When Mother left my sister Nancy and me, she left the apples. But she took the typewriter, hi-fi, Sinatra records. She even took the leftover meatloaf. She took these things with precision, as if her moment was passing, all too fast. As if she needed to rush into the world and things wouldn’t wait for her.
I was twelve, Nancy sixteen.
But Mother left the apples. She hated them. Too domestic. Mother encouraged us to stay healthy. She promised a swift return, words fleeting. Mother spouted platitudes about needing space, finding muses for her writing. She was writing a novel about a drunk hausfrau seeking self-fulfillment, called Sherry and Smiles. This trip would give her opportunity for research on the road.
“Then why are you taking all this crap?” I’d said.
“Nicky, language,” Mother said. “A good writer needs her environment. I must reprise home on the road. I’ll be back, though. And your sister loves you very much.”
“Stay with us, then,” I said. “Write here. Just write here. Don’t make excuses.”
“Nicky,” she said. “Things are just too constrained. I need things to be just right. Orderly. These spaces, Nicky. Well, they’re crippling me. But these objects are muses, you know. You can find a story in a record, in the smallest of things. These are things I’ve collected.”
Nancy and I snacked on apples, at first relishing the rich tartness and the crisp crunch. We tried to ration them, but staring at empty rooms, inhaling musk and sweat, we needed luxury. For a time, we imagined the apples held secrets. We were really royals. If we bit into an apple, happiness would unfurl before us. We would metamorphose into graceful figures, draped in fine robes. We would move about with poise and dignity, not slouch through spaces, the siblings whose mother left for unknown lengths of time.
Eating apples beat thinking about the unknowns. Surely Mother would return. She wouldn’t leave us for this long. She’d have sent us somewhere if she were really abandoning us, wouldn’t she? She was a writer. Writers always had a plan, a way of stringing characters together. Seeing people, their pitfalls, their strengths. So she should be able to think of our futures.
But no letters came. And the tart taste of apples was all too fleeting. The tartness was replaced by a kind of nausea. The crunching became loud, annoying, a reminder of the empty fridge, which hummed with humiliation. I wanted meatloaf, however burned, something once served at a table, with each of us in our designated spots. The meatloaf truly tied the room together, made it impossible for anyone to leave. This simple meal demanded obligations to spaces, conversation.
Nancy said she wanted chocolate cake, to descend into the most beautiful and sumptuous layers. To just eat it because it wasn’t practical. To lick the whipped cream because it was uncouth. We deserved something rich and wonderful, because the world was a mean seductress, as she put it.
But all we had were apples. We occasionally finagled dinners with friends, but never let on that Mother was gone for good. We made vague references to trips but omitted the absent objects that still hung heavy over our living room.
We waited. And we left a lot of half-eaten apples out. We never wanted to get to the cores, truth be told. The cores revealed a kind of bewildering shape, something twisted. Nancy thought apples reminded her of Russian nesting dolls, layer upon layer, yet always disappointing in the end.
“Where do you suppose Mother is now? Right now?”
“I wish I knew.”
“Tell me a place, Nicky,” Nancy said. “Just any place.”
“Maybe she’d be happy there. Wouldn’t you like that? To join her?”
“I’d love to go there.”
“She’ll write soon,” Nancy said, smile dissolving into tears.
I tried to imagine Mother, regret rising like tidal waves. But it was a senseless dream. I secretly envisioned her flitting about some party. Some admiring reader asking if she had children, how many. And I imagined her pausing, trying to find those words. Or writing us out of her narrative altogether, moving deeper into foreign lands. She would disappear among castles and fallen princes and pretenders, as Mother would call aristocrats, with a smile. People who could craft their own stories.
The apples dwindled fast. Not a word from Mother. Nancy promised me that Mother loved us, the way she uttered that word like porcelain about to shatter. She promised she loved me too. Love, love, that was all we had. She was just troubled, as Nancy started saying.
We took refuge in my room, rarely set foot anywhere else. The living room was too vast. Much too vast. We turned the lights off, kept the apple cores, though. We couldn’t afford not to. We badgered the mailman, glared when he passed our house without stopping.
Nancy stopped promising Mother’s return. She just said Mother needed time.
We pined for onions instead. At least, they gave one license to cry. They were durable. No illusions, Nancy said. They offered rawness. They didn’t offer any sort of promise that things were going to get better. They just told you to bear their rawness. You’d eat them and what was going to happen would happen.
But Mother took the onions too. It was just another thing that would be taken.
—About the Author—
Yash Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University’s MFA program in fiction. Yash’s work is forthcoming or has been published in WestWard Quarterly, Café Lit, and Ariel Chart, among others.
Read more Nicky and Nancy in Yash’s “Dumpster Lives.”