In my mother’s house, she asks me when I’m going to have a child, her eyes veiled with a sadness she’ll never fully admit to.
She asks all the time, but now it’s different. The question seems to carry a different weight and it rests heavy on my shoulders.
From the sofa, I sip my tea. It’s gone cold.
Down the hall, the radiator chugs and churns, beads of sweat rolling down my red cheeks. Her skin stays grey. The warmth doesn’t touch her like it used to. She’s oblivious to how the house sweats, the floral wallpaper sweltering as a heavy condensation clings to the inside of the windows.
“Please don’t start this again.”
In the arm chair she lays still, back sinking against the tilted frame.
“I just—” her voice breaks, her words fragile, “I just want you to keep your options open. Sexuality can be fluid, you know.” She fiddles with her diamond ring—an heirloom of generations gone by.
“Like being gay?” I sigh. “Have you fluidly changed into a lesbian?”
“You know that’s not what I mean.”
She casts her eyes down to her lap and I wonder why it has to be like this.
“I just want you to try—look around, that’s all.”
The rain pounds all night. It makes it harder to hear mum’s coughs, but they’re still there. I can’t sleep. My childhood bed is too lumpy and hard, and the faces of cartoon character posters twist in the dark until all I can see are demons.
I toss and turn until I can take no more of it. Into the kitchen I creep barefoot, the tiles icy beneath my feet. Quietly, I turn on the tap, taking a sip of water.
I think of my new home and friends, and all the fun things they might be doing without me. Guilt twists through my stomach like worms.
From down the hall, the coughs morph into soft sobs.
I pick her up from Chemo every other Tuesday. We drive there and back in silence. There’s nothing to say. We used to keep the radio on low, but that was a couple months ago, and things are different now.
Pulling up outside the entrance, I flip the central locks open.
She hesitates, glancing between her lap and the hospital door. Finally, her eyes meet mine.
“Do you want me to go in with you?”
She shakes her head, unclasping her seat belt. Hand on the door, she turns back to me, her eyes wide and far-off.
“Just promise me you won’t be lonely.”
I lie next to her in bed. She doesn’t like to be alone for the first few days. No one would.
“The ladies in the clinic ask after you, you know.” She whispers into the dark. “They ask me if you have anyone special. If I have any grandkids.”
I rest my hand over hers. It’s cold and slightly clammy.
Head sinking into the pillow, she turns to look at me. She opens her mouth as if to speak, then shuts it again, floundering.
“I’m happy, you know.” I squeeze her hand. “I’ve got great friends and a steady job, and I’m going to adopt a cat in a few months’ time. There’s nothing to worry about.”
She breathes in small, shallow wheezes.
“But what happens when all those things go away?” Her eyes are watery. “What about when your friends get married and move away, and—”
“Then life will still go on.”
A small tear trickles from the corner of her eye, settling into her wrinkles and crow’s feet.
“But what about when you’re old?”
“Then I’ll be old and grateful to be alive. And even if I have kids, that doesn’t mean they’ll look after me.”
“I mean, have you seen my brother since this all started?” I laugh, the sound brittle and low.
Mum cracks a small smile.
“No,” her lips tremble around the smile, “he always was useless.”
As she laughs, the tear falls more freely. She breaks into a cough.
With the pads of my fingers, I brush her tears away.
“If you couldn’t trust him to do the dishes, you couldn’t trust him to be here now.”
“Thank you, Sweetie.” Mum squeezes my hand, her voice weak. “I just—want someone to look after you, the way you look after me.”
Through a crack in the curtains, the sun begins to stream in, painting a white stripe across the bed.
“I know. But, trust me, everything will be fine.”
Mum hums, a small smile pulling at her lips.
Morgana Moore is a UK based short fiction writer interested in speculative fiction, the oddities of the human experience, and personal identity. She is the editor-in-chief of @fatcatmagazine where she publishes flash fiction submissions online. You can find her writing featured in @_Re_side_and @perhappened (forthcoming). To keep up to date with her work, you can find her on twitter @morgana_moore