Mother (Inspired by Grace Paley) – Diane Gottlieb

One Sunday, I was flipping through the Times and stopped short at a photo of a man with a long, scruffy beard. That’s Letterman! I cried. I can only imagine what Mom would think if she saw him, old, unshaven, grey. While she was alive, it was always, No talking! Dave’s on! She’d snap before anyone had said a word.

She sat there, right there on that chair, the one to the left of the stove. Shhhh!  It’s Lenny! Mom said as The Leonard Lopate Show filled the empty space in the room. I watched her, staring so keenly, smiling so eagerly, at the voice from the transistor under the windowsill. If only she could discover a way to will her desire back through that radio and into Lenny’s soul! Oh! Mom loved her men! Too bad they all left. Every. Last. One. Dave cut out in the wee morning hours, Lenny, weekdays at two, and her dad, he left when she was just three years old.

Another Sunday.  Looking through the New Yorker, I settled down with a story about a Southern white kid, his dad gone, addicted to pills. “Forgotten Families,” or some short, crisp title. I had just begun reading when the phone rang. Come. Now. Words floating on clouds. Dad’s leaving, she said. So I drove through the summer streets of Harlem to Mt. Sinai, past Northern black boys, playing four-square on steaming pavement. Crack was the rage that year. Surely some of their dads had left them, surrendering to the pull of the hit. Siren’s song. Families forgotten. All those forgotten boys.

Dad left us that day, as my sisters and I whispered good-byes in his ear, as Mom sat beside him, holding his cold, ashen hands. They had been married for 50 years. Who will un-pit the avocados now? she asked through her tears.

Then she went home and turned on the TV.

Looking back, I wish I’d sat with her more, watched with her in the living room, listened with her in the kitchen. I wonder what she would have said had I told her I wouldn’t go, told her she did not have to keep searching for men.

Mom adored Jay. When she stayed at our home in the woods, they would set their clocks for 6 a.m. and go out back to paint the deck. Hanna, if you want breakfast, you’d better paint faster, he’d say. They’d laugh, tell each other jokes, just like that one, and then paint together in silence, brushstrokes slow-dancing in the morning sun. Mom had three girls. No boys. Until I married Jay, who didn’t have a mom, until Mom.

This time it was Wednesday. I wasn’t reading when the calls came. Neighbors. Police. I dialed my sister, who phoned Mom to tell her the news. Why couldn’t it have been me? Why couldn’t it have been me? That’s what my sister told me Mom screamed when Jay left.

Then she turned on the TV.

Diane GottliebDiane Gottlieb writes both fiction and nonfiction and is currently working on a murder mystery with a social justice bent. She is an MFA candidate at Antioch University Los Angeles and is an assistant editor of creative nonfiction and blogger for Lunch Ticket. She lives in New York and Florida.