The month after our mother died, our father began bringing women home. It felt like a behind-her-back kind of operation. “I’m going to have a guest over tonight,” is what he would say.
David and I stayed out in the living room, turned up cartoons, burned toast, kicked our feet up over our heads. I worked long division. At some point a woman would emerge to drink a glass of water or fix her hair in the kitchen window’s dark reflection.
The guests left behind nubs of lipstick in gold tubes and leftover food, paper pouches of cold french fries, chicken legs in clamshell Styrofoam boxes. They left tampons blooming through toilet paper in the trash can, like tiny mice they’d killed, the cotton tails pink with blood.
I guess when you think about it, everything we do is behind the backs of the dead.
I imagined the doctors had removed my mother’s sick breasts in one clean cut, still-lovely things I could slip into a bra and strap to my chest. I didn’t want the illness, just the shape. If my mother’s body could no longer be my mother’s, maybe it could be mine.
I didn’t tell the grief counselor this because she would have said it was normal. This was her favorite word. It made me want to flush the toilet three times. It made me want to take the pictures of Greece off the walls of her dim office and bring them home and give them as gifts to Dad’s guests. It’s not normal to lose your mother when you’re eleven.
Anna was our favorite guest, because she wasn’t anything like a mother. Whatever life she and our father might build together could never get bigger than the life we’d had before. Our mother died on Valentine’s Day; Anna came over for the first time during spring break. Our father poured drinks. She sat at the table, tracing her jeweled nails around water rings, and asked for Gatorade powder to mix with her whiskey.