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Eulogy for a Mother I Liked Sometimes

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

Words by Sage Knight


She was sitting on the steps, staring at the front door, and though I was sure the flesh under my eyes was still puffed from tears, I stood by the railing next to her. Even if there had been enough space for us to sit side-by-side on those stairs, which were a twig’s width across so that people approaching from opposite ends would have to clamber over one another, I would have refused to.

My mother did not look at me. She got out a cigarette, tapping the box twice on her knee as she always did before tucking it back in her pocket, and lit it.

“You’ll set off the fire alarm, Carla,” I said.

“Fire alarm is disabled,” she said.

I looked up. Shards of plastic barely clung to the cylindrical structure that had once been on the ceiling. Exposed wires hung like dead worms. Under my mother’s leg lay a hammer, dusted in white plastic.

I stared at the door alongside her. My lung’s heavings had calmed now, leaving me worn out and with the sensation of extinguished cigarettes in my chest.

“You know what they say about boiling water,” I said.

She grunted.

“Sitting here won’t make the delivery man come any faster.”

“I’m not cooking for you.”

“That’s not my-” I shut my eyes. “I know that. I’m grown.”

She gave another grunt, this one laced with bitter amusement.

I know this doesn’t sound like a eulogy yet. I tried the traditional method, vague sweeping statements about someone who I ‘didn’t always agree with’ but ‘she was good, really’, all of which I do honestly believe, but just saying that feels like lying to me. I can’t convey how I felt - feel - about her like that.

I asked, “What did you order?”

“Pizza.” She dragged at the cigarette, and blew it from the corner of her mouth at my face.

“And you say me getting oestrogen is ‘white’?”

“All I said was you should consult your South American friends about it. Clear away the nonsense of people who don’t have enough struggles in their life.”

“I have other trans Venezuelan frie-” I huffed, but said no more. I didn’t want the extinguished cigarettes reigniting into some pathetic wisp of a flame. I’d already figured out that she really wanted me to go to the South American Society we had near my home, but they were as transphobic as most trans societies I’d encountered were racist. Me and Carla had already yelled and screeched like parrots, repeated the same lines of argument over and over. It was no use. I’d come up to have a nice time with my mother, and I was going to have a nice time with my mother.

In spite of both our tendencies.

I leaned on the railing. A part of me urged me to leave, to cool off, but I knew that would make me hide away from her in her own home for the rest of the night, and that was no use. It was my last day here.

In spite of this determination, I could think of nothing to say. Everything I came up with I played out in my head first, and even in my mind it always lead back to some argument or another. It was exhausting just to think.

She extinguished the cigarette on the ashtray she had by her foot. The embers turned from orange to black to a sickly sort of grey. She got out the pack of cigarettes, took one out, stuck it between her lips, tapped the box twice on her knee, and returned it to her pocket. I waited for the lighter to emerge but it never did. The cigarette jutted from her mouth like a threat.

She took it out, and exhaled as though it were lit after all. “You remember that old house of ours? Before your dad–”

“Yes, I do.” I kept the impatience from my voice. My mother liked to start conversations that headed nowhere, only serving to irritate, and I sensed this would be one of those instances.

“Do you remember that dinner table? Big oaken thing, and… Well, I don’t know if it was oaken, just sounded right to say. ‘Oaken’. You remember it, though, right? Large and dark and smooth with those baby angels engraved on the side among the carved out ferns and foliage?”

“Yes, yes.”

“It was an annoying height, wasn’t it? Especially for you as a kid. You’d strain to reach the top during meals, then when you were running around playing you’d keep hitting your head on it. Cried like anything. Evil, it was.” She chuckled. “In spite of the angelic imagery.”

I rolled my eyes. I’d been right. “Are you teaching me something? I don’t think someone staring at a door to make a delivery man arrive faster should be passing on any lessons.”

She dragged at the unlit cigarette, and exhaled nothing. “A lot of things like that in our old home. Annoyances.”

“This one, too. Like this staircase.” I tapped the rail twice. “Thin.”

She nodded. “Like this staircase. Though at least in this instance we can’t fix it. There’s a comfort in that.”

“Your point?”

“A table not replaced.”

“What?”

“Nothing, just… something I read once.” She shrugged. “Can’t even remember where.”

I thought for a while. In another room a fan blazed to life, to join the electric whirring of the fridge and the perpetual tumbling of the washing machine.

“Yeah,” I said. “I have this toaster that smells like burning every time I use it. Probably just needs a shakedown, get the old crumbs out. A lot less work than having to replace a whole table.”

Carla chuckled again. “Just like your dad and I raised you.”

I looked to the door. “What kind of pizza did you order?”

She got out her lighter, but merely flipped it in circles on her leg, over and over. The liquid made no sound as it spun. “Pineapple, ham.”

I wrinkled my nose. “Did you get it just to hurt me?”

“I did, actually.”

“Really?”

“Seems silly, doesn’t it?”

“Very.”

“Silliness, everywhere. A table not replaced. A chair that folds the wrong way round. A fort built from unfixed crooks and crooked fixes.”

“Remembering where you read it yet?”

A frown took her face violently. The lighter froze in her fingers mid-flip, and the cigarette hung down from her mouth like a broken bone. “I think I wrote it, actually.”

I burst into a cackle.

“Don’t laugh! You know I used to try publishing poetry.”

I blinked at her with wide eyes.

“I never told you?”

My silence answered her.

She said, “I suppose that makes some sort of sense.”

I looked away. That hurt more than I would’ve expected it to.

Quietness continued to lie against the other side of the door, made from a lack of knocks or bells rung or even footsteps. The only sound outside was that of slow cars, their lights interrupting the dark blue of the night as depicted by the opaque glass of our door. My mother, at last, lit the cigarette, but she did not inhale. She stared at the end of it with crossed eyes, making her appear somewhere between comical and horrifying. Then she took it from her lips with a grimace, extinguished it, and left the crooked carcass to lie in the ashtray alone with the remains of its predecessors.

She stood, then, and put a hand to my cheek while staring at the ground between us.

“Come,” she said. “I’ll see what I can cook for you.”


Cover Photograph by Ella Furnell

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