Another day, Esme thought to herself. After finally opening her eyes, she rolled over and looked at the clock on her bright, yellow wall. She couldn’t help looking at the picture of her and Jason underneath it. She acknowledged that it was noon and decided she would move the clock somewhere else later.
Downstairs she could hear her daughter watching cartoons. If it weren’t for the realization that Emma might be hungry, Esme would have stayed in bed all day. After pulling herself out from underneath the comforter and pillows, she slid into her slippers and lazily put on her bathrobe. She quickly walked down the stairs, avoiding the family pictures on the walls.
Those probably need cleaning, she thought.
When she got into the kitchen she found peanut butter and jelly all over the counters, three dirty knives in the sink, and an empty bread bag.
“Emma, get in here!” She wanted to scream. This was not what she wanted to wake up to. This was not what she wanted to deal with.
“Morning, mom,” Emma said with a sandwich in one hand and a glass of grape soda in the other.
“Soda for breakfast, Emma?”
“It’s lunchtime, mom. I had pancakes for breakfast.” She took another bite from her sandwich and while chewing, said, “And that was at 8.”
Esme didn’t have the energy to argue. She looked over at the clock: 12:42. It had taken her all that time to get up and come downstairs.
“I’m going to clean it up, I promise,” Emma said, and she walked out of the room.
Esme didn’t even bother telling her daughter that it was okay and that she would clean it up; she didn’t even say good morning. Instead, she turned around and climbed back up the stairs. Avoiding the pictures on the wall again, she made her way to the bathroom and locked herself in. Three seconds passed after her fingers turned the lock, and she began to cry. She would have given anything to turn back the clock nine months, before the last argument, before the last kiss, before the last hug, before the last smile, before the lights were cut off on that winding road four miles from their home. That stupid dark winding road. You can’t see anything around those turns, she thought.
She never before realized that not giving her daughter attention and not giving her an environment where Emma could cope or talk to her mother was hurting her. They hadn’t had a real conversation in nine months; they hadn’t acted like a family in nine months. But Esme was convinced that she needed time to heal and that concentrating on her daughters’ needs would make the healing process last longer. She convinced herself that by helping herself first, she was really helping Emma.
Emma heard her mother walk back upstairs and heard the bathroom door shut. She was thirteen years old; she knew exactly what was happening and knew her mother was falling apart. But again, she was thirteen years old, what could she do?
Emma went back into the kitchen, cleaned up her mess, threw a can of soup into a bowl and put it in the microwave. Something else she had gotten used to was making sure her mother ate. If there wasn’t anything laid out, she wouldn’t bother to eat at all. After heating it up, she climbed the stairs, went into Esme’s bedroom and placed it on her nightstand. Even though she was tired of playing the role of the adult for so long, she couldn’t just stop; Emma had convinced herself that her mother would come around eventually.
After making Esme’s bed and gathering her mother’s laundry, Emma went back downstairs to start her chores, something that they would always do together.
“But that was before dad died,” Emma whispered to the empty kitchen.
Esme went back to her room, wiping dry and wet tears from her face and neck. Looking at the soup, she realized she had been ignoring that rumbling sound coming from her stomach the whole time. She ate hastily and laid back down on her bed, not even noticing it was made up. She could hear the vacuum going on downstairs.
She’s cleaning, Esme thought and caught a tear before it slid onto her pillow. Every Saturday they would play loud music, sing along, talk, and clean the house from top to bottom, together. But ever since she found out Jason was never coming home, Esme barely had enough energy to clean herself, let alone spend the day cleaning the house with her daughter.
She shouldn’t be alone, Esme thought and sat up in bed. And I shouldn’t be up here. She heard the vacuum go off and the faucet turn on. Once again, she put her feet into her slippers and headed for her bedroom door. She stopped in the hallway and turned back to get her empty bowl. Avoiding the photographs again, she quickly walked down the stairs and into the kitchen, where Emma was beginning to wash the dishes.
“Thanks for the soup, honey.”
“You’re welcome,” Emma said, keeping her eyes on the sink. But out of the corner of her eye, Emma could see her mother grabbing a towel, drying off the dishes she had already washed, and putting them where they belonged. They did this in complete silence until there were no more dishes left, and Emma almost wished there were.
Esme kissed her daughter on her forehead, smiled and went back upstairs. It wasn’t much, but Emma smiled back anyway.