My father nicknamed her the Petite Laundrette, as she so enjoyed what most perceive as the chore of laundering our family’s clothes. She excelled at it, in fact. Stains were no match for her. And our clothing and sheets always smelled far more delicious than any of our friends. She was territorial about this work. She did not want anybody else in the household attempting laundry, as no one had quite the patience or attention to detail to sort, and spot treat, and appropriately set the machine dials to her liking for the load at hand.
Her preferred hour for tackling laundry was always late at night, as she bustled about in her cotton nightgown. I come from a long line of night owls. Growing up, friends always knew that they could call our landline well until midnight, as my mother was rarely in bed before that hour. And often up much later. Doing laundry. Watching Masterpiece Theatre. Mending. Puttering about our grand and elegant Victorian home well after the rest of our family had turned in for the night.
I see her, standing in front of our washer and dryer in her long-sleeved blue nightie. It’s a Calida. Her favorite. There was no softer cotton, she swore. She’s clearly braless, as there was no other state in such attire, despite her ample bosom. I’m lounging on our sofa, chatting with her as she works. Her coarse blonde hair is pulled back in a loose ponytail, secured with a scrunchie, as her bangs fall haphazardly across her brow. During the day, she always wore her hair down, as it was her self-proclaimed best feature (it really was magnificent). But at night, without anyone to impress or entertain, it could be swept out of her face to keep her cool.
She throws a large pile of clothes in the washer before turning. “Give me that baby!” she says with a grin as she reaches out her arms.
I hand her my son, a bundle wrapped in a navy fleece blanket, a gift from her best friend since 5th grade. She cradles him to her chest and begins to sway and pace around our childhood living room, dancing between walls and memories that are forever etched in my mind. I watch the two of them together and feel a wave of contentment and gratitude.
We’re now lying side by side on her bed as she leafs through a magazine and I listen to her prattle on about some drawing in its pages. In my head I think, “My mother is alive, again. I can tell Sarah (my therapist) that she’s back. My mother is back.”
As I think these words to myself, a bit of reality seeps into my subconscious.
How is it possible that she’s alive? She was cremated, Ashley. How did she come back from that? It’s not possible to come back from that.
As the answers to these questions come searing into focus, I reach for her. I want to touch her, hold her hand, prove that she is indeed real. Concrete. Close. As my fingers outstretch, she turns to me, and leaves me all over again. I am paralyzed with what to do. How do I save her? How do I keep her with me?
I finally find my breath and begin to scream. I’m screaming as loudly and as violently as I can when hands fall down upon my shoulders. I hear James pleading with me. What is wrong? Ashley? Ashley, you’re okay. Breath. What’s wrong? Try to breath.
As I’m thrust back into reality, I face her absence all over again. James holds me as I cry and wail to be back in that world where she felt so real. So close.
I dream of the day when I visit with her in my sleep and it’s filled with just happiness, and no fear. For now, however, I feel grateful to have experienced her so vividly. And to have seen her with my baby.
The other day I told a friend that I wished she could see how much I was delighting in her grandson.
I think this was her way of telling me that she knows.