My mother leans back against the chesterfield, the smoke from her cigarette performing an arabesque. She closes her eyes and hums along with Mahalia 'and he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own'. I am about to leave when her eyes flash open - she points her cigarette at me, "I'm not finished with you." I sigh and slide down into the chair attempting to get my head lower than my feet. I pause to wonder for a moment how a woman who grew up in the prairies during the depression came to love Mahalia Jackson anyway. She takes her eyes off me and taps the nails of her left hand on the side-table. She looks around with the air (or so I imagine) of a content haus frau - her home is her castle. She is the boss of all she surveys. My dad would no more comment on any of her decisions regarding this suburban split-level than he would 'fly to the moon'. And that is the problem. The division of power gets sketchier and sketchier as the three of us children get older.
My dad found me reading Lady Chatterley's Lover the night before and took it from me. I am fifteen and no one has ever told me that I can't read something. I'm outraged. - he tells me that it isn't suitable for someone who isn't married. Holey-moley! Isn't this the 1960's and not the 1860's? When my dad tightens his upper lip I know not to argue.
After school I found my mother, uncharacteristically, sitting in the living room. Usually she'd be cleaning or grocery shopping or something. But she was sitting there, smoking. She'd called me in and I imagined that she wanted to heap more coals on my head about the book. And now I wish she'd just get it over with.
She looks at me over her cigarette and reaches beside her, her free hand scootching under a throw pillow. She pulls out the thin book. The book. The very one.
"Your dad's being a horse's ass. Just don't read it in front of him and don't tell him we had this conversation." She tosses the book to me on the way to the kitchen. "Come and set the table in an hour."
my mum, Jude (my sister), Aunt Audrey and me in Vancouver
My mum died twenty years ago today and so she of course got into my story. It is a true one in the facts if not in the details. And the word arabesque led me there. I love words, don't you?