Hope and My Dead Mother
Mother never liked insects.
She would always criticize my interest in spiders, which was unintentional. Yet she gave me a book about them for Christmas. I accepted it, of course.
Ever wonder why spiders have eight legs? I think the explanation’s simple: each leg represents hope. Hope for good fortune, hope for love, hope for good health, and hope for humanity―times two. But what do I know? I’m just a ten-year-old boy.
Sometimes spiders need that much hope, you know? Maybe even more would do them well. They are very unfortunate animals, for constantly they undergo change and are always viewed at a negative perspective. Like typically, all a spider ever encounters in life is a smack from a person’s body part or something far worse like a New York Times newspaper roll.
Mother never liked the hospital.
The rooms are too cold, she told me on the iron bed, and the nurses talk to me like I’m dysfunctional. But I’m not confused, she added, I know what I’m doing and I know perfectly well what’s going to happen.
I didn’t know why she was there. I didn’t know she cried in the middle of the night. I didn’t know she was dying on that iron bed, each second a step closer to the end.
The thing about mother was that she never hoped. Mother always knew. And if she knew that she was dying, she would think there was no possible way to prevent it. To her, the iron bed was her death bed, and that was final. She had no hope. No faith.
I don’t know why mother was like this. She never told me. But, unlike her, I had hope. I hoped she would hope as much as I did.
But I was eight then. If anyone was dysfunctional it was me. Evening visits to the hospital were like field trips to me; an excuse for an early dismissal from school.
When father told me, we were having lunch at Five Guys. I cried. I cried unabashedly at my father, who was having a difficult time keeping himself together. I was enraged; I screamed and slapped the table several times in agony. Father was mortified, mostly because each pair of eyes in the restaurant averted to us. He ordered me another fry cup to calm me down.
I did calm down, but only because I was busy shoving fry after fry in my little mouth. I was still shocked and terrified. My fingers trembled ferociously, nearly knocking my entire meal off the table.
Minutes of silence later, father rose to go to the bathroom. He told me to stay at the table, and not to talk to strangers. I nodded unseeingly and he left.
I’m a very obedient child, you see. I follow orders frequently. Mother always praised my discipline. I didn’t receive any awards from her, like a cookie or an iTunes gift card, but her smile and thanks were pleasing enough. Her smile had a phosphorescence that lingered a while after. It was contagious. I liked it so much, it was intoxicating.
When father left, I broke the rules. Sneakily, I slid out of my seat, and casually pranced to the exit. I waited for the door to slam shut before breaking into a run. Unwillingly, I thought of mother’s grin, and her crystal white teeth, and the soft curls in her hair. Whenever I watched her hair bounce up and down as she walked, I internally wished I was a girl so I could braid it without humiliation. She treated her curls like pearls; fragile and precious things. The memory hurt me like a stab to the heart.
Mother never liked spiders.
I did. You know I saw a black spider that day? The day I ran away from Five Guys? It took my breath away how it could effortlessly climb up a tree trunk and stick to the leaves. When it made its web and swung swiftly from its string, I caught it.
I caught it, and I could feel its bones crumble against my skin. It was soggy, and wet, and when I opened my fist, I saw how its body segments were scattered randomly; its head laid an inch away from its stomach.
It was shocking how I didn’t pity the poor creature. But I couldn’t get any sympathy out of my system. I shoved the dead thing in my back pocket, and walked back to Five Guys. I missed my father.
As I approached the building, I saw father standing outside facing the door. His hands were digging into his hair and for a second I thought he might pull it all out. I called for him, and when he turned, I could see it all.
I could see the struggle and the pain he felt. I could see the desperation to be with his wife. I could see the anger and humiliation of how he didn’t help her enough. I could see father, but as a dysfunctional child along with me.
His chest fell as he released a long breath, and he opened his arms. I responded, and embraced him with all the sadness of these last few hours.
Mother never liked funerals.
She had to attend this one though. She was the one dead. Her coffin was auburn, and the handles were golden and shiny. Looking at them, I could see my reflection. My brown hair slicked back like a flat pancake, my blue eyes wet and red from white tears, my dark circles from restless nights, and the bouquet of yellow tulips clenched in my hand.
Mother loved tulips.
My family and I each had our own bouquet of flowers to place beside mother. I picked the tulips, because I knew she loved tulips, and because they were the only ones that smelled good.
I watched as father made his way up to his wife. The woman he loved more than life itself. I noticed how his shoulders slumped and his strides were stumbles and I wanted to reach out to him. But he needed this time alone with mother.
He stood there for a while, and didn’t cry, but I did see him sniffle and blink simultaneously. When he was done, he nodded, like he was answering her. Then he motioned a hand towards me, and I shuffled over.
Mother loved makeup.
No, I didn’t bring her lipstick, but as I came closer to her, I began remembering the entire things mother loved in life. I became closer with her than I’ve ever been.
Mother loved books.
Mother loved music.
Mother loved birds.
I knelt down and gingerly placed the bouquet beside her. I could almost feel her smile.
Mother loved yoga pants.
Mother loved jingling bells.
Mother loved puppies and kittens.
Mother loved Kraft mac and cheese.
I reached into my back pocket and pulled out the dead spider. When dad saw it, his eyes grew wide and he cleared his throat.
I knew he thought the fact that his son carried a dead spider at a funeral was peculiar, but I knew what I wanted to do.
Mother never liked spiders.
But I wanted her to have hope.
I gathered the spider’s eight legs and split it into groups of four. Then I rested four beside mother. Once I finished putting them down. I turned to face dad.
Without checking for approval, I grabbed his hand, opened it palm up, and put the other four legs there.
Have hope father, I said as I folded his fingers over. Hope will keep us together.
Father looked at me like he’d never seen me before. I waited patiently for him to yell at me, since I was giving mother a dead insect. But instead, tears filled his eyes, and one rolled down his cheek. I leaned into him, and he wrapped his other arm around my shoulder.
We stood there together, and we had hope. Hope for the best, because mom was no longer here with us.
Mother never liked spiders.
But I hope she will someday.
Like what you just read? Please hit the ‘recommend’ button and subscribe to our digital magazine about creativity and beyond, Inklings.