When my mother was replaced, I kept asking the new one which one she was. I knew this would confuse her because, from her perspective, she was the only one, the real one.
This question annoyed her, and I enjoyed annoying her so I asked it over and over. Since everything in my childhood was quiet, she clearly heard the question, but pretended she didn’t – as if the surrounding silence acted like a kind of buffer. Meanwhile, her face grew tiny lines of disturbance.
Finally, one night, I snuck into her room with a flashlight and pointed it into her face. She opened her eyes and stared straight up, pretending not to see me.
“So, just which one are you?” I asked again. The disturbance lines on her face deepened, branching out like a web cutting into the flesh. I touched her skin and it felt as parched as sandpaper. Her eyes were wide, unblinking. Her lips rustled like dry leaves, asking if I wanted her to crack. There were always these power games between us, hurling volleys of guilt and blame.
My real mother when she was my current age: ( me ). Later, something descended and clamped its wings around her.
Whenever I tell someone about how everything in my childhood was quiet, they become extremely uncomfortable. I tell them this in person so that I can witness their reactions. It just isn’t as honest telling them over the phone, neither for them nor for me. So I watch as their eyes glaze over. They nervously rub their hands together. Then they impatiently massage their thighs with their palms. They stop returning my phone calls soon after and never reply to my e-mails.
I tell them of my silent house, the tall sepulchral windows with the breath-frosted glass that I tapped for noise, finding none. How I slapped the walls for an echo until my hands hurt. How I combed my hair across my face and blew through it, pretending I heard the wind through the willows. In the absence of sound I learned to read, but I didn’t know how many of the words were spoken. Words like “abacus,” for example. And “xylophone.”
When the windows of my silent house were open and I held my breath, I thought I heard the moon rise through the sky with a creak. I had a dog but it lay completely still and never barked, so at first I suspected it was a carpet. I loved to stroke its silky warmth. Carpets are not naturally warm. This is how I knew it was a dog.
I didn’t go to school until I was a teenager.
Even now I am confused about many things.
My replacement mother collected pillows and built walls with them. Each room in the house was divided up into multiple sub-rooms by these towering pillow walls. I climbed them until they collapsed, exhaling feathers that creamed the air. I swam through the foam, which breathed through me in microscopic feather bubbles. My veins made a smooth shushing sound like cars driving on snow.
When I emerged from the foam, my ears and nose stuffed, my body had become more brittle. My bones, for example. The extended period of weightlessness hollowed them out. When I tried to walk on solid ground both my femurs snapped from the pressure. Then I broke the antique chandelier with my crying. The glass wasn’t used to such loud noise.
After a long recovery – years – in a nearby clinic, I saw my mother’s replacement for the last time. She was in the clinic too, but for different reasons.
“Come closer,” her finger weakly beckoned from the bed. “My blood has stopped flowing.”
I pressed my thumb against her wrist and felt a pulse, clearly and firmly beating. This was life, I thought, albeit a replacement life.
“Everything is such a hoax,” I said, snot-nosed little cynic that I was.
She sighed and turned her head to the wall.
“You never loved me,” she whispered.
When I walked away I heard my footsteps, faint at first, then coming through loud and clear.