The lightning bug glowed then dimmed and
disappeared into the dusky folds of the summer
evening. A few feet away it reappeared, briefly
illuminating the green of a rose bush leaf.
Laura put one small, grimy hand over her
mouth to repress a giggle as she saw the flash and
knew the magical creature would not escape her now.
She tiptoed to the bush, gently scooped the glowing
spot into her palm and cupped the fingers of both
hands around it. Squinting into one end of her fist,
she held her breath, mesmerized by the rhythmic
From the open living room window, the "Studio
One" theme song drifted out, mingling with the
sounds of crickets and night birds. Laura looked
toward the sound. Mama and daddy sat together on the
old brown sofa, their faces tinted bluish-gray like
the moving figures on the black and white television
screen in the corner of the room. The sweet, pink
smell of roses surrounded Laura, blending with and
coloring the familiar scene.
Her bare toes wriggled contentedly in the
loose dirt. She opened her hand and blew gently on
the small light in the center of her palm,
encouraging the magical creature to fly away.
Mama's head turned toward the window where
Laura watched. "Hi, Sweet Pea. You come on in now.
It's too dark to play out. I made some chocolate
fudge with peanut butter, just the way you like it.
It oughta be cool by now."
"Oboy!" Laura clapped her hands and turned
away to go to the kitchen door.
"Are you gonna sleep all day?"
whining mumble halted her in place.
She shivered and turned back to the window.
Her mama and daddy were gone, replaced by a wizened,
grey-haired crone who reached for her with bony
Laura opened her mouth to scream, but no
sound came out.
With a gasp, she jerked upright in bed and
opened her eyes to see her mother standing over her.
"Well, you finally woke up. I thought you were gonna
sleep all day."
Blinking, trying to push aside the clinging
tendrils of her dream, Laura focused on the clock
beside her bed. "Mother, it's only . I didn't get here until after one
"Do you want your eggs fried or scrambled?"
Laura groaned but threw back the sheet and
swung her legs over the side of the bed, onto the
faded carpet. "All I want is coffee."
"You're gonna get sick if you keep eating
like that. Can't tell you anything. You'll be
wanting me to take care of you when you get sick."
Her mother shuffled out of the bedroom, mumbling to
Laura ran her fingers through her short,
cropped hair, halfway expecting to feel the long,
silky strands from thirty-six years ago. The dream
had disconcerted her, taking her back to a time that
no longer existed then rudely thrusting her into the
For an instant she contemplated lying back
down, trying to escape reality for a few more
minutes. The six-hour drive last night had exhausted
No, that wasn't quite true. She'd been
exhausted to start with. The last few weeks of
trying to accept that Ted had left her after
twenty-three years of marriage, of floundering
aimlessly in a suddenly-strange world, of realizing
that her grown daughter had a life and she wasn't a
very big part of it—those things had stolen her
Now all she wanted was to lie in this
familiar, lumpy bed beside the window sill and
listen to the birds singing in the catalpa tree she
used to climb. She wanted to recall her dream and
pretend for just a few minutes that she was still
ten years old and living in a safe, familiar place.
She wanted to hear her mother and father talking in
hushed tones in the kitchen while her mother made
breakfast, the two of them laughing intimately, then
including her in that intimacy when she stumbled in,
wiping sleep from her eyes.
She wanted her mother to hold her and soothe
her and make everything all right.
She stood. What was the matter with her? She
was forty-six, not ten, a little too old to be
running to her mother.
She threw on a T-shirt and pair of shorts
then went into the kitchen and took her old seat at
one end of the yellow Formica table.
Through the screen door, the
morning breeze drifted in. A neighbor's rooster
crowed. A blue jay shrieked raucously, a sure sound
If she closed her eyes, she could so easily
slide backward in time.
But only for a poignant, heart-breaking
second, only long enough to emphasize the
heart-breaking contrast with the present.
She concentrated on forcing herself to eat
breakfast. Her mother's cooking skills had slipped.
The eggs were greasy and overdone, the bacon
underdone, the biscuits hard and the coffee bitter.
But she was home.
Settling her cup in its saucer, she caressed
the chipped, gold-tone surface. "I remember when we
got these cups and saucers out of boxes of oats.
Remember, Mother? Daddy and I ate oats every day so
I could have more cups. I thought they were really
Her mother's eyes went unfocused. "I think
those cups were my Mama's." Her voice was tentative.
Frowning, Laura set down her coffee. "No,
they weren't. Don't you remember?"
"You always used to drink cream in your
coffee. I remember that." The voice was stronger
"I know, Mother, but that was when we had
cows and real cream and I was skinny."
"My daddy taught me to drink coffee with
cream. I loved my daddy. I would have drunk anything
he gave me." Her faded blue eyes welled up with
tears. "Your daddy drank cream in his coffee, too."
She looked over at the empty chair. "I sure do miss
him. I don't know why he had to go and die."
Laura's stomach clenched into a hard knot at
the familiar comment. "I don't think he did it
"I get so lonesome. I wish I could die and
get out of my misery." She shredded her biscuit,
scattering the pieces on her plate.
Laura sighed. "You don't have to be lonesome.
You could join the Senior Citizens' group. They'd
send a bus for you every day. You could meet other
people and make friends."
"I don't want to meet other people! They
wouldn't be family. You're my daughter, but you went
off and left me. You left me for that man, and now
he's gone and left
you all alone."
The muscles in Laura's chest constricted. Her
lips compressed tightly, as if they could seal in
the pain. Her mother must know how much she was
hurting already. Why was she trying to make it worse
instead of trying to ease the pain?
When Laura didn't respond, her mother pushed
her plate aside, untouched except for the shredded
biscuit. "I'm just an old woman nobody wants, not
even my own daughter."
"Mother, I spend six hours driving down here
and six driving back every month! I call you every
Sunday!" As though she were listening to someone
else, Laura heard her voice rising, out of control.
"Ever since Daddy died, all you've done is sit
around and feel sorry for yourself! You don't make
any effort to help yourself."
The old woman's face collapsed into its
network of wrinkles. Tears filled one gully then
overflowed into the next.
Laura clenched her hands on the edge of the
table, resisting the impulse to lean across, grab
the jagged shoulders and shake the woman, shake her
until she stopped crying, until she remembered more
than just patches of their lives...until she started
acting like Mother again.
The strange woman with tears streaking down
the ravines of her face jerked clumsily to her feet,
staggered around the table and put bony arms about
Laura's anger drained away, replaced by
sudden, frightening knowledge.
She rose slowly and reached down to the
fragile frame. "I'm sorry, Mother. I—" She stopped,
knowing she couldn't explain that she was angry with
this helpless stranger for taking her mother's
place, for needing her when she needed her mother.
"I'm sorry," she repeated. "I love you,
Mother. Please forgive me."
The woman looked up, smiling. "I'll always
forgive you. You're my sweet little Laura and I love
"I know you do." Her mother had loved her and
cared for her when she was a helpless baby, when she
couldn't speak or walk and had no memories. Her
mother had guided her through her adolescent
traumas, easing each step along the way as best she
could, giving her a world of happy memories.
Now the past was gone. Her childhood was
gone. Her father, her husband, her daughter...all a
part of the past.
She herself was in the same place as her
But the two of them had each other even if
the roles were reversed...even if it was Laura's
turn to give the care and support now.
Outside a mockingbird sang cheerfully. The
sun made dappled patterns as it came in through the
lace curtains over the sink. The scents of bacon and
coffee hung in the air.
The world changed. The different seasons came
and went, surging and ebbing, like happiness, like
youth and old age, like giving and receiving
support. Only love would never change.
Laura patted her mother's shoulder. "You go
sit in the living room now," she said softly, "and
I'll do the dishes and bring you another cup of
coffee with lots of cream, just the way you like