Note: There’s this fan community I recently joined that hosts an annual writing contest called Project Ink. I applied, surprisingly got accepted, and made it to the second-to-the-last round. Each of the bi-weekly rounds had the participants write short stories following prompts. I had the choice to build a new world with each new round, but I didn’t. Instead, I built the Cecilia Canon – a series of stories about this woman named Cecilia, her daughter Claudia, and her unnamed mother who all look like Eva Green.
Project Ink Applications: Submit a sample of your best work. Max 1000 words.
Missing a Memory
There had been a time when my mother was not absent from my life. That had been so many years ago though that whenever I try to remember what her face had been like, not much comes to mind. I squeeze my eyes shut and see strands of dark, messy hair and alabaster skin. Her red-painted lips are the most distinct part of her I can recall, as they had always been turned up at the corners in a sad smile. But the image in my head is always hazy – the shadow of an imagination as much as an actual person. Perhaps I only came to piece her face together because people often tell me I resemble her. Pensive is a recurring adjective when describing her and me. Brooding is another.
Staring back into a mirror and knowing that I had inherited the rich brown eyes of the woman who had given birth to me did not make her any more familiar. If anything, I felt a biting sense of loss each time I observed my reflection. There was another me out there – wrinkled and gloomier if the family rumors were to be believed, but a part of who I am all the same. I did not know where she was though, what she was doing, or if I even crossed her mind. She was barely a memory now, a name. For all I know, I could mean the same to her.
That woman won’t leave us alone, Papa would often mutter after trying days of entertaining relatives at home. One of the aunts who were close to senility would always comment that Cecilia had always made the best apple pies, before she disappeared from the face of the planet. That Mother had disappeared at the same time as Mr Torres from across the street had generated much interest in the neighborhood, and to this day I cannot help seething each time I see Mrs Torres getting into her car, barking orders into her mobile phone. If that woman had only kept a tight leash on her husband, my mother might never have left. Cecilia might never have strayed.
It has been a long time since then. I had been eight, and ten full years have passed. Papa had finally figured out how to work the pressure cooker, and I had eventually learned to separate the whites from all my other clothes, albeit at the cost of my favorite pajamas. The old photo albums have been gathering dust in the attic, because I still can’t bear to look through them and find that indeed, the resemblance between Cecilia and me is striking. The only souvenir of my mother that I allow myself is the sound of her voice, recorded in old cassette tapes as reading fairy tales of princesses, ogres, and happily ever afters. Her voice, I was not surprised to find, is deep and unhurried. When she laughs, the sound rings deep. In the tapes, there are snippets of me speaking, too. A little girl, no more than two or three, chirping suddenly when there is a lull in the storytelling. My question is always the same.
What happens next, Mama? What happens next?
For my birthday party, Papa’s girlfriend is in charge of the catering. We are having strawberry cake instead of apple pie, and the part of me that relishes strawberries is thankful Kate is bending over backwards to make my day perfect. She is lovely and pleasant, and she makes my dad smile as if she were a miracle he did not deserve. Kate is wonderful. Kate makes summer sunshine seem lonely in comparison. But her hair is not dark, her features are not pale, and her lips do not turn up at the corners like so – ever secretive, ever lonely.
That was how my mother had always been.
When I last saw her, I had been standing on the second floor window, squinting to see through the pale green leaves of a tree that had long ago been taken down. Cecilia had been stuffing two bags into a long, powder blue car. The bags may have been green or blue. She had been wearing my favorite dress – yellow, with a thick white ribbon around her waist that always tickled my nose whenever I hugged her. Mama had seen me watching her, or maybe she had always known I was there. She raised a hand, waving softly at me before she caught herself. Her red-painted lips were turned up in her quaint little smile.
I couldn’t see very well from a distance. I couldn’t tell if she was unhappy, or if she was relieved to be leaving. Maybe then she had tried to apologize, her eyes saying the words that her voice could not, but I had failed to keep it in my memory. She began to walk towards the driver’s seat.
I blinked and when I opened my eyes again the powder blue car was driving away. I blink and her face swims into my head – pale and framed by dark, messy hair. She is still smiling, with her hand half-raised. I watch her shadow as it walks away, but I do not say anything. Instead I simply stare at her departing back. Easily, I could always call out and ask Mama what happens next, what happens now.
But I never do. So she keeps walking on in my imagined memory, leaving me always.