"What brings you to England?"
A combination of circumstances, that was the truth. But it was far too much to explain. "I don't really know," I said.
He laughed. "Yes you do." He was so confident, his eyes steady on me as though he'd known me all his life. "You didn't just get lost," he said.
"Yes, that's exactly it. I got lost."
He put his hands in his pockets, pushed his face a few inches closer to my own, then away again, smiling. He behaved as though we'd just concluded some tacit agreement and I found myself unwilling to challenge him. "I'll get your wine," he said, and disappeared into the crowd.
"Give me a time frame for this," says the shrink. He has a clipboard and a mechanical pencil, a reading lamp that shows his skin, dark and smooth, like an oiled saddle.
"Six years ago. Spring. On windy days the flowering trees sent petals through the air like confetti."
Now we are to talk about my mother.
"She died," I tell the shrink. He waits, unmoving. This is not enough.
So I explain that it was cancer and that I wasn't there. When later I saw the time indicated on the death certificate, I realized that I had been at an ice rink, looping circles in rented skates in a small town near Boston. What does that say about me? About my character? The truth is I couldn't have watched it happen. I mean, the actual moment of death--no. She'd lost both breasts, had a tube stuck into the hollow which would have been her cleavage, shed her hair and her eyebrows. Even her skin peeled in strips. I'd been through all that with her, but this final part was different. There was no helping her.
The worst part, she once told me--this was before things got too bad, before she was entirely bedridden--the worst part, other than the fact that she was dying, was the humiliation of having to go around in maternity clothes. Her belly, its organs swollen with cancer, gave the impression that she'd reached the third trimester of pregnancy. Shopping with her amid the fertile exuberance of expectant mothers had been for her a macabre, debasing affair. We did it. Somehow.
"I should be buying these things for you," she said, holding her credit card in the checkout line. I was twenty-two and looked more or less like all the other women in the shop trying to figure out how big a bra to buy now that they'd outgrown all their others. Except I wasn't pregnant, though secretly I would have liked to be.
"I could only give birth to an alien," I said. "We'd have to buy onesies with room for three legs."
"You will have the most beautiful babies," said my mother. "You are the most beautiful girl."
I remember there was a jingle that kept playing in the shop, a nursery rhyme tapped out on a toy piano. I smiled at my mother. "Yeah, but cut me and I bleed green," I said.
Just before I left for the airport she said, "Let me see you again one last time. Who else can make me laugh?"
I promised her that. I promised her in the same manner with which I made her meals she could not eat, took her to the bathroom in the middle of the night, called the ambulance, sat with her as she lay in bed, exhausted, the telephone on one side of her and photographs of her children (now grown) on the other. I promised I'd be back in no time at all, but the afternoon she died I was gliding along a frozen rink in my woolly socks, my mittens.
Excerpted from Daniel Isn't Talking by Marti Leimbach Copyright © 2006 by Marti Leimbach. Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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