Your Mother Before She Became – Jennifer Harvey
The woman in the photographs is your mother, but you do not recognize her. They are a grainy version of her in black and white, a version from before. From a time when she was almost a girl still, her youth the thing which shocks you the most. Because how can it be? How can this be her?
In the photographs she is laughing, her energy filling the frame, the people around her catching the spark and laughing with her. You can almost hear them as you stare at their faces and try to imagine how they felt that day. Everything ahead of them still. The possibilities abundant. Life not yet diminished.
And a vision unsettles you. Your mother now, sitting in a chair by the window, dressed in a quilted dressing gown and sheepskin slippers, calling you on the phone to tell you the latest news. That the daffodils have burst through at last, that the neighbor has a new car, that the fox came to the door to beg for an egg. These are the events now. The things worth mentioning. But when her calls stopped, you’d pretended not to understand.
Until the mail arrived and forced you to confront it—your mother’s journey from laughter to silence, from energy to infirmity, from girl to old woman. But you resist it still, refuse to understand. Slip each image back into the envelope and think, ‘enough’.
They clattered through the letterbox one morning, the handwriting on the envelope flamboyant, old fashioned, but legible. The hand which wrote the address, steady still, and focused with certainty and intent. Sent by a friend. No note, but you knew what was being said. Look, this was the girl I knew, this was the friend I had. This was your mother, before she became.
You hadn’t asked for them and can’t remember now how it came about, and seeing them, your first thought is: Why? Why do you think I should see this?
You are still not sure you understand what you are supposed to grasp. If it is premonition or warning. See her for who she is, before it is too late.
And there it comes again. A vision of your mother sitting by the window, and shocked into silence as she thinks back to that day. Who will know me as the girl I used to be? That day, she had thought the moment was enough, that the click of the camera was all that was needed to fix that laughing girl in something close to permanence. To believe: I have been seen. I have been heard and understood.
And do you grasp it now? Perhaps. You pick up the phone and hear her voice down the line; the shiver of it. Then catch a spark as she tells you the fox came begging for its egg. Tomorrow it will come again, she says.
Then she laughs and waits for you to laugh with her.
Jennifer Harvey is a Scottish writer now living in Amsterdam. She is the author of Someone Else’s Daughter, All The Lies We Told, and a third title, forthcoming in May 2021 . Her short fiction has appeared in various publications in the U.S. and the U.K., including: Carve, Folio, Bare Fiction, The Lonely Crowd and New Writing Scotland 38. Alongside writing, she is a Resident Reader for Carve Magazine, and serves as a member of the Editorial Board for Ellipsis Magazine. When not writing, she can be found sauntering along the Amsterdam canals, dreaming up new stories.
You can find her online over at www.jenharvey.net