by Stephanie Hutton
My mother-who-never-mothered-me has died and I don’t know what feelings to have, so decide not to have any. Lily sits on my knee in this council flat as we rummage in tatty boxes that hold things she kept, long after getting rid of me.
We divide items into two bags — one for the charity shop and one for the bin.
Patches of mould stretch from the ceiling down the walls as if trying to reach my mother who died alone in her chair. Only the damp walls cry.
I search for something that would poke a memory. But these are left-overs of a stranger. No secret picture of me as a toddler. No unsent letter saying she was sorry. I tell Lily “you can take one thing to keep.”
In the rubble of magazines and pens and empty fag packets is a statue of a spaniel made from coal. We never had a pet. I pass it to Lily who clutches it in her hand in silence.
The window looks out onto the bricked back of a shop. Yellowed nets hum of nicotine. The museum of my mother slowly fills the bag due for the bin — charities deserve better. I wonder if she shrank over the decades. I picture her feet dangling from her chair, unable to reach solid ground below.
Something is moving up from my guts. It is old; it takes its time. I grab some tissues from my coat pocket. Anger rises up through my body and into my mouth. I spit it onto the tissue. Dark, sticky puddles wriggle about as if surprised to be out in the open. We watch tentacles try to leave the tissue and make their way back into me. Lily grabs an old newspaper and we wrap the anger tightly with layer after layer and secure it with an elastic band. It struggles for a short while, then sags in my hand. I throw it in the bin bag with the rest of the things I wish to leave behind.
I feel like I’ve lost a stone of weight. And want to cry.
My mother has died.
I close the front door and we head home. Lily’s new dog jumps down from her hand and runs around our feet in delight. We laugh and throw a stick for him, knowing each time we do he will come back for more.
Stephanie Hutton is a writer and clinical psychologist in the UK. In 2017, she gained second prize in the National Flash Fiction Day micro competition and was shortlisted for the Bath Short Story Award and Bristol Prize.