Authors: Mary Morris
Vanishing Animals and Other Stories
The Bus of Dreams
Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone
The Waiting Room
Wall to Wall: From Beijing to Berlin by Rail
A Mother's Love
PUBLISHED BY NAN A. TALESE
an imprint of Doubleday, a division of
Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
666 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10103
and the portrayal of an anchor
with a dolphin are trademarks of
Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell
Publishing Group, Inc.
All of the characters in this book are fictitious,
and any resemblance to actual persons, living or
dead, is purely coincidental.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A mother's love/Mary Morris.â1st ed.
p.Â Â Â cm.
PS3563.O87445M68Â Â Â Â 1993
813â².54âdc20Â Â Â Â Â 92-25031
Copyright Â© 1993 by Mary Morris
All Rights Reserved
To Larry, for everything
I would like to thank my friends John Harbison, Gerard Jacobs, Susan Eve Jahoda, Annette Williams Jaffee, Michael Kimmel, Varley O'Connor, Jodi Picoult, Mary Jane Roberts, Mark Rudman, Rena Shulsky, and my husband, Larry O'Connor, for all their insights during the writing of this book. Also my editor, Nan A. Talese, Jesse Cohen, Diane Marcus at Doubleday, Frances Apt for her scrupulous copy editing, and Amanda Urban, Marie Behan, and Sloan Harris at International Creative Management for all their support. And my parents, Sol and Rosalie Morris, for always being there.
EFORE SHE LEFT, my mother used to practice her leaving on me. She'd say, “Come on. Let's go for a ride.” “What about Sam?” I'd ask, for I always wanted my sister, Samantha, along. But Sam was not yet five, and my mother would drop her off at Dottie's trailer before heading with me into the desert. We'd get into the car and my mother would drive. She'd put the radio on High Desert Rock, roll down the windows, and sing all the way. Her raven hair was still long and straight then. I'd rest my head back, a girl of no more than seven, feeling the wind through my own dense red curls, wishing that I had my mother's thick, black hair.
After a while I'd just sit beside her in the passenger seat and stare at the desert, across the expanse of dust and sand. It was as if we were living on the edge of the moon and not in the state of
Nevada. The light moved across the contours of the arid red land and its beauty was otherworldly. At times it was a soft pink like a baby's flesh. At other times it appeared as if the world were on fire.
My mother would drive until she found a scenic place where she wanted to stop. She'd peer into the bottom of canyons and toss pebbles down the dark crevasses, counting the seconds until we heard the plop as they hit. Or she'd stand at the rim of the meteorite crater and gaze across its cavernous hole. The meteorite craterâthat gaping scar a few hours from where we livedâwas her favorite place to go. “Just think,” she'd say, “some big stone came flying out of space and made this hole. Think of the power of the thing that did that.” The meteorite itself had disintegrated when it struck. Scientists suspected that a piece of it was left in the southern slope, but no one had ever found it, though sometimes my mother dug with a stick as if she were looking.
She liked to walk the rim of the crater. She'd say, “You wait here, Ivy. It's too far for you,” and she'd leave me sitting on a bench, the wind whipping my face until tears slipped from the corners of my eyes. She'd head out on the trail that meandered along the rocky ridge for some three miles. My mother wandered, her body growing smaller and smaller as she followed the sometimes treacherous path. If she wore a dress, the wind from the
crater would get under the skirt, making it billow up as if it could carry her away like a spore. When she reached the other side, my now diminished mother would wave and wave. I'd wave back, motioning her to return; she seemed so small and insignificant there on the other side of the crater of that meteorite which upon impact had wiped out every form of life for miles and years to come.
It has been twenty-five years since I saw my mother on the lip of the meteorite crater. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Often I have thought of her leaving as if it were a story told to me by someone else. At other times I have wondered if my life hasn't shaped itself around this single event. Still, there were years when she hardly came to mind. But when I was pregnant with Bobby, my mother floated from the safe place where I had tucked her. As I lay awake during the darkened nights, she came back to haunt me.
I thought of her especially after Bobby was born when his cries woke me and I could not get back to sleep. Often he only wanted to be comforted, because he wasn't hungry or wet. It seemed as if he were afraid of something. I patted his back, rocked him. There, there, I said. It was what the nurse had taught me in the hospital. Pat him to calm him. Put him over your shoulder after he eats. Test his bath water with your elbow. I learned these lessons by rote the way, as a student,
I had once memorized the subjects I did not understand.
One night when Bobby was six weeks old, he woke with a start and it took a long time before I could get him settled down. Then I couldn't get back to sleep. I listened to sounds of people coming up the stairsâthe would-be actress returning from her waitressing job, the bookie who managed the all-night coffee shop. I gazed out the window at the street below. The garbage had been picked through. Beneath my window lay chicken bones, a soiled Kotex, a pair of torn pajamas; on the sidewalk there was a lone shoe. The broken window across the street in the building where the drug dealers lived was boarded up now. Just the week before a naked man, blood streaming from his wrists, had stood in its smashed window frame, shouting, “Bruce! Bruce!” Christlike he'd stood, five stories up, while disembodied voices called, “Jump! Jump!”
Throwing open the window, I thrust my body outside. A cold breeze blew in. Craning my neck, I tried to look up. The city loomed, casting an eerie light on the clouds. If only I could see above the houses, I told myself. If only I could see the sky. I could hear Bobby breathing heavily in the middle of the unmade bed. Pulling myself back into the room, I put my face beside his. His skin smelled of talcum powder and perspiration. When he sweat, he smelled like a puppy. I pulled the cover across
him, but he did not stir. We'd been like this for days, for weeks, it seemed, the two of us holed up as if we were on the lam. Running away. But in truth we weren't running. That is, no one was chasing us.
The room was littered with debris from the night beforeâcontainers of Kung Po chicken, Mandarin eggplant, bottles of beer, milk cartons. On a milk carton the face of a missing child stared at me. Since Bobby was born, I'd thought a lot about the missing, the vanished, the disappeared. The other day in a movie house where I'd gone for a matinee, until Bobby's cries sent me out of the theater, a mother and daughter sat down in front of me. They turned to each other in the dim-lit theater, heads bowed together as if in an embrace, silhouetted against the flickering screen.
My mother didn't leave all at once, though that was how it felt when my father snapped his fingers together, explaining to some acquaintance what had occurred. “Gone,” he'd say, the click of his fingers piercing my ear. “Just like that.” But I knew it wasn't a sudden leaving. It had happened over months and yearsâa rehearsed, choreographed event. My mother lived like an army on constant alert, prepared at any moment to take up arms, advance, evacuate. I knew this, but I never told my father. I always assumed she'd take me with her when she went.
Instead, she took my sister, Sam. I heard from them at firstâa postcard from here and thereâbut I never saw them again. The postcards came from places like Sioux City, the Wisconsin Dells, or Idaho Falls, with no return address. She'd send a picture of a water slide, a dinosaur park. On them she'd scrawl absurd things about the landscape or what they were doing. On one she wrote, “They have great French fries here.”
I've tried to remember the last time I saw them, but I have no memory of it. It could have been over breakfast or in the schoolyard. They could have been dressed in skirts or slacks. There was probably the usual flurry of activityâmy mother's hurried kiss good-bye, a lunchbox pressed into my reluctant fist. In a sense it was as if my mother was always gone, so her physical departure didn't matter that much. She seemed to fade like a chalk image on the sidewalk after a rain, slowly washing away.
Though I do not remember the night my mother left, I remember things about that night. My father had driven in the evening for Lucky Cabâsomething he did to make ends meetâand I'd gone with him. After his shift, we walked home along Paradise Road, carrying coffee for him and doughnuts for me, laughing about something funny that had happened. A full moon cut a path across the desert as if it were really a road. The planet Mars was on an orbit that brought it closer
to the earth than it had come in two hundred years. It shone overhead like a red, pulsating football. “You'll never see a night like this again,” my father said as we paused.
Then we walked into our trailer on the outskirts of Vegas. The first thing we noticed was that it was clean, which was very rare. The dishes were washed, the beds made. The drawers and closets were neatly arranged, and half of everything they contained was gone. My father trembled as he moved from room to room, through the trailer looking for what was not there. Then he sank into a chair, his head buried forever, it seemed, in his hands.