Olivia knew it would take only one cigarette to get there, if she drove the speed limit, so she slowed way down to ensure it would take two cigarettes instead.
She was already a nervous wreck because of the argument she’d had with her teenager, Jackson, when her mother called to say she needed her right away. Although she knew that yes, Cecilia did need her, that she wouldn’t lie about that just to get attention, she was also growing used to, (and weary of), her mother calling for every little thing, not just when the cancer had her lying on the bathroom floor vomiting blood. And so she took her time.
Time: it’s what Olivia desperately needed, even as she was beginning to wonder what the concept meant. Time – it’s here – right now…then it’s gone. But it seemed there was no more to come, to replace what had vanished as if it had never been.
At the blare of a truck’s horn Olivia flinched and jerked her car back into the lane it was supposed to be occupying. “Get it together woman!” she scolded herself. But if not for that warning Olivia would’ve driven right past her parents’ home. She stubbed her cigarette out as she pulled into the driveway and made her way through the heavy branched willow trees to the stately Victorian on St. John’s Drive. She parked and took a few deep breaths before stepping out of her car. She wasn’t sure if she felt relieved or irritated to see Cecilia waiting on the front porch swing. Thankfully it looked as if her mother were fine, but why the rush? What could she need so badly that she had to emphasize I need youright away?
“Mama,” Olivia said as she stepped onto the porch. “Is everything all right?”
“Oh, honey,” Cecilia propped her forehead up with her hand and slumped toward the swing’s armrest.
Even throughout the illness Cecilia proved to be as strong as she had always been. Olivia could see her mother was tired, but she could not recall witnessing this peculiar sort of behavior in her, ever. She sat down beside Cecilia, took her cold hand in her own and wrapped her arm around her mother’s shoulders. “What is it Mama?” When she got no response, Olivia cupped her mother’s chin and gently turned her face to look into her eyes.
Cecilia looked just awful – her gray eyes betrayed the fact that she’d been crying; her face appeared sallow and pasty; what was left of her stringy white hair shivered in the slight breeze. What worried Olivia the most was the fact that her mother had no make-up, no wig, and no jewelry on – normally Cecilia wouldn’t step foot out of the house, even if she ventured no further than the porch, without being fixed up.
Cecilia squeezed her daughter’s hand and shook her head. “Oh sweetie,” she said and lifted Olivia’s hand to her lips, placing a feathery kiss on her fingers, “I am so, so sorry.”
Olivia imagined her mother was apologizing for taking her away from cooking supper. But even that, Olivia thought, was no good reason for such strong emotion. “Sorry for what Mama?” she said.
“I’m sorry….I’m sorry for…” Cecilia seemed too exhausted to say another word. She grabbed hold of the swing’s chain and tried to pull herself back up after having slid down in the seat.
Olivia stood and held onto her mother’s arms. “Come on,” she said, “let’s get you inside.”
At that Cecilia pushed herself back into the swing, clutching at the chain with both hands and trembling. She shrieked and her breath caught as if she might be hyperventilating. “No! No! What are you doing here? Get away from me!” She pressed her face into her right shoulder and covered it with splayed fingers. Her whole body shook as if she’d just been plunged, naked, into the depths of the ocean.
Olivia took hold of her mother’s shoulders, tightly, though she was beginning to tremble herself. She spoke softly but firmly. “Mama! Calm down now, what’s the matter with you?” Already, tears were forming in Olivia’s eyes. She was more terrified than she’d ever felt in her life.
Suddenly Cecilia stopped shaking and bit her bottom lip. She began to cry. She looked at her daughter as if just awakening from a dream, bleary-eyed and pale. She shook her head back and forth, slowly, as her lips shuddered a silent plea. Cecilia, bewildered, looked into her daughter’s eyes and whispered, “Who are you?”
After the funeral two weeks later Olivia silently wept as she sorted through her mother’s closet. She couldn’t stop wondering: what was Mama sorry for? Then she found the diary. She went out to the porch, sat down on the swing, and began to read.
Although The Apology was transcribed directly from Frankie, the muse, I do find it ironic that I wrote this story just a week before my aunt passed away, on New Year’s Day. No, she had no reason to apologize to anyone, (and didn’t), and she didn’t have a secret diary, or at least not that I know of. I believe the inspiration must have come from watching her struggle with several long-time illnesses. I’m glad her pain is gone now.
Frankie, the bratty muse stopped by recently to interview me. Read the interviewhere.