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9 readings


Sasha had no intention of living in her mother’s apartment. It sat above a day care center and a pet shop. Sasha never had children, and she had no intention of buying a pet as a surrogate for not having her own offspring to care for. She even had a slight dislike of children, although she never shared that sentiment with her mother. After her mother passed away, she spent a good part of a month clearing out all the things her mother had accumulated over the last decade, boxes of old clothes her mother never had the heart to give away, furniture her mother had dragged up the stairs to the apartment from around the corner on waste pick up day. A side table painted in a dark green with gold specks that was missing a shelf, a baby crib with the railing missing, a wobbly armchair. Shelves in the kitchen lined with whole-sale plastic containers her mother had kept and refilled with sugar, salt, and basil leaves she had grown on the window sill. She had washed and dried the stalks on a tray in the oven. Sasha caught a whiff of the tangy dried herb as she opened the container.

It was a sad lonely place with paint peeling from the ceiling and the walls after Sasha gave away most of her mother’s things. She scrubbed the floor with Mr. Clean, wiped the doors and sprayed the laminated counters with a bleach solution. Still, she smelled a faint odor of her mother’s rose soap that permeated the air as if her mother was still watching her.

Her mother loved roses and if it weren’t for the East coast winters, she would have only grown roses. Instead, she had to make do with succulents and African violets indoors. Dozens of potted Echeveria of different varieties that Sasha could not name and African violets with blooms of color other than violet sat on wooden planks from crates sitting above the radiators near the windows of the kitchen. Her mother was good with plants, not with people or with Sasha. Sasha was great with people, not so much with plants. With people, she knew how to make them comfortable by being accommodating, courteous, and agreeing with what they said. It was only when people felt threatened or misunderstood that they became difficult to deal with, although Sasha’s mother was difficult to deal with no matter what Sasha did or said.

She remembered what her mother had told her about caring for the African violets. It was a few years ago at about the same time this year. The early evening sun was filtering through the translucent window, casting an amber light over her mother’s gray hair. The window only gave off light through the top windowpanes, since her mother had cut out pieces from an opaque plastic garbage bag, and painstakingly taped each rectangular piece over the bottom pane of all four windows in the apartment. Her mother thought people were spying on her, peering in to check if she was at home or at the casino.
“You live on the second floor, Mother,” Sasha said, and immediately regretted she had said anything.

As expected, her mother became angry. “People can look up! What have I always taught you?” she said. Her mother went on a litany about her neighbor across the hall, a retired veteran, who opened his door and peeked through whenever he heard her mother opening the main entrance door to the building and walking up the stairs, then there was the neighbor downstairs, in 1A, a woman by the name of Tracy who was a security guard and stood at the corner of Lilac and Greenfield streets, wearing her yellow reflective jacket to help children cross the street. Her mother said Tracy was very nosey, Tracy was the one who’d look up to see if she was home, and if she didn’t see any movement, she would ask where she’d been, if she had gone to the Senior center or to the casino when she saw her the following day. Her mother was holding the trimming scissors and punctuated each word and phrase with a sharp movement of the tool. Best not to argue with her, so Sasha responded with “uh huh,” a safe response to her mother’s aggravation which always deviated from the original matter at hand. Sasha waited for her to change subject and talk about her plants like she always did eventually.

“They like light, but not too much, they like to be bunched up like that, like people living on top of each other,” her mother said. With her left finger, she carefully brushed aside a stem and told Sasha to come closer to look. “You see when they get old, young shoots come up, you have to take a razor blade and cut them out, but make sure you take some roots, and you can replant them on a separate pot. Just like normal people, when the plants grow older, they give little baby offspring,” her mother said, frowning and glanced sideways at Sasha.

Sasha had learned to ignore her mother’s innuendos. Sasha was past forty years old, and her relationship with her mother had soured over the last ten years on the subject of children. Her mother couldn’t let go of the thought she’d never have grandchildren. Like a pit bull she held on to that dream, suggesting even that Sasha adopt a child and move in with her, so she would care for the child if Sasha was too busy with her accounting job. Her mother had continued chewing on the subject whenever she could, veering her mostly one-way conversation towards the making of babies or lamenting the lack thereof.

Staring now at her mother’s miniature prickly pears, her population of succulent mix, the deep red and rose-dotted blooms of the African violets, Sasha felt a pinch in her heart. Maybe they—the lucky crowd of Echeveria and flowers that received her mother’s loving tender care—understood her mother more than Sasha ever did.
Sasha had denied and buried the secret relief she had felt when her mother died. It came back and exploded in her chest, tearing bits of her heart apart. It was a tearless pain, her mother taught her well, Sasha was no cry-baby. She took deep breaths.
The rose scent had dissipated. The stinging smell of chlorine was all there was left.


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