When she picked me up from school that day, my mother was in a bad mood. She was quiet and scowling, swore under her breath at the guy who cut her off. I ignored her moodiness and looked out the window or picked at the hole in my jeans.
I did not offer answers to questions that weren’t asked. If my mother didn’t say “how was school?” I did not tell her about the math exam (it was okay), or that my friend Kaitlyn was a bitch to me at lunch (language) or that Kris Andrews talked to me in drama (I wouldn’t tell her that anyway). I was no longer a child, in need of validation or approval. I bore my worries on my own shoulders.
She didn’t ask; I watched the traffic in silence, hopped out of the van in silence, pulling my backpack onto my shoulder and following her to the house.
The back door was still open behind me, falling gently closed against my back when she grabbed me and collapsed, finally, into my shoulder. I put my arms around her, bewildered. “Mrs. Kulyk died,” she cried.
I had stopped going along with my parents to dinners at the Kulyk house the year before. I was old enough now to stay at home by myself, eating potato chips and watching Much Music. Since the Kulyks’ sons were older and had girlfriends and parties to go to, my parents didn’t make me go anymore, to sit quietly at the table and listen to their talk of local politics and people I didn’t know. I didn’t understand my parents’ friendships. They seemed shallow, mundane.
Mrs. Kulyk made the first French onion soup I ever had. This is what flashed through my mind then, French onion soup, in little clay bowls, crusted with browned cheese.
Mrs. Kulyk had blown through a red light when Mr. Kulyk was at work and her two teenage sons were at school. I learned these details later on — how her car had been t-boned by a delivery truck, how she was killed instantly, how the police chalked it up to “driver distraction”. The information would be printed in the next day’s newspaper.
I had passed my mother in height the year before. Now she was sobbing into my neck, looking to me for comfort, as though she were the child. As though I were quiet because I knew she did not need or want words, not because I did not know what to say, not because I was thinking of French onion soup. I held her while she cried, and felt my mother trying to mold me into the grown-up she needed right then, like how she dressed me when I was little. And I realized, then, as I listened, that I had not asked her what was wrong.
Jennifer Delisle has published poetry and prose in a variety of journals, including The Prairie Journal (forthcoming), The Queen’s Quarterly, dANDelion, Wascana Review, Room of One’s Own, Prairie Fire, and others. She is a member of Room Magazine’s editorial collective, and has a PhD in Canadian Literature from the University of British Columbia.