By Mike Lee

Mother sat in the rocking chair on the wide porch in front of the combination solarium and laundry room. She paid 60 grand for the addition, which included knotty cedar paneling on the walls and floor. Her daughter and granddaughter were allergic to the wood, but Mother didn’t have the kind of mind most others had.

Many found her eccentric and certainly passive-aggressive, especially since she blasted Berlioz’s Deus Irae from the sound system installed in the house while taking time off to read her will. Outside, her daughter and granddaughter were loading boxes into the back of an SUV, each pausing to sneeze.

Yet, Mother did not go for the flowing robe and turban look of a crazy lady living on the corner; she dressed most of the time professionally. Around the house, she preferred a T-shirt and jeans with flip-flops, switching to cowboy boots to wander in her ill-attended garden. Mother was expert at outwardly passing for normal until something made her twitch or when she opened her mouth to speak inappropriately at the worst time.

Mother glanced to the yard to watch her girls while turning the pages, wondering why both were sneezing. She hoped they didn’t have something she could catch and perhaps die drowning in her phlegm like Daddy when he caught pneumonia.

She was terrified of drowning, so she never learned to swim. Ever since she was a girl, Mother stayed away from the water except to dip her toe in creeks, kiddie pools, and blessedly hot baths with her delightful plastic pillows and smell-pretty bath bombs.

Mother could not recall why she was so afraid of the water. Decades ago, the therapist she saw then suggested it was a traumatic neonatal experience. That made sense to Mother. Her parents never had a pool at the spacious mid-century modern where she grew up in Houston, and they never vacationed at a beach. Maybe it was that. Perhaps they were afraid of the water and passed the fear on to her.

Children pick up on their parents’ behaviors. They glance at a sour or fearful expression. A vision of a face twisted in rage—and she responded by curling up like an armadillo.

She lowered the will and watched her daughter and grandchild slide the final boxes into the SUV. Grandchild pressed the button above, and the hood slowly dropped to latch. Why isn’t my precious grand kitty all grown up, Mother thought, her eyes watering, feeling a little sad.

Grand kitty’s hair is rust red, with bangs falling to her shoulders, like Mother’s before she stopped dyeing it.

Unlike Mother, the daughter and child are water creatures. They took to the water like they owned all the seas. They make plans for road trips, bought a house together, and remodeled it for temporary stays. A bed and breakfast, they say.

They’re not afraid of anything—no fears that Mother was aware of. This subject never came up in conversation.

Mother murmured, “Why are they not afraid of the water?”

As they walked to the porch and open the door, Mother placed the will aside and lowered the volume on the stereo.

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Mike Lee is a writer and editor at a trade union in New York City. His work appears in or is forthcoming in Bright Flash Literary Review, Roi Faineant, Fictionette, Press Pause, Brilliant Flash Fiction, BULL, Drunk Monkeys, and many others. His story collection, The Northern Line, is available on Amazon.

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