Mother; Amongst Other Things

Bella Rough

Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cavendish Road State High School

Fiction

Mother stands behind the kitchen counter, a bobbling bust reflecting on the linoleum horizon. A small child with his father’s eyes stands beneath her, picking at the fraying hem of her homemade skirt. Her waist is enviously small, her face covered in a thick film of makeup that her husband wished she hadn’t wasted money on but hated when she didn’t wear. The father-eyed child emerges from underneath Mother and forms a bubble of spit in his toothless mouth. She bakes, mixing flour and water or whatever else she thinks sounds like it might be written in one of those glossy magazines. There is sugar on the countertop, egg yolk coating her fingers, and flour caked beneath her polished nails.  The spit bubble bursts. She parts her red lips and smiles a smile of clenched teeth as the children crunch on their eggshell cake. The fluorescent light in the kitchen is piercingly bright and Mother’s daily migraine rattles against the inside of her brain.  It’s all too much. “Mother is exceptionally weary, children, and must take her leave at once,” she stutters. She exits through the hallway entrance, and – for a moment – the archway frames her in a sort of picture, frozen in time. But Mother scurries away once more and avoids the probing glare of normality. Mother is hiding. Shhhhh! Mother is hiding now, and you mustn’t disturb her.


In the quiet of her bedroom, Mother stares into the mirror propped against her wooden vanity. Roses, encased in a vase, once rested atop the pine structure but have since died. All the embellishments that Mother had used to obscure the stark reality of two-bedroom-outer-suburb-worn-carpet-real-estate have slowly wilted and decayed, and in their absence leave the haunting memory of something once worth preserving. “What’s the point of buying flowers if they’re just going to die anyway?” Father protests. Mother knows that it wouldn’t make much of a difference – this house seems to be teeming with dead things…


A mouse is caught in a trap that was set. Its body is warm when Mother touches it, but it certainly seems dead. Its little rodent hands open in a sort of biblical expression of martyrdom. Mother wonders whether it had grown fond of the house; whether it, after a long day at the office, had expected to put up its little mouse feet and be greeted by a cold beer and a hot meal. Imagine poor Mrs. Mouse, why she had slaved away over that roast all day only to find her dearest husband; good, kind, gentle Mr. Mouse – sweet, handsome, loving Mousey – murdered and twitching on the blood-stained shag carpet. It mustn’t have been nice to be killed in your own home, but then it probably wouldn’t matter much to the mouse now, Mother reasons. “Do all mice go to heaven?” asks a daughter drowning in her second-hand dress. Mother blinks and smiles.


“Of course, darling, Mr. Mouse is up there right now waiting for his darling wife to hurry up and bring out the pudding.”


Mother sees the cross that hangs above her bed and smiles wryly. Oh, what to pray for tonight?...


She prays for love. The sickly-sweet kind that drips from her lips and coats her words in sugary romanticism. Her youthful hands grip the cross that lays against her freckled chest and her eyes squeeze shut with determination. Behind pink eyelids she sees beating hearts and open spaces. She prays for hopeless romance and professions of adoration; songs written in devotion and music played in glorious celebration. She prays that one day he will be jolted from the drunken haze of immaturity, and together they will commit to the spontaneity of passion. He will realise. She knows it. She knows he will because he says he loves her, that they will never sink into the suburban life of preschool and mortgages and home insurance and excitement over new vacuums. One day she won’t have to pray. One day.


She still prays. Mother’s hands are pressed together so tightly that they tremble.  Her knees are red and splotchy, bearing the imprint of the worn carpet. Father, Son, Holy Spirit and all of that. Amen. Mother kneels at the foot of the bed with its starched white sheets taut over the indented mattress. Taut. Tight. No room. This godforsaken room. Mother looks to the photo frames crucified to the wall with such a hateful glare that they all crack. The walls that once brandished their moments of frozen happiness buckle and falter like sheets of paper against the wind. Chunks of plaster and broken ceiling snow down, revealing the darkening sky singed with the memory of the day. Everything has collapsed around her. Mother could get up and go.  Mother could run out into the suburban silence and just about drown in the consuming revelry of freedom. Mother could be Woman again. Woman could be Girl. Yes. Mother could be Girl.  And Girl would grow wings and fly to some distant city, Girl would sing songs and write music and never – never again – stop dancing. And so in the middle of the rubble she rises, a phoenix from the ashes. Mother is reborn in the destruction around her. She sheds the skin of doting wife and caring parent and reveals the glowing body of independence underneath. See how she shines.


She still prays. Her eyes are wide open. The blank walls stare back at her, their starkness unsettling. The photos remain mindlessly smiling into the distance as Mother’s eyelids droop with defeat. Her prayers were never answered before, anyhow. As she labours to her feet, Mother scoffs in dry amusement. A small chuckle that erupts into a hearty cackle. Nothing has ever been funnier. She heaves in painful fits of hilarity and wipes tears from the corner of her eyes. O, Mother! O, Woman! This home cannot be destroyed. O, Girl! O, sweet, young child! This home is more than brick and mortar. It cannot be destroyed. O, Son! O, Daughter! Home is where the heart is, and Mother’s heart is shattered and corroded. Home is a graveyard. It cannot be destroyed. O, me! O, silly me! Home is what you make of it, but what can be made from empty promises? O, Husband! O, Father!


You have buried Mother alive.


Crawling between the crisp sheets, Mother lays motionless, pressed between the white fabric like a corpse awaiting autopsy. Doctor approaches Mother, his scalpel perched between two fingers. He pulls out her liver, corrupted by the years of wine-dependent docility. He slaps her stomach, hollowed out by ravenous anxiety, onto the cold bedside table next to her. Doctor removes her heart, but it shatters like shrapnel throughout her chest cavity. Doctor closes her eyes, stitches her up, and turns off the lights in the cold, empty bedroom as he leaves.


Here lies Mother, in her divine eternal slumber. Tomorrow she will take the children to school, make their lunches, wait patiently for her husband to return home. Yes, she will do all of that, she will just not be alive for it.


Here lies Mother. May she rest in peace.

EDITORIAL PRAISE

The author’s writing balances delicately between neutral narration and a hysterical, desperate voice—and the result is chilling. Disturbing imagery is conveyed through simple, matter-of-fact wording while normality is accompanied by a frenzied despair. This piece calls into question everything that may seem usual or mundane, from the constraints of motherhood to the illusion of suburbia.

Bella Rough attends Cavendish Road State High School in Brisbane, Queensland. She graduated in 2020, and hopes to further her passion for writing by studying journalism or creative writing at university next year.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR