Caroline Phones Her Mother by Cazarija Abartis

Mother does not have her hearing aid in.

“Not comfortable, she says. “The shirt you mailed me doesn’t fit."

My head is buzzing. “Too small? I’ll exchange it when I visit."

“I’m getting small."


“I mean is the shirt too small a size? This doesn’t matter, of course I’m just talking."

“I’m getting old. I’m one inch shorter than when I was fifty."

My mother used to mow the grass and plant rosebushes and clip the boxwood hedges. In my mind a sad bell tolls. I look out the window at my own shaggy lawn. I cough and explain, “It’s a cold."

“You be careful. On the radio, I heard you can get heart disease from not brushing your teeth." I always taught you and Laura to take care of your teeth.

“There’s an association, Mother, but it may not be causal."

“We have a good association, I mean relationship."

“Yes." I should water the yellowing lawn, put out ornaments of plastic bunnies and ducks, buy a
gazebo; Eric joked about making the neighbors envious.

“Other parents and children don’t get along. I even heard of a son divorcing his parents."


“I’ll see you next week." My throat is raw, and I need to speak loudly. I want to whisper, Eric
has moved out.

“I’m all alone now," she says. “No one to talk to."

I cough again. “There’s me and Laura."

“Laura’s busy with her babies and that no-goodnik husband of hers."

“Sam is a good man."

“Sam." She hisses his name. “Lazy and irresponsible."

I swallow hard. If I were a cat, a furrball would be coming up. We are both right. I worried about Laura marrying such a handsome man; everybody must always have treated him as if his beauty was gift enough. “I hope you don’t talk to Laura like this."

“I can’t hear you. Is there something wrong with the phone? My phone? Your phone?"

“Maybe it’s your hearing aid."

“I don’t have it in."

“I know," I know. I close my eyes. I cannot catch my breath. I try to hold my neck straight. The
air is a bag over my face.

“But we’re not in a law court." This is just a conversation. We can just talk.

“Eric left me."

She does not gasp or click her tongue. “Caroline, darling."

“He’s in love with his paralegal." The room is swimming around me. The walls shift into purple
and yellow, and I am dizzy.

“Oh, honey."

My lungs feel like blazing metal. “I think I always knew."

“Yes," she says, and I imagine her looking down helplessly at the floor as she did when I was a teenager and told her that Bobby broke my heart when he invited Francie to the dance. She cupped her chin in her hand and paced. Her eyes filled with my hot tears. She shrugged and smiled. Her tears washed the world.

“Mama, I love you," I shout.

“No need to shout," she says. “I know."


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