Homecoming

Prose

We were always trying to get her attention.

“Your mother is busy,” said our father. “She is an important woman.”

We ignored him. With his leathery hands, and papery skin, eyebrows like raspberry brambles, and eyes like moths wings, we felt he was largely overrated. He came in from the forest, carrying the perfume of dead trees on his husky frame. He stewed vats of potatoes, lumpy wedges of cabbage and onions together for our supper.

We sat at the table and banged on our bowls with our spoons, yelling at him to hurry up, hurry up, we are growing and we are starving.

He was a prop we pushed around and fed to the dog under the table, like the skinny chicken bones he simmered in the stew.

“We want to see our mother.”

“Your mother is busy,” his tired hands, his heavy shoulders slipped like soap under water, drowned by the weight of our many hands, clawing at his flannel top. He fed hot water into the sink basin, and scrubbed the dishes. The water turned his hands into meaty red lobsters.

“Your mother is an important woman.”

He sent us to bed, wailing and shrieking, dragging our slipper fat feet along the wooden floors. We dripped our candle wax on purpose, in splatters that looked like ghosts across the filmy runner.

“We want to see our mother.”

He sent us to bed, and we roiled about on the mattress, tiny vessels on a sea of indignation. We turned the bedclothes inside out and kicked our feet against the pillows. Our father climbed the stairs, one at a time, his heavy footfalls, thud, thud, thumping against the wood. He asked us once, nicely, to lay properly.

We did not respect weakness. We did not honor fear and we smelled it on him. Our noses, pink and sharp, sniffed it out. We were wolves, untamed, and ferocious.

With a strong, gentle motion, he tipped us under the covers, smoothing the goose down comforter with his tombstone hands.

When he was gone, down the hall to his room, we crept from the covers, peering out the window, twelve little hands in a row, fingers like caterpillars. Would she arrive, tonight? Would she come in a cart, or on a horse? Would she arrive in a tulip bulb or the center of an apple? Or would she come the same way the other mothers came, trussed like a goose in a nightgown?

We waited, our feet chilling on the bare floor, our PJ pants too short to cover our goose-pimpled ankles.

“We want to see our mother.”

We whispered, a short puff of steamy, weepy breath that clouded over in the air that fogged out of our mouths.

“We want to see our mother.”

At midnight, we knew, our father went to fetch her. Our sticky ears pressed to the sill, where we had dozed, restlessly, we heard our father land long footfalls on the stairs. Down quickly and up slowly. We watched him enter the back door with her, a lean lump in his dirty grey bag. We heard the thud, thud, thud of her body behind him as he ascended.

We held our breath, pulled in our cheeks like guppies. Would she come for us, tonight?

Two lines of grey dust appeared before our eyes. The window spun open, our ears began to ring in hand bells. We heard his coffin door open, felt it meet its hinges in reverberations. Her voice, muffled from within the fabric, called out to us like swan song.

“We want to see our mother.”

In the crack of bones and the shriek of sirens, we held each other closer, closer, closer.

“We want to see our mother.”

“Your mother is busy,” his growl rose from the floorboards, from the walls.

“She is an important woman.”