Strawberry shoots, signs of life, play peek-a-boo in the leaves I spread before the snow fell. Last time I saw Mom, she was tethered to an oxygen converter. A few days later, she was in hospital, hooked up to monitors and a morphine drip. I prefer to think of her here, greening-up from within the strawberry plants she gave me years ago. She always loved arithmetic—adding up her tidy rows of numbers, carrying remainders. Perfect calculations. There is comfort in knowing that each spring I’ll find Mom multiplying and dividing her strawberry plants across the garden, multiplying and dividing.
When I walk past a mirror or quickly sift through old photographs, I assume it’s me I see. But sometimes it’s my mother. Always the trickster jumping out, scaring the bejeezus out of us—whoopee cushions on the kitchen chair, a giant plastic spider beneath the pillow. This tendency towards mischief we share showed up in my son early on—ketchup packets under the toilet seats, my handwriting impeccably forged (ice cream, poop wafers) on the grocery list, flour on the keyboard to decode a password. Harmless disruptions of the mundane.
Mom always kept us well fed. She still surprises me when I flip through my favourite recipes and see her treats in her slanted cursive—tangy rhubarb crisp, zucchini bread, Grandma Thibault’s apple pudding. I was her shadow in the cramped orange kitchen of my childhood. I stood on the stool as she showed me how to make mustard beans, pickled beets, stewed tomatoes. Thanks to Mom, my pantry brims. Eventually, she will feed her great-grandchildren and theirs.
I dig up two strawberry plants for my little brother so he’ll always find Mom in his garden when he needs her. Plus, strawberries are his favourite. Mom loved to give gifts that, like here, keep giving and giving. A twinge of sorrow tugs at my heart, but the pull of joy is stronger. Mom will never abandon us. She’s in the shape of my hands and muscular calves. In my cousin’s smile, and the way she holds her cigarette. If I search hard enough, I can find Mom in everyone I love.
Soon, Mom’s earthly body will leave us, but I’ll find her multiplying and dividing in the strawberry patch each spring. She’ll remind me that she never actually left by multiplying ruses, divvying up signs that prove she’ll always remain. Disguised as a crow’s cackle moments after I stumble and hope nobody saw, she’ll keep me humble. A decade from now, her laughter will echo in my grandchildren’s as they snort and slap their knees. In my late fifties, I’ll see her more and more in my reflection—jowls beginning to sag, doughy folds draping my cheeks. I won’t even be surprised when she replaces me. I’ll open wide my mouth, expose every tooth and let loose the laugh she could never contain.
Rachel Laverdiere writes, pots and teaches in her little house on the Canadian prairies. She is CNF editor at Atticus Review and the creator of Hone & Polish Your Writing. Find Rachel’s most recent publications in Bending Genres, Five South, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Grain and other fine literary journals. In 2020, her CNF made The Wigleaf Top 50 and was nominated for Best of the Net. For more, visit www.rachellaverdiere.com.
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