We had a hammock in the backyard in the small old house where we used to live on Fern Street when you were ten years old. I bought it at a tag sale for ten dollars. The guy at the tag sale helped me put all the green metal pieces in the back seat of the car. When I got home, I carried them one by one to the backyard and built the hammock stand out of them. The hammock swing was orange canvas. I needed to ask you to help me pull it tight to place it on the chain that hung down from the metal bar to hold it in place. It worked. It was a real hammock. I used it a few times. You and your friends did too. Our cat, Lassie, found a shady spot lying underneath it on hot days. Eventually, it fell apart and the metal pieces rusted. For a while, it was my accomplishment.
I remember that hammock best from the night we watched the meteor shower in it. At your insistence, we woke up at four in the morning and dressed ourselves in warm clothes, sweat pants, socks and sweaters and took a big thick quilt out to the backyard and lay down together in that hammock. The air was cold but as we stared up at the night sky we were warm beneath that quilt.
The sky revealed a miracle of falling stars. There were shooting stars flying through space leaving a trail of sparkly dust in their wake. I had never seen such a sight before. I had, in the past, laid out on a blanket on the ground when such things had been predicted and had seen one or two moving stars in the span of an hour. This was not the same. It was one after another after another. It was more like something you would see in a planetarium, at a fireworks show, or in a cartoon. It wasn’t something I ever imagined seeing in real life.
You weren’t surprised. You had expected it to be like this when you clamored for me to wake you up and watch it with you. You thought it would be like this, an amazing and endless stream of stars racing across the sky. You believed that the wishes we made on all of them would come true. We snuggled under that quilt for a good long time, mother and child in a hammock, warm and delighted under the night sky.
I will leave that moment just where it is, in the background, on Fern St., in the dark, when you were ten. I will resist the pull to compare it to any other time in our lives. I will take the picture of those falling stars in all their brightness with me. I will bask in the warmth under that quilt where I can smell your clean hair and hear your soft laugh. I will take pride in the hammock that I built and remember how it held us securely on the night we witnessed a miracle in the sky.
Madlynn Haber is a writer living in Northampton, Massachusetts. Her work has been published in the anthologies Letters to Fathers from Daughters and Word of Mouth Volume Two, in Anchor Magazine, Exit 13 Magazine and on websites including: A Gathering of the Tribes, The Voices Project, The Jewish Writing Project, BoomSpeak, Quail Bell Magazine and Mused Literary Review.
You study the models in the photographs on pattern 6702 and picture your eldest daughter sashaying through Central Park in a slinky jumpsuit. It looks complicated, yet the small print promises otherwise, in four languages—leicht, facile, easy, fácil.
You pray she will like it, loveit, rave about it, intuit your heart is stitched into the seams. You do know this is absurd, on multiple levels. Your daughter is not the effusive type and, after all, it’s only an item of clothing, not a cure for cancer or a round-the-world cruise. You also suspect that, if she senses your presence when she wears it, that’s bound to creep her out. Who wants to feel their mother’s hands, her sweat, frustration, and pin-pricked fingertips, while strolling Central Park?
You stalk the fabric aisles, trailing fingers along bolts of fleece, flannel, satin and chiffon, in search of four-way stretch jersey. It must be black, the only color your daughter wears. That’s not entirely true. She also wears white and gray. But in a white jumpsuit, she’d look like an astronaut, and in all-over gray, well, a prisoner perhaps, or a member of some drab cult.
You rule out the transparent, t-shirt weight jerseys. Yours will have heft. Though synthetics aren’t your thing, you decide the one you eventually choose has a decided gravitas. That’s when you begin to suspect you are placing far too much importance on this sewing project.
But didn’t your daughter once say she’d been searching for a black jumpsuit? And didn’t you say it would make the ideal birthday gift? You realize she’s likely bought one for herself by now or that it’s fallen off her wish list. Nonetheless, the girls often accuse you of not listening to them, of forgetting your little promises, so you’d made a very specific mental note not to forget about the black jumpsuit.
The pattern is designed for use in multiple nations. You picture a legion of confident, fashionable women—from Toulouse to Berlin, Fresno to Madrid—stepping out in their jumpsuits, monos and combinaisons. In Spanish, mono also means monkey. A tuxedo is sometimes called a monkey suit. Stiff, formal attire, for stiff, formal occasions. From tuxedo to utilitarian mechanics’ coverall. The universal, multi-purpose garment.
Standing in line, waiting your turn at the fabric-cutting counter, you picture an entire wardrobe of jumpsuits and rompers—for sleeping, lounging, cocktail parties, work and play. You see yourself at Fashion Week in New York City, as anorectic models clad in your latest collection float down the runway, and a thousand cameras record your triumph. Your daughters are in the front row beside you. Proud of what you’ve achieved. And to think, it all started with a mother’s promise and one black jumpsuit.
When your number is called, you stumble to the counter, bolt in hand, and experience sticker shock when four yards of stretch jersey comes to over fifty dollars. Even without factoring in the hours of labor and frustration that lie ahead, you know it would have made more sense to buy a jumpsuit.
At home, you lay the fabric out on the dining table and struggle as it slips, slides, and puddles off the side and onto the floor like a cartoon shadow. You pin eleven wrinkled bits of tissue paper to the fabric, then cut them out. You believe you are hewing a straight line, only to discover that the cut-outs—arms, legs, pockets and the rest—have ragged edges, as if cut by a first grader with round-tipped safety scissors.
The two sheets—front and back—of fine-print instructions and diagrams intimidate and terrify you, as does the belated realization that you have never sewn with stretch fabric before. You wish you could summon a flock of twittering Disney bluebirds to finish the job, while you sip a mojito and supervise.
In the end, you muddle through, taking it one step at a time. You resist the urge to look ahead. Eyes on the task at hand. This goes on for hours, days, into the night. You are determined to get it there on time.
You rip out seams, break needles, poke holes in the fabric that must be camouflaged, compensated for. You are grateful your daughter prefers black—black thread on black fabric proves more forgiving than some bright, patterned bit of goods would have been.
You wrap the completed jumpsuit in golden tissue paper, slip it into a padded envelope, with a card wishing her Happy Birthday. As you hand it to the woman at the postal counter, you make a tri-part wish, that the precious jumpsuit arrives on time, that it fits and is precisely what your daughter pictured all those months ago. The woman tosses your parcel into a rolling cart. The deed is done.
An irksome thought intrudes. It wasyour older daughter who once fancied a black jumpsuit, wasn’t it?
Dorothy Rice is the author of two memoirs, Gray Is the New Black (Otis Books, June 2019) and The Reluctant Artist (Shanti Arts, 2015). She has also published essays and stories about motherhood in Brain Child and Brain Teen Magazines, Literary Mama, Mom Egg Review and others. After raising five children and retiring from a career in environmental protection, Rice earned an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside, Palm Desert, at 60. Find her at dorothyriceauthor.com and @dorothyrowena.
When my child fell off the play- house roof, the thud echoed in my bones—a cold vacuum filled me and in the quiet before we knew if she was okay my heart berated me, me—who neither put her up there nor pushed her off
“You were supposed to take care of her——YOU!”
And when I hear of another child hurt, it’s the same thud, the same cold echo, the same shame in my own heart on me, me— who neither set the blockade nor aimed the weapon nor put her in the jam- packed cell and locked it
Ingrid Anders is a wife, mother, and stepmother residing in Northern Virginia. Her most recent works have appeared in Eunoia Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, and right here in Mothers Always Write. She hosts the Short Fiction Writing Workshop at the Washington DC Public Library and is a member of the Poets on the Fringe and the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD.
Tonight you called to me from the crib I stuffed my ears with beeswax And lashed myself to the pole I thought you were being naughty Keeping sleep at bay You cried and wailed Gnashed your gums Gurgled, spat and sobbed Crescendo of misery Ululations punctuated By calculating silence At last I could take no more And ignoring the sagacity Of books, Brits and old bats I came to you at last Heavy-cheeked caramel face Soaked with tears Throat full of water and Sailboats of unsaid things You smiled at me Polished mahogany eyes Shining in the semi-darkness Your bow shaped mouth opened loosely And breathy sounds came out Sweet milky air wafted over my face You looked earnestly at me And played your music for a minute I knew exactly what you were saying Little one, I love you too
Mandy Ruthnum is a working Canadian- Mauritian mom of two boys, ages 4 and 12.