Spring

It’s spring and it’s April’s first day in the world. Small cries fill the dimlit room, against the beep beep of machines. Her mother smiles, cooing to her little doll. Her father bends down and picks her up. April, he whispers. April.

It’s spring and April’s wibble-wobbling across the house, bumping into sofas and tables. Swirling colours, rattling toys, the spin of the stars above her crib. Her first word is “mama.” Her first step is followed by five more, then a thud as she falls on her rump. Her mother smiles, forehead creased, picks her up and rocks her. Daddy calls and says hello.

Flakes of snow drift slowly down, sticking to the window. April has one hand on the whiteness of the pane. Her breath fogs up the glass. She’s just started drawing circles when she hears an odd sound. She turns. Beside the Christmas tree, mama sits on the couch, holding a picture. The sound comes again. April troops over. Her mother picks her up and says he’ll be back soon. When mama? Soon. When is soon, mama?

April climbs up and her mama starts shaking, just a little, it’s hiccups April, but she’s making that sound again. When she nuzzles into mama’s arms, Mama sniffs. Something wet touches April’s cheek. She looks up. Mama smiles. Let’s make pancakes.

It’s spring, it’s summer, it’s autumn, it’s winter, it’s spring again. Seasons bloom, rise and fall. Once a month an envelope arrives, but it’s not enough. When has it ever been enough? Her mother is never there. If she’d wanted to, April might find her somewhere close by – the laundromat, the grocers, babysitting in the burbs or giving private lessons – but there was no need, no money, no time to make dinner let alone talk and I’m sorry April, I am. It’s okay mom. Not your fault. April pops leftovers into the microwave and turns on the T.V.

It’s spring and there’s no money left. Her mother is coughing, kaff-kaffing, but the medicine cabinet is empty and the jar of coins is long gone. I’m fine, she says, don’t worry about me. April knows she is. She has to be.

The ring is the first to go. Her mother hands it over quickly, and smiles, but her are eyes moist and her hand trembles when she folds it back to her side. The car is next. The house was already the bank’s. Their new place is in the city, full of strange people and sounds. The air smells of metal and rubber. Traffic jams. In the apartment, there are too many stairs and not an elevator in sight. Her mother is pale and shaking by the time they reach the top.

It’s spring. Mom’s sick again. It’s worse than before. There’s blood in the sink. When she’s asleep she calls out dad’s name–when she’s awake she stays in the big chair. She loves that chair. It’s bad for her back, said the doctor. Well, said our neighbor the medical student. He tells me comfort’s the only thing I can give her at this point. I slam the door in his face. Then I go back into our flat and wake her up from her chair, lead her to her room, and pretend not to hear the way she whimpers when I help her down. The room smells sour. The pillows are always damp. Why? They made the park into a parking lot so now there are no more daisies, which means no more flowers on the table, which means, which means... April sits by the bed, watching her mother mumble in her sleep.

Then it’s spring again and she’s planting daisies by the headstone, looking up to make sure no one’s around. She’s alone. She folds. She sobs. Her fists tear at the grass but all that comes out is dirt. I couldn’t wake her. I couldn’t save her. They came and took her, though she was already gone. April starts pounding the ground, pounding until her arm goes numb. A long time passes before she gets back up.

It’s spring, and she’s alone. It’s Thanksgiving. It’s Halloween—it’s Christmas. Someone’s donated a turkey and we carve it up for dinner at the shelter. April sets her mother’s picture on the table beside her. The others make it a point not to point this out. In her backpack sits the leftover bottle of pills. This is her pact, as she is shuffled from one place to the next; new faces, new papers, but the bottle remains. Men and women come and go, licking their lips and folding their hands, smiling and nodding and saying their words, but I can always leave. This is my secret. She pockets the picture and steps into the street.

A light flares, embers and fades; the cigarette meets the slush. A face is a memory in waiting, a name is a thing to be carved in stone. The letters crumble. Pebbles form. Mountains rise and fall, trading warmth for shade and back again. If a season comes and a century goes, if the grass browns and the leaves drift and the snow melts but a flower buds—who can say anything changes, if change is all there is?

It’s spring. Below the trees, beneath the grass, mother and daughter meet once more.

Anthony TanComment