My father has told me my mother’s name. He’s told me she had long black hair, like me, and that she died in an accident. Her car skidded across an ice patch and bit into a telephone pole. He’s even said I was three at the time. But he won’t say anything else. Not how they met. Not what she was like. We’ve moved twice since the accident, and there’s no one in this town I can ask.
I haven’t seen a photograph of my mother. There are none in the house. But I have an image in my mind of a woman wearing a burgundy coat, black hair streaming like dark syrup over her shoulders. Years ago, I gathered the courage to ask my father if my mother had owned such a coat. He gave me a long look and went outside to chop firewood. I watched him with my nose pressed against the living room window, breath fogging up the cold glass. On the stump in the back yard, he tapped a wedge into a Douglas fir round, then brought down the sledgehammer. The wood split with a crack.
My father’s life fractured when my mother died. Since then he’s tried to forget her — to forget her and everything else that came before her death. But I’m a constant reminder. I’m like a dandelion in the middle of his green lawn. A weed he can’t get rid of. Dandelions go to seed though, and one day soon, I’m going to blow right out of this house and alight somewhere I’m wanted.
I used to tell my father what was happening in my life. “It’s Sports Day tomorrow at school. I’m in the long jump.” All afternoon, I would scan the spectators looking for his moustache. But he would never come. Disappointment lacerated me each time, until I finally stopped hoping. I’ve had to fend for myself for a long while now. I know how to cook and do my laundry. My father does stock the fridge with groceries — I don’t go hungry — but I can’t rely on him for anything else. His emotions have petrified. Someday I’d like to understand him better. I’d like to know why I lost both parents when I could still have had one. Maybe it would start my forgiveness flowing. Because right now, I can’t squeeze out a single drop.
My father has taught me one lesson, that burying the past is dangerous. You can’t suppress grief and anger and not expect damage. So I’m curious how I’ll act after I leave, when my father will no longer be my present, but my past. If a childhood memory of his indifference rises up and yells for my attention, will I respect its call or feel compelled to shut it down? If I never forgive him for the pain he caused, will I ever be truly free of it? Will I ever be able to care that much about someone else again?
Last year, I started working at a grocery store, and each paycheque brings me closer to leaving town. Today I have to run the final blocks to the store to make my afternoon shift on time. I left the house late after spending too long on my homework. For a moment, I think I’ve forgotten my name tag but then feel it deep in a pocket. I dig it out. Krista. White letters on a blue background. I slow my pace to fix it on my shirt and then begin running again.
At work, I realize my imagined test of emotions has come sooner than I expected. A new boy is stocking produce. He is beautiful, and he shakes my hand.
I don’t want to let go. His skin is warm. His smile is unique somehow, genuine but relaxed. It invites conversation. I feel like a snow-covered peak that the sun has discovered. I release his hand and turn away from him. I’m afraid of melting. So this is my heart now, I reflect — already encrusted with ice, already protecting itself from loss. I envision the ice thawing, and the sense of vulnerability makes me catch my breath. Suddenly I see my future as a choice: not between leaving town or staying, but between living in an icefield or an alpine meadow.
I turn back.
Liz Walker’s flash fiction has appeared in various print and online publications and has been honoured in several contests. Her poetry and prose have also been included in two chapbooks. She lives in Victoria, BC, Canada.