This late December morning the sun was reflected glaringly by frozen snow. It burned through the windshield, was a white explosion. Blinded, I ducked into my seat and raced by car over the red traffic light. The path, I knew it well.
With screeching tires, I braked in front of the two-story, only recently built house and bumped hard against the curb. I flew out of the car, hurried to the front door, pushed it wide open and the restlessness that had seized me last night made me run up the stairs up until to the first floor and stumble further. Nevertheless, there was a paralyzing rigor in me. Only my fingers, they trembled very fine. With difficulty, I got the key into the lock and opened the corridor door.
The doors that led out from the hallway were closed.
There was no answer. Maybe she hadn’t heard me; perhaps she was shopping, or maybe strolling.
“Mum, it’s me!”
I opened the kitchen door. On the table, there was just a plate of soup. Nothing else. Well, there was a spoon next to it. I dipped a finger in the greyish soup with pieces of greyish-brown meat; it was cold. Very cold. The liquid had slightly thickened at the edge. My mother again had chosen the plate with the blue zigzag line, which she liked so much. A pot stood on the stove, and I lifted the lid. It smelled delicious and spicy. Maybe a hint too strict because of the frayed leek, which was swimming in there. Barley Broth. Three-day soup.
I went over to the bathroom. It was shiny clean as always; it smelled of lavender, it smelled of mother, cozy and familiar. When I looked around, yes, the towels hung fluffy white over the towel rail and under the sink lay two tablets. They were yellow. Otherwise, I would not have discovered them on the white tiled floor.
From the hallway a noise-soaked into the apartment, someone climbed up the stairs. Mother, I thought, there you are. Relieved, I breathed deeply. She will be happy when she discovers me.
But the person climbed further up; they were comfortable, buoyant steps. It sounded as if they were laughing. Then it became quiet.
The silence surrounded me tightly, more and more tightly as if it wanted to lock me in. Such soundlessness I had never heard in my mother’s apartment. Again, my restlessness broke through, became an unrestrained fear not possible to be contained, and the hunch of a coming disaster crept deep into me.
That could not be – that my mother was still asleep. After all, it was almost noon – no, she would not do that. Only if she was ill. Cautiously I opened slowly, very slowly the bedroom door.
The room filled with cold winter sunlight. Like a big bird, mother lay beside her bed with her arms spread out. Her face stuck in a lampshade.
My cry got stuck in my throat. I cheeped: “Mum?”
I knelt down in front of her to see her better, feel her breath, wake her up, see her smile that she can see me and rejoice at my visit.
Carefully I lifted her up, turned her over so that her face got rid of this ugly lampshade. It had pressed itself deep into her cheeks and forehead.
Around mother’s mouth lay a crooked, bizarre and distant smile. The eyes were half closed. I thought briefly, is she watching me? – But no, I stroked with my hand thereover to close them completely, I found this terrible, it was scary to me, it was all sorts of things I didn’t want to think off. She was wearing a nightgown. So, it must have happened at night or in the morning hours or even just recently. I wasn’t familiar with death, not at all, and mothers, they don’t die after all! She held a slip of paper in her hand. On it was my address written in her elegant, clear handwriting with my telephone number. The receiver of her telephone dangled into emptiness. The nightgown had been pushed up by the fall into nothingness; thus I saw stains, black-blue, at least they were very dark. I had never seen such. But I knew: they were cadaveric lividity.
While I, damn it, finally should be grown up, had to be, I asked pleadingly: “Wake up, please, not today, not yet, let’s never argue again, wake up. Mum, please!”
Then I was quiet. I bedded the dead woman in my lap and stroked her face, felt her soul, still trapped in this room. So, I held soliloquy, for a long time, said everything I had never spoken in life.
Eternities passed. I put a pillow under her head, stood up and opened the window.
Don’t forget me in the vastness of the light.
This thought and the feeling the room was getting smaller.
Now I was no longer a child of any human, could nevermore be comforted by motherly indulgence and never ask: Mother? How was it actually when you were young and in love, when you collected firewood in the woods after the war, took me with you on the handcart, and had to do so much that was so strange to you from your upbringing? I never asked you. Also, neither, whether you once were happy for many moments.
The room got winter sun-blue. I got up and began to make phone calls. I could not speak but cry. I cried for her, the dead one, and I cried for myself.
Mother’s funeral has not been saved in my memory.
Monika Detering wanted to be a cabin boy or a painter. She became a puppet master and worked in New York, Washington and Philadelphia as well as on the East Frisian Islands. Today she writes and publishes novels such as “Der Sommer des Raben” (2017), “Ich bin Hermann (2017), and Thrillers, most recently “Macht, Gier und Haie” (2017), “Bittere Liebe an der Ruhr” (2017), together with Horst-Dieter Radke (2017). She lives with her husband in Bielefeld,Westphalia, Germany, has three grown daughters and loves her big colorful family very much.