My mother stares down at her hands spotted with age folded in her lap. She remains silent.
‘And get yourself some new lipstick, something of better quality. This one gets stuck in your wrinkles. Can you imagine how your mouth must look?’ I say to her. I feel that I’m being cruel, but I couldn’t care less that it was her who gave birth to me.
My mother continues staring down at her prematurely aged hands. I see that she’s wearing eyeliner and that it’s got stuck in her wrinkles too. I want to tell her that as well.
‘Where would I find the money to buy it, darling,’ she says to me and lifts her gaze. Her eyes look teary. What right does she have to cry, I think to myself and look at her hands again. I notice there’s a hole in her sleeve and that her blouse is worn out. I say nothing and light another cigarette.
‘Did you have anything to eat today, my child?’ she says to me in a gentle voice. A voice she never used before Sveto was put in his grave.
I make a gesture with my hand to indicate I haven’t.
‘Do you want me to cook you something? Should I go out and buy something? You have to eat something, darling,’ she says to me and places her hand on my knee. I bristle whenever she touches me. I’m sick of her and of the suffering I’ve had to endure, in part due to my own lack of empathy.
‘Maria brought me some soup.’
‘Did you have some?’
‘No. Have some if you want. I don’t want any.’
My mother gets up and goes into the kitchen. From the living room I can see her back. I see her lift up the pot of soup that Maria brought me. It’s secured with some kind of idiotic strap to ensure the lid doesn’t come off. She puts it onto the burner and lights the stove. Then she rests both hands on the counter and lifts her head, as if she’s stretching her neck. I hear the faint sound of her whimpering. Then she puts her head down. She walks off slowly. To the toilet I imagine, where she stays for a period of time, while I sit on the couch smoking.
My mother returns to the kitchen and I hear the clatter of dishes and cutlery. She puts something on the table. She opens a few cupboards and then bangs them shut. She’s never been gentle. When I was small and she used to dry my hair, she always tugged it at the roots and jabbed me with her fingernails.
‘Come and keep me company,’ I hear her sit down at the dining table in the kitchen. I don’t have a choice. If she eats, I think, perhaps she’ll go home, and then I don’t have to throw out the soup.
On the table are two bowls filled with soup – I should have guessed.
‘Look, didn’t I tell you that I don’t want anything to eat,’ I say angrily, and take a deep drag of my cigarette.
‘You might feel hungry when I start to eat. You don’t have to eat if you don’t want to. If you want, we can throw out the soup, don’t worry,’ she says. Steam escapes from the soup. As usual, she’s overheated it. She always overheats things. As a kid I burnt my tongue a hundred times from eating her hot food. She’ll heat up something for you just to do you a favour and she ends up causing you harm.
‘For once in your life, can’t you learn not to overheat things? Do you want me to burn myself?’ I say to her angrily, and sit down. ‘Not that I’m going to eat, but if I had planned on eating, I wouldn’t have wanted you to overheat the soup, and what’s more, turn the food into total mush,’ I say this to her getting all mixed up. My mother is silent. She caresses the spoon that she has laid carefully on a napkin, and once again I glance at her prematurely aged hands, at her crudely bitten nails and the long vertical lines that have formed on them.
My mother lets out a sigh.
‘Do you remember the time when you were looking after your brother and you tried to heat up the stew that was left over from lunch and you burnt yourself?’ she asks me.
‘Not really, but I know that I’ve had a scar ever since,’ I hope that even with this reminder from the past perhaps I can hurt her a bit.
‘Let me have a look at it,’ my mother says to me.
I stretch out my left hand. At the base of my thumb is a pinkish mark in the shape of a rabbit. My mother attempts to kiss it, which disgusts me. I pull back my hand and put it in my lap.
‘Your father was at a seminar. He was returning the next morning. I was left alone with you and your brother. Your aunt or your grandmother, one or the other, were meant to look after you, but at the last moment neither of them was able to. And I had arranged to go out to meet a friend.’ She stops and swallows. ‘My friend would have been very angry if I hadn’t gone. I was in love with him.’ She looks at me straight in the eyes. ‘I was spellbound by him. I’d leave work so we could see each other, or else I’d stay on an extra hour after work if there was someone to look after you both, just so I could be near him.’