I hate my grandmother’s apron. I know that’s an odd thought to have on the day of my mother's funeral, but I do. I hate it. Eventually I force my gaze away from it and find myself in the back hallway. Hundreds of photos crammed into dollar store frames, hung clumsily on the wall. This array of photos represents her life from start to finish. I find myself staring particularly long at one of myself. I was nineteen, long brown hair and fire behind my eyes. I thought I was going to be a singer. The photo was taken the same day that I told my parents I was going out to California to start my life. My dad just chuckled, but my mom took this picture to remember me by. I don’t know if she was just humoring me, or if she really hoped I’d go. In any case, I never got on the bus.
Suddenly my husband John snaps me out of a daze. “Are you ready to go home?” I notice the house is no longer bustling with glassy-eyed relatives offering empty condolences. I nod my head yes. As he turns the door knob in front of me my mind wanders back to the apron. “This will be yours one day Maia, just like my mother left it for me”. I can feel her disapproval all the way from heaven. I turn quickly on my heel and grab the damn thing off the pantry hook. I wad it up in my purse, hoping the grease stains aren’t fresh enough to ruin my wallet.
When we finally return home, I make my way to the couch. John is right behind me but stops short as his phone buzzes. He looks at the texts worriedly. “I’m so sorry babe, it’s work. Will you be okay?” I nod yes as he leans down to kiss my forehead.
John and I met just before I turned twenty. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we’ve been together over half of my life now. He is tall and handsome, financially stable. If you saw him walking down the street you would probably say that he is everything that a woman should want in a man.
As he pulls out of the driveway, I realize I haven’t eaten at all today. I make my way to the kitchen to find something to eat and the apron crosses my mind. “Maybe I should pull it out and cook in it”. The thought is enough to make me laugh out loud. A woman like myself wearing that ratty old apron that should have stopped being fixed ten busted seams ago. After dinner I pour myself a glass of wine and finally start to relax.
Before I can think about it, my fingers are tracing the lace border on the stupid apron. I don’t know why my mother loved this thing. Truth be told, I don’t know that she did. Maybe she wore it out of duty. The thought of her living that way is enough to make my stomach turn. All I know is that this apron carries too much history. It holds the grease of countless dinners cooked over hot stoves with kids screaming in the background. Sometimes I feel like I can still smell the fried squash and okra on it.
Those aren’t the memories that make me hate it though. It’s the way the threads seem to have trapped the sound of my father’s yells when my mother spent too much on groceries. It’s the way it twirled every time he spun her around and jerked the spatula out of her hand. It’s the little dark stain down in the corner, the one drop of blood my grandmother couldn’t get out the night my grandfather stayed too long at the bar. There are some sins that detergent can’t quite get out, and this thing holds them all.
I hear the sound of tires on gravel outside and shove the apron back in my purse. John walks through the door with flowers, his usual gesture when he returns after going away unexpectedly. Later that night I lay down beside him but I can’t sleep. I lay there and think about the apron, about my mother, about me. Suddenly John’s phone buzzes on the nightstand one after another, but he doesn’t stir. With every new text I feel a tear stream down my cheek. I know it’s her. I know in the morning he will rush off to “work”, while I pretend that I don’t know. This has been going on for a while now, but tonight feels different.
Tonight every “I love you” that she sends him, every word of affection that she knows she will get from my husband makes my throat close tighter. I squeeze my eyes shut until I see the golden orb-like spots in my eyes. This usually takes my mind off of it, but tonight they’re shaped like the apron. Before I have a chance to change my mind, I am out of bed. I stuff a change of clothes in my bag, slip on my shoes and grab the apron. I look toward my car keys but hesitate. The sound of the car starting will wake him up. The thought of that confrontation is enough to make me start walking.
My feet ache as I push myself forward through the night. I feel like I’m running from something, but I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s John, or the apron, or everything the apron represents. In any case, I’ve got to get away. I can see the sun start to rise before I stop for a moment. The morning fog mixes with the smoke from an old barrel that must have kept someone warm throughout the night. I approach it hoping it might have a little warmth left in it and before I can think, the apron is at the bottom of the can.
I watch as the smallest ember comes back to life and the threads of the apron start to recede around it. I can hear my mother yelling for me to get it out, but this is for her own good. It’s for all of our good. In this final moment with the apron I can’t help but wonder why it did what it did to the women before me, and somehow was also the thing that set me free.
Maybe it had to do with timing. It’s possible that if it had found my own mother on a different day, with her heart broken just a little more it would have been enough. Maybe the apron itself isn’t captivity or freedom, but a tangible piece of the things that were passed down. Maybe the tears dried by each woman alone weren’t enough to leave, but as each new generation added more, it overflowed. I can’t help but wonder if that was why my mother wanted me to have it. Maybe it was her way of telling me the things that she never could bring herself to say. I watched as the fire slowly died down and the last of the smoke dissipated off to the west toward California. Now we are free.
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Hi Tara, Wow this story was beautifully crafted and a well deserved short list. I admire how you focused on the singular object to create a bigger theme. I admit I was disappointed in John because I desperately wanted the cycle to be broken. My favorite detail was about fried okra because that is one of my husband’s favorite dishes. The choice to start it at the funeral was incredibly captivating and I loved how you alternated between the MC’s present experiences and their reflections on the past. Although I didn’t focus too much on the past...
This is very well done. The beginning sparked my interest, and it was very realistic. You did a good job of portraying the character's emotions throughout as well.
I liked the story, and understood the power of that stupid apron that was given to you, and the freedom methapore among the last embers before they die.
Hey Tara, your story is very engaging. I love the way you connected the apron's appearance to the past of the narrator. This was well written and the ending was perfectly justified. Thanks for sharing.
I know the burning of the Apron is symbolic of a larger purpose. The story resonates with me. In particular because of my law enforcement background and the fact that ending domestic abuse has been one of my causes for over a quarter of a century. I have made it a mission to donate money, resources and time to the cause. No one especially women or children should live with violence. Excellent content and alliteration. I can feel the frustration and pain in the content of the story.