More stories to come, as I quit being lazy and start being a writer again.
Mama hadn’t risen from her spot in the wingback chair in the living room in – dear God, had it been days? She sat in the darkness, the curtains drawn on the front window to block out any of the cheery afternoon light, the same Edith Piaf record playing to its end over and over again. Sometimes, she’d listen to the same song over and over, always the same song, if she so chose to repeat it – “Non, je ne regrette rien.” Did she have something she had thought was worth regretting? What had Mama been keeping from them, all these long years?
Did Papa know?
She was inconsolable. Since the telegram, since Papa’s frenzied telephone call to signal his children home, since the return of her son and her daughter, she hadn’t spoken, hadn’t eaten. She must have gotten up to go to the bathroom once or twice, at least, today, and perhaps she’d gotten herself that glass of water on the side table? Or had that been Papa, too? The war had taken her oldest son, as it had taken others’ sons. What made this hole in this one woman’s heart so special?
Matt couldn’t help but pass the room on his way in and out of the house, running the errands his parents had shared throughout his childhood. Grocery shopping, picking up forgotten laundry from the cleaners, getting gas for the family station wagon, looking after his father, his mother, his little sister – he’d never known they’d done so much. He knew their twisted history, the risks they’d taken to forge these lives for themselves, everything they’d overcome to make sure their children grew up as free Americans, rather than oppressed by a struggling, war-torn Europe. But he didn’t know the battle they faced day to day, always together, always united, always for the betterment of their family. With Mama out of the equation – hopefully, only temporarily – Matt couldn’t fathom how his father had expected to take this all on by himself.
He’d wander past the sitting room, either on his way upstairs to bed or out to borrow the car to pick up another carton of milk, another loaf of bread. Sometimes, Mama would be alone. Sometimes, she’d have company. Sometimes, when he passed the sitting room entrance, Papa would be kneeling beside Mama, speaking softly to her, brushing her hair off her face; nothing new, nothing special. His mother and father had been in love – always had been and always would be. They were in love in that kind of way that had made their three children retch, the kind of way that had mortified each of them, at some point or other in their lives. Sometimes, his little sister would be at Mama’s side, brushing her hair, forcing a smile, speaking to her in her native and beloved French. Sometimes, Georgie would just be sitting on the floor, nodding her head in time to the music, reading a textbook or, on the worst days, crying and hoping, in vain, for Mama to notice and to comfort her. In all the times he passed by, Matt had never seen her respond to any of this; Mama hadn’t spoken since the day they’d learned that their pride and joy, the hope of the Hoffmann clan, was dead.
Papa had lost a son, too. Matt and Georgie had lost a brother. What made Mama’s pain so much more important than all of theirs?
Matt couldn’t help but pass the room on his way in and out of the house, glancing in at his mother and wondering, had the telegram been about him, would she mourn her second son as she now mourned her firstborn? Would she sob out his name at odd hours of the day and night? Would she fall into this coma of sorrow and grief? Would she clasp her hands in her lap and forget the world and lose everything that had made her the strong woman he had been proud to call his mama?
If it had been him, instead of Ben, would she be in such a state of mourning – or would she be relieved it had been Matt, and not her prodigal son?
He couldn’t help but wonder, but he was driving himself mad with the thought. Because, no matter how many times he looked at the family photo albums, no matter how many memories he replayed in his mind, no matter how many birthday presents and quiet moments he remembered with his mama, he just couldn’t decide what her reaction would be.