Mom // Evelyn Williams
“There’s nothing to be afraid of, come with me. Here.” I hold out my open hand to my little girl who looks up at me with wide brown eyes that display fear and worry. She hesitates before taking my hand as we walk up to the small brick building that holds the dull title in blue letters saying, “Miller Funeral Home.”
I twist the wedding ring on my hand around and around, thinking what it would be like if my husband were actually on a business trip instead of in a different home, sending me divorce papers because he has found someone else to love. I take a deep breath and look down at Daya. Kneeling to the floor so that we are at the same height, I hold her at arm’s length and look her over. She is wearing a pink shirt with a sparkly crown on the front with ‘Mommy’s princess’ written underneath and a purple tutu to match her pink and purple sparkle shoes that have fake gems spotted randomly around. She looks so much like me when I was little, with the same brown eyes, soft cream-colored skin, and brown, thick curly hair.
I finally say, “Are you ready to go see Grandma?”
She nods and I stand up with my hand clasped in hers. I take small steps so that she can keep up, but I find myself slowing down even more. I’ve been to plenty of funerals, but I never prepared myself for this one. I clench my hand, squeezing Daya’s in three succinct beats: I love you; she does four in return: she loves me too. We turn the corner and walk into a room with a low ceiling and wide walls that hold floral print. Chairs are set in straight, tidy rows with the main entrance forming a lane straight to the focus of the room: the casket holding my mother. I can see from twenty feet away the top of her face and her folded hands on her stomach. Daya starts to pull back, forcing me to stop and break my focus from the casket.
“Hey, sweet girl. Are you getting nervous?” She hugs my leg, her head burrowed into my thigh and her empty hand gripping the end of my plain maroon dress. I bend over and start to try and calm her by running my hand in a continuous circle on her back.
“It’s ok to be scared. I’m scared too.”
“You are?” she murmurs, audible only for me to hear.
“Yeah, I am, but the only way to get rid of fear is to face it.” At this, she peaks up at me. Then, with determination, she says, “Ok.”
I kiss her on the forehead then stand up again and face forward. We make our way to the casket, but as I draw closer, my own fear grows from the bottom of my stomach and sinks down to my feet, forcing me to drag them along. We finally reach the casket and I release Daya’s hand and place my hands on the side of the casket, gripping the smooth wooden edges for balance. My eyes fill with tears and they begin to fall on Mom’s plain red dress, her favorite dress. She has on modest makeup – though she vowed never to wear makeup when she was alive – that doesn’t hide her wrinkles. Her faded, pink lips are in a smooth, straight line that hints towards neither a frown nor a smile. I examine her veiny hands, folded neatly in a way only of the dead, right hand over the left, gripping but not too tightly to show any signs of unnatural tenseness, placed intentionally on the upper part of the stomach to display comfort.
I move my right hand from the edge of the casket to right above her hands. Pausing at first, I force my hand to lay on top of hers. The room is increasingly hot, even with the ceiling fan whirring behind me. I keep my hand there, willing myself to accept that she is gone. Her hands are cold, not like she just came from the cooler, but more like she just came inside from a chilly day. She is dead and the casket is shaking slightly because of my quivering hand. I move my eyes to her face again, seeing the wrinkles by her closed eyes that show she smiled too often, and it reminds me of all the times we laughed and cried together.
I remember when I was little, maybe around the same age Daya is now, I was playing on the local playground. It wasn’t anything extraordinary, but to my eyes it was a kingdom that I ruled. I slid down the tube slide a hundred times and I begged my mom, who was sitting on the bench nearby, to come do underdogs with me. I would sit on the swing, and as my mom pushed me from behind to swing higher and higher, I would shriek with delight. When I gained enough momentum she would say, “Ok, are you ready?”
I would scream, “Yeah!” with a big smile taking up my whole face.
We would count, ‘1… 2… 3!’ and then, in unison, yell, “Underdoogggg!” as my mom would push and then run under me as I was at the highest point in the swing, barely able to not fly out of my seat. She would plop down on the wood chips in front of me, sitting cross-legged, watching me swing back and forth until I eventually slowed down to a calmer swinging rhythm.
One time I ran on up the stairs of the playset, turned a sharp corner, and bolted straight for the monkey bars. As I jumped into the air, leaving the firm platform behind me, I reached for the bars above me feeling as if I was weightless. My fingertips wrapped around the cool bar for only a second before I began to feel myself slipping as gravity started to pull me down. I lost my sweaty grip on the only thing that would save me from the imaginary lava below. I was only able to let out a small squeak as I smacked onto the woodchips and the air went out of my lungs. I laid there in pure shock staring up at the monkey bars that betrayed me until my mom was stooped over me running her hands around my face and my body, asking if I was ok. She knelt down and pulled me into her, wrapping her arms around me tight, and at that moment I broke into tears. I wrapped my short arms around her neck as she stood and then continued to wrap my legs around her. She held me close and swayed back and forth for a long time until my tears had stopped spilling. When I was only hiccupping, she pulled me away from her chest so she could look at me. She stared into my face, looking all around like she was trying to remember every detail. Her eyes were concerned but warm. I looked into her eyes as she smiled slightly and kissed me on the forehead.
“Come on sweet girl, let’s go home.” At that, I fell back into her chest and she turned to head for home. She carried me all the way home. It was not until I was older that I started to really appreciate how much she had loved me; until I had my sweet Daya I didn’t realize how much it was possible to love someone. I understand my mother now more than I ever have, but it’s too late to tell her that now.
Daya’s tugging on my dress brings back my focus on the grip I have on my mother’s hands. I let go and gaze at my own daughter. She looks clearly frightened, so I bend down and say, “Do you want to see Grandma? She looks very pretty.”
She doesn’t say anything, so I pick her up and place her on my right hip. She wraps her left arm around my neck and holds her right hand close to herself. She whispers, “Is Grandma sleeping?”
I don’t know what to say. What do you say to a five-year-old who won’t understand what is happening? I finally decide on, “No, Grandma is on her way to Heaven.”
Daya perks up. “Heaven is where angels live!”
I smile. “That’s right Daya, and Grandma is gonna be an angel now. She’s gonna watch over you.”
She smiles and tucks her head under mine, in the crook of my neck. I take one last glance at mom and then head for a chair in the front row. People begin to show up; some I know, most I don’t. All of them approach me and give their condolences. I thank them and wave them off so I can be left in peace, away from their sad eyes and downward smiles. I focus on Daya coloring in the chair beside me.
Before I know it, people are silently filing out of the building. They head off to their own homes and in less time than feels civilized, they’ll forget all about this sad evening because it is easier to forget than to remember and live in the pain. Daya is in my lap at this point; she fell asleep during a piano version of Amazing Grace. I don’t blame her. The pianist made sure to milk every note until everyone was either tired or irritated.
Mr. Miller, the funeral home director, comes and gently places his right hand on my left shoulder. I turn my head and look up to him. He says, “Tonight went very well. I will see you tomorrow for the burial?”
I nod and turn my head back to the casket. Standing up, I grip Daya so she is still snuggled in my arms. I leave the funeral home ready for sleep before I must wake and face the pain of letting go. I drive home to the house I grew up in and the house in which I am now raising Daya. Pulling in my driveway, I see the playground just down the street, lit by a single lamppost that illuminated the bench and the edge of the wood chips. Maybe I’ll take Daya there tomorrow.
Raising my eyes to the rearview mirror, I see Daya still asleep. For a moment I stare back at her and see her not moving and I panic, thinking she’s not breathing. I whip my head around and place my hand on her leg. She’s warm. I shake her leg and speak softly, telling her to wake up. I release a breath when I see her eyes crack open. I let my grip on her leg go and turn back around as she lifts her arms and wipes at her eyes with her small fingers. I place my head on the steering wheel and close my eyes, trying to blacken my mind and let everything fall to the back of my brain where it can be forgotten. Light tapping noises sound on my window. Its beginning to sprinkle.
I get out of the car, unbuckle Daya out of her car seat and carry her into the house, up the stairs, and into her room. I lay her down on the bed softly and then silently flick on the fairy nightlight in the corner. Her room glows in the soft light. Sparkles from her art projects and presents I have given her dance in the form of a swaying ballet in the yellow light. Glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling above shine happiness. It seems to me a jumbled mess in the morning light, but I have come to fully appreciate its calming beauty in the night.
Daya has fallen back asleep and is curled into a ball on her bed. I unlace her pink and purple sparkly shoes, place them under her bed and cover her with a blanket. I look at her already dreaming and I climb on to the bed with her and curl her into my arms.
I lie there with my little girl, growing calmer by the minute. Before I fall asleep, I wonder how long it will be before Daya has to say goodbye to me. Will she be middle-aged with her own child? Will she be a teenager? Will I be able to see her grow up to be a beautiful woman? Only one thing is for sure. For right now, in this moment, I can hold her in my arms and smell her sweet shampooed hair as she breathes easy without a care in the world. She is all I need. Tomorrow, I will take her to the playground. I will watch my daughter swing high as my mother did me.
I whisper softly, “I love you Daya Veria, with all my heart.”
Mom // Evelyn Williams
Evelyn Williams is a senior from Danville, IA, double majoring in English and religious studies. At Morningside, she is a part of Sigma Tau Delta, Theta Alpha Kappa, Cantabile, and the Kiosk. She has always had an immense joy for writing and reading and plans to keep doing it for years to come. Williams’ recently found the hidden gem genre of Nonfiction and plans to explore that area as long as she has enough room on her bookshelves!
Geraldine // Lex Wurth
Lex Wurth is a junior from San Antonio, TX, majoring in graphic design. She is on Morningside’s Women’s Swim team, part of the FIWD board, and is an Assistant Art Director for the Kiosk. She has been writing before she knew how to spell and poetry is her favorite form of creative writing. In high school, Wurth participated in many literary events.