It’s Friday, which means I share a bit of my own writing.
I’ve talked a lot about short stories these past two weeks and I meant to share this last Friday, but life got the better of me last week.
I focused on descriptions in this piece and dialogue – specifically what surrounds the dialogue in building the scene both physically and emotionally.
Prompt: Your adopted mother tells you, while on her deathbed, that you were born on a different planet. You have always suspected you were different because of the one thing that separates you from the rest of humankind.
Mom’s raspy breathing and the perpetual urine stink of the room grated on me, but I couldn’t bear to pull myself away for even a moment. I was always terrified that I’d go to the bathroom and then come back to find her dead. I watched for a moment. Her eyes were closed and she almost looked peaceful. I suppose morphine would do that to someone.
I buried my head into my psychology book and tried to push away all the thoughts racing around.
“Eve?” she whispered. I peered over the top of my book, right into her brown eyes, three shades darker than her brown skin.
“Yeah, mom?” I shut the book and set it on the floor, leaning forward. Hospice gave us the bed for her and recommended the recliner for next to it since we had room in her massive master bedroom.
“I’m thirsty,” she said, reaching her hand out to me. I pushed the button that sat her up a bit and then grabbed the plastic cup with the bendy straw. Her lips looked dry and her skin was pulled taut across her bones. She took three or four long pulls from the cup and then closed her eyes and leaned back. I set the cup back on the nightstand. She held her hand out to me and I grabbed it. My nearly glistening white skin stood out even more against the smooth, chocolate of hers.
“Do you need anything, mom?” I asked.
She shook her head. “There’s something I need to tell you, though.”
“It’s about your birth mom.”
My chest tightened a little bit. “No, we don’t need to go there. It’s…it’s okay. Really. You’re my mom, not her.”
“I know that sweetie.” Her lips peeled back into a strange smile, her teeth monstrous in her sunken face. “I know that to you, I’m your mother and nothing else matters.” She took several breaths. I realized I was holding mine. I released it slowly through my nose, waiting for her to keep talking.
“I’ve always been honest that you were adopted. Our skin colors couldn’t make that more plain.” She traced her finger on my arm.
“I know. Even mixed race kids are darker than me.” I chuckled. We’d lost count of the number of times someone awkwardly asked if I was adopted or some other weird question. Like a black mom and a white kid were somehow an anomaly of all creation.
“Well.” She coughed. I grabbed the cup and she took another sip. “That’s not all.”
“Okaaaaaay.” I drug the word out far longer than was necessary, but I didn’t know where she was going with this? Was my mom a drug addict? Found dead in the street? Maybe she’s a celebrity!
“Your mom wasn’t of this world.”
Cryptic. “Okaaay.” I wasn’t sure where she was going. “Not of what world? Ours? First world America? Was she an immigrant?”
Mom laughed, which was a terrible idea. Soon laughing turned to coughing, and coughing turned to blood, and by the time the nurse got in there and we got her all back and situated, nearly 45 minutes had passed. She closed her eyes and fell asleep.
I sat back in the recliner, trying to process what she’d said, picking at a bleach spot on these worn out jeans. My mom wasn’t of this world. Clearly she didn’t mean an immigrant. Okay, so if not an immigrant, then what? Does she mean Earth? Is my mom an angel? Is that some euphemism for being dead now? Was my mom always dead? I picked up my book off the floor and opened to the page I’d been trying to read before. Too many thoughts were swirling around in my head, though, and this time I couldn’t just push them away. I had to go, to move. I needed to walk.
Glancing again at my mom, I hesitated.
“I’m going for a quick walk. Don’t you die on me,” I whispered as I planted a kiss on her forehead. What was left of her hair still smelled of that fruity conditioner the nurse bought a few days ago. She insisted that mom’s hair should be conditioned every day. I didn’t really get it, but figured the nurse knew what she was talking about. Right now, I’m glad for the fruity conditioner. Smells better than the rest of this room.
I wandered out of mom’s room and down the hallway of our 2-bedroom apartment.
“I need to go for a walk,” I informed the nurse, who was writing in her binder. Must be writing down what just happened.
“Sure, sweetie,” she said, not looking up. If anyone could sound more southern hospitality than this nurse, I’d eat my own arm. Sadie was her name and I loved Sadie. After three days, I loved Sadie. It was like she was part of our family now. I pulled my checkered Airwalks onto my feet and opened the door, glancing back. She better not die on me.
I walked to the elevator and pushed the button.
“Hey Hector,” I said as the door slid open.
“Eve,” he said, nodding his head curtly. “Any news?”
“Nope. Mom’s still hanging on. I just need to clear my head a bit.”
“Of course. To the first floor? Or up to the top?”
“Down, please. I just need to walk.”
“Of course.” He slid the door shut and pushed the button. Part of me still found it a touch weird that we had an elevator guy in our apartment building. It’s not like mom hasn’t made plenty of bank with her books and speaking stuff, but still. Hector was always nice to me. At least as old as granddad would have been. He’s been here longer than us, but always made us feel like we were family and belonged here, especially when we felt like we didn’t belong here. Single black mom of a white kid in this fancy of a place? It took time, but we settled in and he was a big part of that.
“Here you go, Eve.”
“Thanks, Hector.” I stepped out the doors and through the lobby. Brian was at the door today.
“Any news, Eve?”
“Nope. Still hanging on. I just need to clear my head.” Especially since my head was starting to sound like a broken record.
“Okay. We’ll be here when you get back.”
I flashed Brian a smile. Part of me wanted to hug him and cry, but that would just be weird. I turned right and started walking.
My mom isn’t of this world. Not an immigrant. She’s not an angel. That’s just stupid. Maybe mom means my birth mom is just special. She somehow stands out from this world. I tried to fit each piece of the puzzle together but no matter which way I turned it, it didn’t fit. I’d walked two blocks in each direction trying to figure out the puzzle but hadn’t come up with anything yet. I wanted to keep walking, but I didn’t want to be away from mom any longer, so I turned to the doors.
Brian opened one and smiled at me. I smiled back. I punched the button for the elevator and when Hector arrived, he smiled at me too. I was thankful they didn’t try to talk to me. He dropped me off on my floor.
“There you go, Eve. Have a peaceful evening.”
I smiled again at Hector and shuffled down the hall to our door. I turned the knob, staring at my knuckles. They were always knobbier than everyone else’s. I furrowed my brows and pushed open the door. I could hear Sadie’s voice from mom’s room and I rushed down the hall.
“Oh, there you are, sweetie,” Sadie said, smiling as I caught the doorframe and pulled a few strands of hair from my face. “Your momma was asking about you.”
“Mom, I’m right here,” I breathed. It was always a huge relief to come back into the room and she was still alive.
Mom smiled at me. Sadie got up and left the room and I set myself back down in the recliner next to her bed.
“Your mom,” said said with a smile.
“I know, she wasn’t of this world,” I replied impatiently.
“I’m sorry about that coughing fit.”
“No problem, mom.” I smiled, but I was pretty sure my agitation was loud and clear to her. I picked at my fingers and my leg bounced, though my eyes never left hers.
“No more stalling. Your mother,” she paused.
“Was an alien.”
“What?” I sat back in the chair. My mom has officially lost her mind.
“I know. You probably don’t believe me. But it’s true.” She struggled to sit up more. I transferred from the chair to her bed and helped her sit up even more. “I don’t have all the time in the world to talk to you about this, so you’re just going to have to listen and you’re going to have to choose what you believe.”
“Eve, you’re different.”
“Not in a special snowflake kind of way, either. You are genuinely different from humans.”
I’d always suspected it, but there were always explanations. Abnormal Rheumatoid arthritis. Some kind of hair disorder. Things were weird.
“You were born on Pegasus 2647b. That’s Earth’s classification, anyway.”
“But they’ve said there’s no life on that planet.”
“That’s because there isn’t.” She paused again. “Anymore.”
“You were born there 78 years ago.”
“Wait, I’m 78?”
“You look good for your age.” Mom winked. “Think about it, Eve. Who ever heard of Rheumatoid Arthritis with no pain? Your people have knobby knuckles like that.”
“And no hair on my body anywhere except on my head.”
“Yes,” mom said. “Sure, I suppose it’s sort of explainable, but again, very rare.” Mom used air quotes with rare.
“So,” I said slowly, licking my lips. “I’m an alien.”
“And no one has noticed.”
“You’re close enough to human, that it’s okay. Your eyes and nose can be explained by misunderstood ramifications of your rare genetic disorders.”
“I have a genome?”
“Well, not exactly.” Mom looked away.
“My DNA hasn’t been tested?” My eyes were wide. I pictured my own face – the flat forehead and just a tiny-bit-too-big eyes and just a tiny-bit-too-small nose.
“Ah, no. I never consented to DNA testing. Frustrated them to no end, but I knew that if they got their hands on that, it would the end of us. I couldn’t do that to you!” Mom leaned forward, her eyes bright. “You needed a mother, not to become a circus freak. You’re old enough now, and I’ll be dead enough soon that you can make up your mind. You can decide what you want to do.”
“Why did you wait to tell me?” My voice went up noticeably in pitch.
“Because I swore to your mother.” She reached for me and rested her hand on my knee.
“Swore what?” And up it went again.
“That I would keep it from you as long as possible to keep you as safe as necessary.”
“So you knew my mother?” I was breathing fast, my heart pounding. Wait, was it a heart? Do I have a heart?
“Knew is a strong word, dear.” Mom smiled. “She was nearly dead when I found your shuttle. You were in hypersleep or whatever they call it in real life. She made me promise and she said you wouldn’t remember anything until I told you, but the longer time it took, the safer you’d be.”
As if those words unlocked my mind, memories started filtering in.
“You’ll have to decide what you want to do with this information, Eve, dear. If you want others to know, that your choice to make. You can still pass as human, but you probably shouldn’t have kids. Who knows what they’d do to an alien? I have no idea!”
My mind whirled as I tried to make sense of what she was saying and of the memories swirling around in my head. Was I living in a science fiction novel or what?
“Do I have any superpowers, then?” Clearly, I’ve seen too many movies, too.
“I don’t know, my dear.” Mom settled back into her bed. “I don’t know and I don’t know how you’ll find out. I’m sorry I can’t be on this journey with you, to go with you and find answers.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
I wanted to say something, but what? I didn’t know what to say, but somehow, I knew what to do. I reached my hand out and grabbed mom’s hand. All the pain from her cancer flashed through my body. I gasped. Both our eyes opened and locked onto each other.
“Are you ready?” I asked her. Mom nodded.
I don’t know exactly how, but I helped mom leave and sent her on her way out of her pain-filled body and into a new plane of existence. I smiled. Mom would call it Heaven.
Yesterday I would have agreed.
Today, I’m not so sure.