“You didn’t like naps when you were little,” Mama said, removing the throw pillows from my bed and stacking them atop the chaise lounge. “I guess that comes in handy at work, huh? You know, at naptime? Oh, that’s right, you can’t answer me,” she said with a giggle.
Mama was enjoying this. She could say whatever she wanted, and I couldn’t talk back. She was right. Even now I hated naps, but I welcomed a break from her.
Mama had been talking incessantly since we got back to my house. She’d already cleaned every surface in my condo—twice. She was high on feeling needed, although I didn’t want her help. Summer vacation was almost over, and school started next week. I’d have a new class of kindergartners, but Mama wouldn’t. She’d retired in May, and she wasn’t adjusting well.
Worried my persistent hoarseness over the past few weeks might be serious, Mama drove up from Savannah last night and insisted on taking me to see my primary care doctor this morning. He said the hoarseness was probably caused by overuse from teaching and coaching cheerleading this summer, but he recommended vocal rest at least until I could see a specialist tomorrow afternoon. Mama, ever the dutiful caregiver and also the person in the world most likely to make me want to scream, insisted on staying over to ensure my compliance.
We still had twenty-four hours until the appointment. It was too soon to pick a fight with her, so I smiled and fluttered my eyelashes playfully as she readied my bed.
“I know you’re being sarcastic. You’re not fooling me,” she snapped, holding up the sheets and comforter like she did when she tucked me in when I was a child. “You’re never satisfied. Everything I do gets on your nerves.”
I snatched the bed linens from her and got into bed. It was bad enough to hear her perpetual criticism, but it was killing me that I had to stay silent. I cut my eyes at her, and she stepped back.
A move like that would’ve bought me a spanking through my early teens, the kind where we’d both be out of breath from her chasing me up and down the long hallway between the kitchen and my bedroom. Now almost twice her age when she gave birth to me, I was far too old for spankings, even if she still saw me as a kid.
“Fine, I was just trying to help you,” she mumbled as she walked away.
I pulled the covers over my head, wondering what Mama might get into without my supervision. She was probably going through my stuff like she used to when I was growing up. I tried to relax, but I couldn’t fall asleep. Our fight played over and over in my mind, and I kept thinking of Sunday School lessons from my childhood.
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long.”
“Obey your parents, for this is right.”
“Listen to your father who gave you life,and do not despise your mother when she is old.”
The longstanding tension between Mama and me had become insufferable. I needed to do something different, but I didn’t know what. I texted my brother.
Can you come get your mother?
I told you I stay out of that stuff.
You’re just going to tell me to listen to her.
Nope. All I’ll say is stop talking.
I’m not! I can’t!
Stop yelling at me. Do what I do with Dad. Men don’t have this problem. We just hang out.
I don’t like golf.
Stop being difficult. Dad’s right, you’re just like Mama.
I thought you said y’all don’t talk.
We play golf. Sometime words slip in.
I don’t want to play with her.
Just do something together and see what happens—and stop worrying about talking.
But what kind of relationship is that to have with your mother?
It’s more peaceful than this.
My brother was usually right, so I decided to try. I remembered that Mama had left her adult coloring books and colored pencils here when she visited a few months ago. I placed them in front of her on the coffee table in my living room, the glass glistening from a fresh cleaning.
“You’re throwing your mother out?” she yelled.
Taking a deep breath, I shook my head. Then I sat next to her on the couch and hugged her.
Mama was reluctant at first. Then she squeezed me tight, lingering until I could feel the stress fall from her shoulders.
I grabbed a coloring book and spread the rainbow pencils between us. Mama chose one too. She flipped through several pages and finally settled on a sheet with two large butterflies. Before she started coloring, she went into my office and then quickly returned with a large piece of masking tape across her mouth. She looked proud.
I nodded in approval. I knew she must have gone through my desk earlier to find that tape so fast, but I just smiled and colored.
Rosey Lee is a New Orleans native who lives in Atlanta. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Necessary Fiction, Bending Genres, Turnpike Magazine, and elsewhere. Her flash fiction chapbook, Beautiful, Complicated Family, will be released in late 2019. Follow her at roseyleebooks.com and @roseyleebooks on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.