SEPTEMBER • by Ilse Eskelsen

“Guinevere!” my mother said. My waking eyes saw everything as slow, disparate images on a just-light background; she was a flash of red athletic wear and a sudden weight on the end of my bed, a frenzied face and a mewling noise from my displaced cat. “You know what today is, don’t you?”

I did not.

“It’s September first!” she howled. “And you know what that means!”

I did not.

“It’s National Yoga Month!” she said. “You and I are going to do yoga. Every. Day. We will be glowing with energy. We will be warrior queens of relaxation and meditation!”

“Mom,” I said, “what time is it?”

She bit her lip. “Seven?”

I checked my clock.

“It’s five thirty,” I said. “Please, for the love of all that is holy, go back to bed.”

“So you don’t want to do sunrise yoga?”

I did not.

She sagged.

When I came downstairs, my dad’s old Camelot t-shirt a little too cool in the not-quite-summer, not-quite-autumn weather, my mother’s hair was in a messy bun, and she was poking at a mess of eggs with a tired-looking spatula.

“What’s this?” I asked.

She smiled nervously at me. “Did you know it’s Better Breakfast Month? I thought we could start eating healthier. Eggs and avocados instead of cereal. What do you think?”

“Sure,” I said, sitting down at the table. “So this and yoga?”

“Yoga’s over,” she said distractedly. “Wouldn’t work. So, eggs?”

The eggs were pretty bad, which seemed to discourage my mom, but I ate them all anyway with pretended gusto. Then she drifted off to her room while I did some homework. The beginning-of-the-year math review was a little difficult (my dad had always helped me with that), but I managed. I was halfway through when Mom threw open the door, a slightly deranged smile on her face.

“Come on!” she said. She jangled the set of car keys in her hand. “It’s National Preparedness Month, and we barely have any food storage!”

She moved on from that one within the hour. Next came a more somber mood with National Suicide Prevention Month, then the poorly thought out California Wine Month celebration that I, a minor, politely skipped. National Potato Month lasted halfway though dinner, when my mother had to admit that her homemade mashed potatoes were unpalatable (Dad had always been the cook). I put my foot down at Food Safety Education Month; I felt I had already received enough warnings about pesticides in produce in my life. Then I went back to my room to do some reading.

It was an hour later that my mother entered. I glanced up to see a mournful look on her face and a plastic bag in her hands. My cat mewed.

“Let me guess,” I said. “National Ocean Cleanup Month?”

She shook her head and sat down on my carpet, cross-legged. “Honey,” she said. “It’s National Honey Month. I thought…”

She trailed off, lifting a container of honey from the bag.

I slipped off my bed to sit next to her. “I know what you’re doing,” I said.

“No,” she said, a warning, panicked note in her voice.

“Yes,” I said. “Mom, you don’t have to—”

“No,” she said, scrambling up. “No. I’m not doing anything. Guinevere, don’t…” She shook her head. “Don’t.”

“Mom—” I started, but the door was already closing behind her.

I squeezed my eyes shut for a second, then stood up.

I walked across the hall to her room and knocked on the door. She didn’t answer.

“It’s hard for me, too,” I said. I pressed my forehead against the wood of the door. “But can we talk about this instead of… I don’t know. Playing pretend? Distracting ourselves?”

“Gwen,” my mother said. It sounded like an exhalation. Like a plea.

“You’re not fooling anyone.” I was a little angry now. “Come on. It happened to both of us, okay?”

“Gwen,” my mother said. It sounded like a period at the end of a sentence. Like a brick wall.

I said, “It did. And I’ll be in my room if you want to be an adult about this.”

When I was back there petting my cat, I wondered if I had been too harsh. But wasn’t I also entitled to a reaction to the ninth, most awful month? I had loved my father, too.

I also loved my mother, though. Thus, my guilty conscience.

I was just about to crawl into my bed and turn out the lights when the door creaked open.

“Can I come in?” my mother asked.

I nodded.

She seemed unsure of where to sit (the bed, the floor, the swivel chair beside my desk). Her hands moved restlessly, one moment combing through her hair, the next rubbing pointlessly at the fabric of her pants. She avoided eye contact with special care.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“Me, too,” I said. “I was rude. What I said was uncalled for.”

She shrugged. “It’s just hard to see… I mean, it’s been a year since the news. Exactly. Three hundred and sixty-five whole days.” She smiled unpleasantly, still not looking at me. “And there are just… too many anniversaries this month. When he couldn’t stand anymore. When he got so sick he didn’t even want to watch Camelot. When he…”

It was the twenty-second. It was a year ago. “I know,” I said. “I know.”

She glanced up at me, quickly, then looked back down. “The funeral.”

I nodded.

“I was hoping September wouldn’t be ruined for you,” my mother said.

“It’s not,” I said, maybe lying. I moved closer to her, picking up the container on the ground. “What could ruin National Honey Month?”

“I don’t even know what you eat honey with,” she said, finally catching my eye.

“I could get some graham crackers,” I said.

She shook her head and pulled me down to the floor, squeezing my hand tight.

“Mom,” I said.

“I know,” she said. “I know.”

Ilse Eskelsen writes in Virginia, USA.

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Every Day Fiction