomit as soon as I open the door. There’s plenty of food in here, and some of it must have gone off by now. I pinch my nose and step back into the kitchen, shutting that away for another time. I can’t be lifting and carrying things in my current state.
The kitchen is tiled in orange and brown, bathed in afternoon sunbeams streaming in from the window above the sink. One of the last things she said to me before she died was that, should I be missing her quite terribly, all I need do is look out the kitchen window.
The kitchen window overlooks the garden, where I so often used to see her tending to the rose bushes, pulling weeds, or sitting on the bench reading a book. I walk up to the sink and look out at the garden. I can see the rose bushes, unwatered, and the empty bench. A solitary snail wriggles along the back of the bench, making slow progress along the grainy wood.
I miss you, I think to myself.
A cool wind blows through the foliage. Then, the glass shimmers. The garden morphs. Becomes different, more vibrant. It looks like how I remember it looking when I was a child.
Then, as if stepping out of my memory, I see my mother walk into the garden.
She is younger. Her hair is brown, not gray. She walks over to the rose bushes and leans over. She sniffs them. She smiles. She’s alive.
She walks over to the bench and I notice that she has a book tucked under her arm. Slaughterhouse-Five. She sits down and opens the book about halfway on a late page. She places her bookmark delicately beside her, and the sight of its brown tassel nearly bowls me over.
This is exactly how I remember her. Sitting out there, surrounded by flowers and sunlight, reading a book. Undisturbed by the world around her, a natural part of the garden. As if she’s one of the plants, growing through the seat of the bench. She tucks a strand of unruly brown hair behind her ear.
Are my eyes playing tricks on me or am I actually seeing into the past? I thought she was just being sentimentally metaphorical when she told me I would see her out here, but here she actually is. Alive and young, in the back garden.
I realise that I am gripping the sink so tight that my knuckles are turning white. I take a deep breath to steady myself, resting my hands on my belly, and look back out the window.
A small child runs into the garden from where the kitchen should be, and I realise that it’s me. I’m wearing my favourite t-shirt from back then, the one I lost on a holiday abroad. It’s a deep navy blue, with a simple red, white and yellow drawing of a boat on the front.
My mum looks up from her book, as the younger me splays her fingers out wide and touches her thumb to her chin twice - “Mommy!”
She runs up to my mom, who puts down her book and smiles broadly. She picks her up in her arms and places her beside her on the bench. I must have only been about six or seven. Why don’t I remember this?
My mother chops her hands on top of each other - “Window.” The younger me turns around and stares wide-eyed into the window. Directly at me. Oh my god, can she see me?
Wait, I do remember this. I remember looking into the kitchen window and seeing a strange woman in there, but when I ran into the kitchen she was gone. My mom never explained what happened that day, she just smiled and shook her head whenever I brought it up. Eventually I stopped asking until I forgot, but it’s all coming back to me now.
The younger me grins a big toothy grin and waves at me. I raise my hand to wave back and realise that my entire body is trembling. I choke out a sob as my hand vibrates out a greeting. My mom smiles and waves too. I can see it in her eyes. She knows what context I am seeing her in right now.
I tap my fists on my chest - “I love you.” She curls her fingers and taps her forehead - “I know.”
I almost trip over myself rushing out into the garden, but she’s not there. Of course she isn’t. Just the grass and the rose bush and the snail wiggling along the lonely bench. I turn around and look back through the window into the kitchen. But it’s different once again.
I can see a woman, facing away. It’s not my mother, or a young me. Then, she turns around to look at me and see that it’s an older me this time.
Not much older, maybe five or six years. Slightly thinner hair, slightly drier skin, but still recognisably me/ She looks directly at me, and I see recognition dawn in her eyes. She must be remembering what I’m experiencing now.
She points at me, then runs the side of her hand against her open palm twice - “You’ll be okay.”
My hand shoots to my mouth. I feel every sob reverberate through my body. My mother knew since that day that I would have that moment with her through the window, even after she was gone. She didn’t know what followed after, but she must have known of the possibility. I feel like I’m about to faint.
Then, someone else joins me in the kitchen. It’s a young girl. I can barely see her head peeking up over the window. She has brown hair tied into pig-tails. She must be five or six years old.
Future me runs her hand down her belly - “Hungry?” The young girl nods enthusiastically and starts running around the kitchen tapping her chin over and over again - “Food! Food! Food! Food!”
My hand goes to my belly. I feel the baby kick. I’ll be okay.