Dressing for Winter
After the last guests had gone Sophie went upstairs and lay across her mother’s bed. The bedspread had a white pattern with flecks of red like a field of poppies in the snow.
It felt cold. Her mother’s body had not warmed it for three nights now. She bunched it up around her face, nosing into it like a burrowing creature making its nest.
But she couldn’t sleep. She just lay there drugged by her mother’s absence, her eyes open in the half-light. There were kids playing in the street outside. She could hear the grate of stabilisers on the road, the whoosh of chasing, the metallic volt of gates being shut—this was the sound of other childhoods still happening.
She wanted to refuse something just as she was being refused. “No,” she said to herself, and she saw the word in the darkness behind her eyelids.
She said it again to keep the word in place in her mind like a “Stop” sign. But she needed to sit up soon, she needed to sort things out. Even though everything was already done—removal, wake, funeral. Each part of the process had been ticked off like chores on a sheet of paper.
She must attend to things, tidy the kitchen, put the food away. She sat up and saw her face in her mother’s dressing table mirror. She had bed-tousled hair. Her eyes were dark with grief. She swung her legs round and hoisted herself up and walked to the mirror.
She sat down on the pouf-like stool that was meant to summon images of a salon in Paris.
Here were gathered all her mother’s perfumes, her lipsticks and eyeliner, the intimate tools of her toilette. How she faced the day, whatever it might bring, was prepared for in this dark corner. Sophie lifted one lipstick after another—a nude skin-tone, a pink, an almost purple. She tried one. It had the aftertaste of her mother’s lips, her best smile. She applied some powder. That was better.
She tried a frown—the mirror’s echo sent back a parody.
It said, “Not yet.”
Empty My Pockets When We’re Done
What will they find there when they look? There will be the lint you find in every pocket that tells you almost nothing about anyone. There will be coins, jangling coins, the loose change of days. There will be tissues or a handkerchief (as I’m old-fashioned). What else? They will also find a wallet with fat wads of cards and notes and photos. A life ready to explode like a grenade when unpacked.
I was walking along the river in the summertime. It was dusk and I was enjoying the day folding slowly into the night. According to tradition a star appeared. I sat on a bench and waited a while. A man passed on a bicycle. Two women power-jogged through. Across the river I could see a couple tailing a racing, inquisitive dog. I looked like someone who was out for a spell—no agenda, just fresh air and the pleasure of strolling by water.
In ancient China the poets would retreat up mountains into the cold regions where the air becomes thin. They did this to clear their minds of the world, and perhaps to find the right words to explain their loneliness. They were priestly artists willing to give themselves to the ice if need be. Imagine all that solitude. The ghost winds on mountain tops. When I think of these poets I think of the tiny poems they left behind about crickets and the moon.
The agreed shape of the world might have expanded a moment when it heard the splash. A woman might have paused if she heard its echo while watering geraniums. A couple turn from gazing dreamily in the sky-coloured river and look up as though they hear a plane drawing a trail in the sky overhead. A small boy making sandcastles in a sandpit might think that the world had grown suddenly bigger than it usually is, that it has expanded with an audible pop. Each of them, they raise their heads and think someone has taken a risk, someone has emptied their pockets and flown.
About the Author: David Mohan has been published in PANK, Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, SmokeLong Quarterly, Matchbook, The Seneca Review, and The Chattahoochee Review. He has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize.