Written by Erin Nust – Instagram: erin_nust
Mary Sides was sitting on her uncomfortable, almost broken dining chair with the thin letter in her hands. She held it with elegance and steadiness–no trembling hands or nervousness. Ash accumulated at the head of her cigarette, making it heavier; it brought her back to reality. Mary tapped her cigarette and a generous amount of dead tobacco dropped into the ashtray. She stared at the letter, then back outside the window. She was sure she didn’t want to read it.
Her eyes hurt a little. She hadn’t slept well last night. The phone rang at three-thirty in the morning (witching hour, she thought, when she had looked at the night stand’s clock) and she was sure the news wasn’t good. No good news could come from a phone call after midnight. Only, Mary was wrong: the news was just news–neither good nor bad.
The voice on the other side of the line wasn’t familiar. It introduced himself as Patrick Jasper, a doctor at St Helen’s Hospital of Astus. His name didn’t ring any bell for her, but his profession gave Mary enough information to guess what the phone call was about. She could proceed with the conversation with much less anxiety now.
“I’m sorry for the inappropriate time, miss… Sides, isn’t it? I am afraid you should come to the hospital. It’s your mother.”
Mary stood next to the bed and scratched her bushy head of curls.
“Oh. I see. I… I will send someone, yes, thank you,” she said, her voice hoarse by the abrupt wake-up.
The fact that her mother would soon pass inhabited her mind fleetingly; the thought only visited every once in a while, whenever Mary would accidentally meet a cousin or an aunt, and they would ask about Trisha. She hated that she had to fake a smile, nod and reply that Trisha was fine and enjoyed her retirement by reading books and baking, while in reality, Mary had not the slightest clue what Trisha was doing in her life. She only described to them what she would like to be true, like all the other fantasies she made about her perfect version of Trisha Sides–that she had just left this world by a feeble heart.
She could recognize the confusion in the doctor’s awkward closing.
When she put the phone down, a satisfying click echoing through the room, Mary let a rueful smile escape from her. The mortuary office took care of everything and none of her involvement was necessary. Her money could pay for a service that offered her more than alleviation from the bureaucratic procedures of death: it could relieve her from seeing her mother one last time. She had no tolerance for any guilty feelings, no; guilt was not allowed in her mind, not after the long nights she spent crying thanks to her mother’s insufficient parenting and interfering personality. This was a promise she made to herself after the huge fight they had in Trisha’s house when Mary had just found out that her former fiance was getting married to an unknown girl named Jackie.
Mary’s cigarette was over, crushed on the bottom of the glass ashtray and immediately replaced by another one. The bitter taste of tobacco was the same she had when she received an invitation from Carl, a wedding invitation with the name Jackie–Jackie and not Mary, as she always imagined it would be. It arrived in her mail with a thank you note, which urged her to grab her purse and drive all the way to her mother’s house.
It was warm and sunny the day Mary’s mother died; it was rainy and damp the day she drove infuriated to her mother’s one-story house with the little garden. Mary parked the car crookedly by the pavement and huge cold raindrops hit her body as if trying to put out the fiery blaze of her anger.
Trisha Sides was a small structured woman, but with an authoritative presence that captured everyone near her. Mary was protected by her anger and she couldn’t fall under her spell; not now at least. She entered her mother’s warm and tasteful house, and she dropped Carl’s invitation to the dining table.
“Why, now, what is all of this Mary? Look at you, when will you finally start to take ca-”
“Don’t you even dare to lecture on me!” Mary’s voice felt like it would break the hundreds of porcelain glasses, vases, plates that decorated Trisha’s living room. “Do you know what this is?”
“Obviously, I don’t. But I hope it’s important enough to explain this unexplainable behaviour.”
Mary grabbed the invitation and wriggled it in front of her mother’s face.
“It’s a wedding invitation. Carl’s wedding invitation, My Carl’s invitation.”
“Oh, please don’t tell me you’re making a scene for this man. You should be glad you got rid of him. He was a tasteless dog.”
Trisha’s calm position, the way her eyes moved with rejection every time Mary spoke infuriated her even more.
“This ‘tasteless dog’ chose me to be his companion. How can you say such awful things for your own daughter, I would never understand! How can you be so selfish, unkind…inhuman to your flesh and blood! No wonder dad died early.”
“Be careful there, Mary. Don’t say words you’re going to regret later.”
“I waited my whole life for those words. You drove Carl crazy! Every time we visited you, he wondered what he did wrong, he even accused me, as if anyone can face your judgements and criticisms! No one can stand you, Trisha.”
Mary grabbed her purse, but she left the invitation on the dining table. She passed her mother like she was another random person on the road, as Trisha walked to the table and touched the invitation lightly.
“You have some nerve to come over my house and accuse me of your mistakes. That man was sick of your absurd jealousy scenes, your control. I only spoke my mind on matters of aesthetics. That’s all I did with him. Do you think that was enough to make a man run away from you?”
Mary didn’t turn to face her mother. Her words slapped her in her face, she was one step away from moving away from her and her slaps for good and she didn’t want to give her any satisfaction by reacting. Mary only grabbed the door handle and went out in the cold rain, closing the door behind her forever. She had no news, not another word from her mother, except for the thin paper she held in her hands.
The letter danced between her fingers and she was staring at the busy street outside, where people chatted and laughed and shouted at one another, went on with their lives, while she had to deal with one last loose end before she could do the same.
She wondered what it would contain. She liked to imagine it was a redemption letter, a plea for forgiveness for all the bad things she had done and said to her, like the degrading comments about her graduation outfit, or the time she threw away Mary’s favourite shirt, just because it wasn’t good enough for her taste. But no, the letter would most likely contain one last condemning lecture about all the ways she wasn’t a deserving daughter.
Mary crushed her fourth cigarette in the ashtray and put the letter against the sunlight. She peered into it, smiled, and she grabbed her lighter. She walked all the way to her kitchen sink and she lighted it. When she smelled a hint of burnt paper, she dropped her mother’s letter in the sink and she paced to her bedroom. She permitted herself to move on.