I’m sitting here reading the marriage announcements in the local paper. My mom is here, too. She’s wearing her robe. The thick, turquoise one my dad gave her years ago on her birthday. I remember when she opened the box. We were all surrounding her, sitting cross-legged or knees against our chests in the living room. Sun streamed through the big bay window. My brother blew his nose loudly. Our golden retriever nuzzled my mom’s thigh because he loved her best. She gently pulled back the tissue paper inside the box and smiled knowingly.
“Thanks!” she said, holding up the stupid robe. “I really need one of these.”
This robe has stood the test of time. There’s a reason people buy things made of polyester, not quite velour but not quite terrycloth. That shit lasts. Anyway, I’m perusing the marriage section of the paper. The photos are black and white, smudgy and small. It’s a Sunday and I want a change of pace, a break from the big stuff, a little local flavor. My mom is doing her daily crossword.
“What’s a six-letter word for oblivion?” she muses, tilting her head slightly. Two very thin gold necklaces are strung around her neck. They hang down beneath her fraying nightgown. She pulls at a fuzz ball on the cuff of her robe.
I shrug. I’ve noticed something, a marriage photograph in the paper that I can’t stop staring at. It’s grainy and the man and woman look different than the other faces on the page. Less preened. Softer. She’s wearing a sleeveless dress with a tiny V at the neck revealing a hint of collarbone. He is casually muscular, wearing a day’s worth of scruff and a striped T-shirt. His arm is around her shoulder, fingers loosely dangling.
“N-O-T-H …” My mom is spelling out an answer. “Nope, not it,” she says.
I watch her lick her finger lightly and turn the page. She’s distracting herself from the crossword for a moment. Her grayish eyes settle on a headline about the county fair. A milkshake sales record has been set.
“Cute,” she says softly, holding up the paper to show me the image above the article. A little girl is feeding a goat. My mom stares at the picture, smiling a little. It is late summer. Her wistfulness is peaking. “I hate winter,” she’ll start saying soon.
Then it flickers, the squeeze of recognition, a tightening in my chest, a montage of remembrances, stories, photos, a wooden box. “Huh,” I say, without realizing it.
“What?” Mom says. She flips back to the crossword, slowly, and points to it with the tip of her ballpoint pen. I shake my head. She raises her eyebrows. “Then what?” Her demands are sweet, the polite whines of a longtime employee afraid to admit she deserves a raise.
My mom is the woman in the marriage announcement photograph. I know it now. She looks happy and young. But the man is not my father. I quickly scan the text. It says:
Lucas Davidson and Anne Marie Marshall announce their engagement. The bride, a high school English teacher, and groom, a carpenter, met last summer when Marshall tutored a group of summer campers on the Jersey Shore. A leak sprung in Marshall’s summer cabin, and despite her attempts to plug the hole with duct tape, in the end she called for a handyman. Davidson was able to mend the leak within minutes. The two plan to wed in an evening ceremony on the sand next month.
I think I may be dreaming. Or hallucinating. I pinch my arm, pull my earlobe, rustle my hair, tap my foot. Yes. I’m here. Mom’s eyes have settled on the page now, the one I can’t comprehend. She squints her eyes and leans in closer. Then she looks at me.
We reach for it at the same time, our knuckles knocking together, the paper tearing apart slowly as we pull it toward ourselves. I look at her eyes and they’re reddened. I let go of the paper and she holds it to her chest. We stare at each other. She has freckles around her eyes, fine lines darting across her forehead, a race against time. Our lips are chapped from the summer sun. Our fingernails unpolished and short. We are mother and daughter. He is not my father.
“It ended,” she says, placing the crumpled paper onto the table. She smoothes it out slowly with both hands and says, “I didn’t love him.”
There is a wooden box in her bedroom closet, hidden on a top shelf between a stack of sweaters and balled-up winter socks. I looked inside years ago. My parents were out to dinner. The babysitter dozing on the couch, a plastic cup of melting vanilla ice cream going to waste in her lap. I used the stepladder in the corner of the closet, carefully lowered myself, wooden box in hand, crouched on the carpeted floor and opened it. Inside in pencil, mom had scrawled “Lucas.” Its contents: dried rose petals; a color photograph of a beach at sunset; a scrap of paper with a phone number written on it. Lucas.
“Every five years,” she says. “He has the newspaper publish our engagement announcement.”
She puts the paper down on the kitchen table. I lean over and rub my forehead against her robe, which is what the dog did the first time she wore it. I wonder why she never asks Lucas to stop. I think of calling the paper, telling them never to publish the announcement of the wedding that never was, ever again.
I open my mouth to speak and Mom strokes my hair. I close my mouth, words shooting in all directions inside, silently ricocheting off my tongue, against my molars, along the gum line.
I imagine Lucas alone in a beach bungalow. There’s a hole in his roof, one he’ll never fix, and drops of rain that remind him of her.
© Sarah Amandolare 2012
Sarah Amandolare is a writer living in Brooklyn. She has written for Salon and The Awl, recorded podcasts for Story Collider, and covered travel in the Czech Republic, Costa Rica and the Northeast U.S. for Fodor’s, New York Magazine and The New York Times travel blog. She is concentrating in health and science reporting at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
Hole in the Roof was read by Josephine Cashman on October 3rd 2012