by Tallis Baker, Age 16, Australia
Artwork by Lucy Zhang
The fiction prompt for May was “mother.”
I dream of her every night.
Her lips are cherry red, and her hair is made of flax. Her skin is smooth as silk, and in her eyes I can see the knowledge, certain as the hills, that everything is going to be alright. They are brown, warm like melted chocolate, and like chocolate, they send sweetness down my throat. She is wearing her necklace, the one she always wore. It’s blue, with a simple tortoise-shell pattern on the front of its curved oval face. When I see it, the chocolate warmth spreads to my heart. Her feet are bare, and she is wearing a white summer dress that hangs to her knees. Clothed in the purity of white, she looks like a goddess. She smells of lavender and jasmine, and something else––the smell that everyone once knew, even if they didn’t realize it: the smell of childhood.
At least, that’s how I remember her.
She’s laughing at me, daring me to come join her out on the balcony. I run to her, and she grabs me and holds me up in her arms, showing me the world. Suddenly I am a little girl again. Of course I am––she wouldn’t recognize the teenage me. Slowly, she lowers me to her chest and kisses my hair. I play with her tortoise-shell necklace and laugh, a chubby laugh that has never dreamed of reality. This is how it’ll always be––just her, and me, and Dad. I feel a little unsure as Dad crosses my mind, but I tell myself we’ll be happy. That is certain.
Then I wake up, and for just a few seconds I retain the scent of her, the way she smiled, the feel of being safe in her arms, and then she’s gone.
Then I remember the fight.
The way they screamed at each other, the way his face contorted when he looked at her, the fear turning her face white. White, like her dress. White, so the only colour was her cherry red lips.
I remember how, at that moment, all my childish certainties disappeared, blown away by the wind. I remember how I fled into my room and hid my head under the pillows, sobbing for them to stop. But I also remember how, just before I ran, I caught a glimpse of something in his hand, something that reflected the brightness from the kitchen lights.
In my bed I lie still, trying to recapture the golden moment on the balcony. It might not have even happened, but it was real. More real than the shouting downstairs years ago. Some things you try to blot out, and others you want to keep forever. But sometimes you experience something you’ll never be able to forget, no matter how hard you try. Some things you can only reduce to shadows.
In my bed I imagine her homecoming. Maybe she’ll creep into the house at the dead of the night and steal me away with her, right under Dad’s nose. Or maybe I’ll be in the garden one day and I’ll see her beckoning to me from behind the hedge. And when it happens, I won’t hesitate. That’s the only certain part.
Maybe I amuse myself with these fantasies because I’m trying to shut away the truth. That she’ll never come back, because she can’t.
Dad made sure of that, on the night I heard the yelling downstairs. Because I remember something else about that night. Something I would give anything never to relive.
The argument ended in a scream.
Tallis says, “It’s wonderful to know that not only does your family appreciate your writing, but people on the other side of the world appreciate it too.”