Lana Bella: Mother, Must I?

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Must is a word my mother often uses. Ti, must you always wear that ratty hat inside the house? Your father must leave now to pick up your brother from school, please pour me a cup of jasmine tea for I must take my morning pills, and the afternoon bus must be there by now with uncle Tai and grandma Hong on it, over and over. Though all these events actually happened years before, she contends they take place now, wandering through the exact same words and phrases which give back life to her. That is when I know she is just plugging along, a small, moving thing with little else.

Winter is always hardest on her bone, when the days are shorter and the nights starved for sunlight. And when darkness is all she sees, my mother learns to hold her shakes quietly within, the chill comes on then spills loose from soft contours as rain pours heavy on the windowpane. The ceiling grieves, the floor groans, while she is an ignited stone sits dully warm by the hearth, as pale arms grab hold of the body rocking to a purlieus of simulcast voices from the nearby television.

Staring at a black and white photograph of my mother and me hangs askew beneath the mantle, of our past trip to the coastal town of Vung Tau circa 1984, our smiling faces in profile, palm trees reach upward to the sky, I remember she had seen to it that my shoulder-length bob was brushed and blown carefully dry and my clothes were to stay tidy for this impromptu snapshot by the sea. This snapshot is a reminder, a quiet one, that everything I miss about my mother then infringes themselves now on walls, in the air, behind draped curtains and comes to be imprints on the memoir where my angry letters drown in offal, long untouched.

Today, I turn sixteen years young who’s already grown old, stoic, a thin silhouette between arm and torso, anxious of stranger’s inquisitive gaze and sweeps aside familial concern, falling deeper in fatigue yet gripping on to a semblance of balance. In other word, keeping whole.

Each day is the same routine for us. We walk through the house, and when the air is clear and mild, out into the Japanese garden of which my mother had once sown and nursed with her hands. By the koi pond, she leans on the shade of her visible self while I stand by, our silence folds into itself holding on to inertia, and her mute hysteria coasts visibly at the surface, coasting above us like a coming storm. At times, I fear one more false move, one wrong breath, we would both be flat on a horizontal plank, staring edgewise at the facade of the garden shed’s woodsy patina.

Still, I am living and determined with my mother’s pathosis, murmuring courage inside its burial, deaf to the dissonance brooding constant in my ears. Closeness with her helps me to regain time, and patience my resolve, especially when she is alert enough to throw one of her rare tantrum at the sight of dirty dishes piling up in the kitchen sink or a sudden awareness of her frailty. Yet, such moments are scarce and short, for she is consumed with the dark, resurfaced just when things seem to lose their foothold.

Day in and day out, I sit and talk to her, sketch dreams in place of reality, stitch impressions for her absent eyes, hold fingers that no longer hold mine back, and ask her one question I know she will probably never answer: will the ghosts pursue me when your ocean finally sweep me out to sea, and I go to the bottom, beneath the eddy of your sleep?



Lana Bella has a diverse work of poetry and fiction anthologized, published and forthcoming with over one hundred journals, including a chapbook with Crisis Chronicles Press (early 2016), Aurorean Poetry, Chiron Review, Contrary Magazine, QLRS (Singapore), elsewhere, and Featured Artist with Quail Bell Magazine, among others. She divides her time between the US and the coastal town of Nha Trang, Vietnam, where she is a wife of a novelist, and a mom of two frolicsome imps.


black tree

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