cw: implied violence, graphic content
The smell of fried potatoes coming from the kitchen wakes me. They have that off smell again. I don’t get out of bed, because I don’t feel like going into the kitchen and starting up a chat with Mother.
Instead, I read the news of the day, right there in the paper Mother left by my bed, like she does every morning. The headlines, the obituaries, and always the crime section, the cold case murders. Occasionally there’s the name of somebody I know in there. A missing person, for instance.
We could’ve gone missing once. When we were kids, my sister came up with a plan to run away, but it never panned out. I wanted to go, but then I thought about how Mother would be all alone. She just had us, her two girls, after all.
Sometimes news like that makes me have strange dreams that seem real. Nightmares, if you will.
After one of those nightmares the other night, I got up to get a glass of water, and I noticed that Mother left a basket of folded laundry for me in the hallway. I like that, how Mother folds the fresh laundry. It smells good.
Like those potatoes she’s making. Well, except for that off smell.
Boy, does she love to cook potatoes. In addition to the meat, of course. Mother’s always been what they call a meat and potatoes kind of cook. She loves all kinds of potatoes. Potato chips. Potato salad. Fried. Baked. Even raw. Not sure why, but she eats raw potatoes when nobody’s looking, as if it’s some kind of secret.
Then again, Mother keeps secrets you wouldn’t even imagine. The secret ingredients she would put in our meals when we were growing up, for instance. My sister got so sick once that she couldn’t make it to school. That’s why she eventually left home. I think she got sick of feeling sick.
Mother is sick now. She doesn’t remember things so much anymore. I clean up after her, and sometimes I find things that she forgot about. Imagine that, forgetting your own secrets. That’s like hiding something so good that you can’t find it when you need it.
Like last night, my first night back after I’d been away for a whole week. She made a special meal. I went to bed early. But then Mother was running the water all night, and the floor creaked so loudly on the other side of the wall, it woke me up out of a deep sleep. I almost called out to her and said, “Mother, what are you doing now, in the middle of the night?” I didn’t, though. I just got up and walked down the hall and peeked in to see why she was running bathwater in the middle of the night.
Cleaning. That’s what she was doing. Cleaning up a bloody mess, right there in the huge bathroom tub. Her kitchen knife on the counter, freezer bags laid out around the sink, full of raw meat and potatoes, or leftovers from dinner, or something.
I didn’t say a word. I shook my head and just went back to bed. I knew I’d be up first thing the next morning to clean up what she missed.
She’s so old.
She forgets her own secrets, so it’s up to me to keep them.
That’s just how it is now.
M.E. Solomon is an Arab-American writer of supernatural fiction. She finds inspiration in worlds that exist in the slivers of daily life. Her stories have appeared in Teleport Magazine, in the January 2021 anthology of The Scribe, and will be in the February 2021 issue of The Periodical, Forlorn. The story “Box Car” was selected as an editor’s favorite in an upcoming anthology from Breaking Rules Publishing. She is currently working on a novel. For updates, follow @MESolomonHorror.
header image: Simona Sergi via Unsplash