My mother sent a birthday card to Fred yesterday. I saw her familiar writing – blue and loopy – amongst the chopped onions on the counter as Fred was cooking, and reached for it. “Oh, my mother sent me something,” I said, surprised Fred hadn't mentioned it.
“Actually, she sent me something,” Fred said. It was a postcard mailed inside an envelope with a few sentences about the weather. She said it is still very hot where she is, and inside I cringe a little, the cringe I do always at the thought of any suffering she might be enduring. It is an old habit.
The first time I felt it was in boarding school, lying in bed one night, a single bed in a narrow cubicle, separated from the corridor by a curtain, in a long line of curtained-off cubicles.
My mother had been to visit me that weekend with my two little sisters, one of them still a toddler. I had begged to go to the little local circus that had pulled into town, a shambly bunch of rides that looked like a glittery fairyland to me, until I saw how hard it was for my mother to pick her way through the mud in her black leather pumps, until I saw how little she enjoyed the careening car, her arm clutching the baby, her face concerned. The worse was afterwards when she realized a comb had fallen from her hair, the brown hair that she pinned up. I knew the comb was one of two my father had brought to her from a business trip to Morocco and though I knew there was no romance in the comb it still seemed a terrible loss, one for which I was responsible.
I lay in bed that night and cried like I might never stop, silently so none of the other girls could hear.
I was thinking too of the puppy that had died at home, my mother had just told me.
My mother, the puppy, and the two girls I had talked to that evening who had invited me to move into a dorm with them. I had said yes, and now, in bed, in the dark, a sense of dread came over me, that moving in with Sheila and Jane was not really what I wanted to do, but how I could get out of it, and the puppy's death and my mother in the careening car looking so unhappy.
I think to call my mother. I probably will this weekend. These calls that I feel I must make, want to make, but the content of which is relatively light. I get bored quickly. There is little I really want to share. But I want to hear the sound of her voice and I want to know she is all right.
Perhaps she will bring me up to date on what's happening around my father's death which happened a few weeks ago. My youngest sister – the one who was the toddler – is now a business woman and she was going to travel to Budapest to take care of things like my father's belongings.
She sent me a crisp typed letter a few months ago with a list of my father's books, asking me to let her know which ones I wanted when the time came.
I don't want anything from his belongings – everything will just make me sad – not so much because he has died – but because the thought of my father has always made me sad – when it hasn't made me furious. I have enough objects already to remember him by – like the two-volume set of War and Peace, leatherbound and gilt-stamped, that I remember from childhood – and even if I had nothing physical it will be a long time before I can't remember what he was like.
I received in the mail from my aunt who has lived with and cared for my father in Budapest for the last few years, a slip of paper, printed, with a black border. It was all in Hungarian, but Fred found the Bible verse that was quoted at the top and Christina Varga who runs the wonderful outsider art gallery down the road translated the rest for me. It said when my father would be buried and where, a date that has not stuck in my head.
I liked the bible verse though. It was identified on the slip of paper – Romans 22 or something – so Fred could find it. Something about the ways of God are mysterious and not easily understood.
I liked it. I like this. I like the belief that not everything can be boiled down and understood. That things happen in ways that make no sense at all. Maybe within that belief there is room for a daughter who cannot feel the grief she keeps hunting for. It must be there, right?