“I’m afraid that sometimes you’ll play lonely games too. Games you can’t win ’cause you’ll play against you.”
Dr. Seuss

I spooned into the small of my mother’s back, as she had with me when I was a child.

‘Can you give me a back rub?’ she said, pulling at her top.

‘Okay mum lie flat and I’ll give you a massage,’  I began by tracing the letters of a word across her back, a game we used to play when I was growing up.

‘I, no wait, L,’ she said and exhaled an audible sigh.

With my touch as light as the evening breeze, I spelled the rest of the word.

‘O, V…’ her breathing slowed and she uttered the word ‘Love.’

‘Oh mum,’ I fell into the curve of her spine, nestling my head against the nape of her neck. ‘It’s going to be okay. I promise.’

‘I love you darling, thank you…’ Her voice broke and I saw the dampness pooling on her pillow, ‘I just don’t think I can take this anymore. Please tell me about that call, what did he say to you exactly?’

It was the witching hour when he had phoned; dinner was bubbling on the cooker and the kids were attempting complicated math’s problems from their books splayed across the kitchen bench. Another hour or so until I can sink into the couch with the latest episode of Law and Order, I thought while retrieving a carrot scraping that had ended up in my son’s pencil case. The telephone rang, its angry buzz rudely interrupting an already busy domestic scene.


‘It’s Steve…’ his voice waivered.

‘Steve, hi you’ll have to speak up, it’s a madhouse around here, hold on.  Stop that. Now. Leave her alone. Sorry, yes?’

‘It’s your mum.’

‘What, is she okay?’ Gesticulating madly I attempted to shush the kids.

‘Yes, well no… It’s not her, she’s fine it’s me, I can’t come home.’

‘What’s wron—‘

‘I’ve met someone else. Can you please call your mum, tell her I can’t come home. I’m sorry…’

She imagined that her life had ended on the night of his phone call. There we were three weeks later: a daughter cradling a mother in her arms, our roles reversed. She spoke of loss and love and a life not worth living without him. I swept her hair from her face and patted her back as I would with my daughter. ‘You’ll be okay, the pain will ease.’ I repeated this mantra throughout the night, aware that I had already lost the woman that I had known as my mother.

 This is a reworked excerpt from a previous post: The day she went away