Mimi. Or Miriam, as you’re always correcting me. I thought you’d at least come down here yourself. Instead you hired some white woman from an agency. You arranged for my abduction. Casually, remotely. Trish Hopkins from a place called Flanders Meadows. And all I can picture when she says this is Flanders Fields, and she says it’s a first-rate facility. She says that I should have been notified that she was coming; her records say the daughter informed me. So I closed the door, obviously. I told Trish no thank you. And you can imagine, Mimi, my surprise when she said that you’d provided her with a key in case of “just such an issue.” So the next thing I know, there’s Trish putting my shoes in my suitcase right next to my underwear, sole to crotch. So I say how about I decide what I’ll pack, Trish. And she says she’s done this before and to trust her. Flanders Fields will provide for my needs, she says, they have one of the best memory-care units in the whole state of Florida. And what am I supposed to do? I stand there, watching.
Mimi the problem solver. Mimi the Manhattan corporate lawyer, enforcer of administrative protocol. Sometimes I think I should have enrolled you in Catholic school. Maybe you’d have lashed out against the nuns and their dogma and we’d have been on the same side for once. Do you remember when I said you could go to summer camp when you were nine? And you told me to sign you up for something called FUNctional Mathematics Camp? It’s not like you got any of those left-brain leanings from your father, trust me on that.
I know you’ve always gone around thinking your childhood was too loose and untidy, that our family was strange. The time I left you at the Paddock Mall, adrift in a sea of women’s clothing racks, and I’d made it all the way to the car before I realized you weren’t behind me, dragging your feet like you always did. The time I was late to pick you up from third grade and your teacher stayed with you until I came. How mortified you looked when I pulled up in the car. How our place was always a mess, so you’d never bring friends home. You’ve got a long list of my offenses stored away in your arsenal. Always at the ready. The thing you forget is that I was on my own. I was young. I had no idea how to be a mother, Mimi. I think this is part of why you walk around trying to keep other people’s lives tidy. It’s compensatory, like you’re looking for something you lost.
This Trish person goes on touching my things and saying what a lovely place Flanders Fields is. How happy I’ll be. And she says that you’ll be down later in the week to visit and help me get settled in and make arrangements for the house. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve told you that I don’t want to sell my house. Mimi: judge, jury, executioner. Things wouldn’t have gotten so bad if I hadn’t crashed the car. It doesn’t seem to matter that it was only one time. I wish you could have seen the look on that little Chihuahua’s face when he ran out into the road. I’d have been a monster not to swerve, Mimi. And you go on about how there have been other signs that I’m unwell. The tub incident you like to bring up all the time. Yes, it overflowed when I was running a bath, but like I’ve explained to you so many times, I saw the most marvelous bird with iridescent green feathers out the window, and I was just grabbing my sketchbook and trying to get it down before it flew off. And it’s true the water made it all the way into the living room, but I did notice. It wasn’t a hopeless disaster the way you like to imagine it. And I still can’t believe you asked that terrible Connie woman next door to keep an eye on me, what a betrayal that was. You knew she was a snoop, and she just took that to mean she should spy on me all day and report my every activity back to you. She enjoyed that, you know, got up on her high horse. An occasional flood and car crash are perfectly normal occurrences during the course of a human lifespan. I think most people would agree on that, Mimi.
And you never could wrap your head around this, but I had systems to help myself remember. Color-coded sticky notes, which you can get down at the Publix. A three-pack for $2.99. Red on everything that needed to be turned off. Green on things that needed turning on. Yellow on things to be monitored. And it made the house look so bright, Mimi, you just had to think of them like little Pan-African accents. And the stickies were great for the car, too. Green on the gas. Red on the brake and on the horn and gear shift column. Yellow for the wipers, the lights, the turn signal. And the whole set up is entirely customizable. You can just keep adding as many layers as you need to remind yourself. It’s all about making the ordinary look different, new. I explained this to you, but you wouldn’t hear me. Took one look at the house, and you decided that I needed medical and psychiatric evaluations. You needed me to have a diagnosis so you could have something indisputable to point to. I’ll never forget what you said to me, that I’d always been crazy, and now it was just getting harder for me to hide it. I remember when you walked into the hospital after the car accident. You were rude to the nurses, like I told them you would be, snapping demands. I could tell you were annoyed when one of them patted me on the arm in sympathy on her way out the door, like you knew I’d turned her against you. And then all of those forms you made me sign. I signed the damned things just so you’d stop hounding me. Power of attorney. Remember I said is there a form I can sign for quiet of attorney? Absence of attorney? You didn’t think that was very funny. But to be my age and still cracking jokes is a sign of mental vigor, Mimi. Your mind was made up, though.
Early dementia, the doctors said. And there are medications that might be able to help, but the more serious thing, and you took my hand for this part, all tender seeming, was that there’s a mass on my left lung that’s likely spread. From smoking my whole life, you made sure to emphasize that part. When you were little you used to hide my cigarettes every chance you got like a self-righteous little dictator. They’d need additional testing to be sure. And you say first they need to get me situated in a professional facility where I won't endanger myself or others. You have to understand how quickly this was all happening. How I felt like a bystander while it all just barreled past. One step at a time, you say, and I make up my mind to pretend I cannot hear a word you’re saying, which is my favorite game to play with you since it infuriates you so much, especially when I smile.
I knew people who went to nursing homes. My friend, Rita Moore? Rita had trouble with her memory, but she wasn’t stupid. Her daughter-in-law came up with this idea to keep a log of all her visitors. Each time a family member paid a visit, they’d write down their names and the date and what they did together. Louis and Angie, May 2nd. Got ice cream, sat by pond to feed ducks. Mary-Kate, June 7th. Went to hair salon and then to movie. The book was filled with entries like that, but Rita said no one ever really came to see her. It turns out the daughter-in-law would just take the book once every few months and fill it in with all these lies. Thought Rita didn’t know any better. I visited her just around the time she’d stopped eating. She was a hollowed-out shell by that point. The place smelled like bleach and Vaseline and latex gloves. And everyone’s shoes squeaked and reflected along the shiny, waxed tiles. And those fluorescent lights made people look yellow and sickly, more than they already did. They stuck a feeding tube in her, Mimi, and do you know what happened next? She died from something called aspiration pneumonia a few months later. But I’m sure it was a first-rate facility.
In the bedroom this Trish is touching all of my things like it’s perfectly normal and then when my suitcase is full, she looks up all perky and bright-eyed and says she thinks that’s about it, and is there anything else I think I’d like to take with me? And I’m surprised she’s asked and not just gone ahead and handcuffed me. Why not put a muzzle on me at that point. Throw me in the back of the van and take me for a nickel ride, Trish. I tell Trish that I’m not sure. That I’d like to take one last look around the house if it’s okay. I’ll at least need my sketchbook and some extra pencils, which I think are in the garage. They’re not very sharp, I add. And Trish says yes, that’s fine and she’ll take a last look around to make sure all the appliances are off. There’s a sticky-note system to make that easier, I say. And Trish gives me a look like she feels sorry for me.
I walk toward the garage and grab the car keys hanging next to the door. And I look back and Trish is by the kitchen sink with all these sticky notes clinging to her fingers, flicking her hand like a cat shaking water off its paw. There are so few moments in life just like this one, humming with perfect clarity, Mimi. So I get in the car as quietly as possible and then I open the garage door, which of course gets Trish’s attention. She comes running out yelling to stop. And I gun it.
24 West is the fastest route to the ocean, and, no, I don’t need a map or a little talking computer, thank you. If you don’t have machines in your face every minute of the day, you learn to observe your surroundings, rely on your innate senses. This is Seminole country. People forget that. There didn’t used to be a freeway here, divided down the middle with manicured little rows of milkweed and palms. There’s traffic, but it’s not bad, and the middle lane has an easy rhythm to it, not that you appreciate things like that. You’ve always been a left-lane person, a passer.
I think maybe when I was a child, Mimi, which I know is difficult for you to imagine—me as an innocent—and all I cared about was climbing trees and plunging into swimming holes and napping in the sun, I saw the world for what it really was. And everything I learned after that—about how you are the money you make, about how you’re always being looked at so you’d better look good, about how you need to secure yourself a man and get married and keep your figure and keep an orderly household—it was all a lie. Conjured up to keep you frozen. Keep you subordinate and buying things. We’re born knowing the truth and then we’re trained to forget it. I honestly believe that, Mimi, and I hope you know I tried my best to raise you with those same convictions.
It’s maybe an hour and a half to Cedar Key. You always talk about how this Skylark isn’t safe anymore, but it’s a tough car. It’s seen me through all kinds of confrontations and close calls. Hail storms, crazed men with shopping carts in the street. Part of me wouldn’t be surprised if she floats when we hit the waves. Trish is probably telephoning at this very moment. Notifying. Reporting. She’ll be on the phone to you. To the Florida Highway Patrol. To Flanders Fields. There’s probably an APB out on me. That look, though, on her face. And how she stood there flailing her arms in the driveway, like that’d somehow convince me to reconsider. You’re probably pacing on the phone in your office, fuming, panther-like. You know what’d be lovely, Mimi? One of these Salems I keep here in the glove box. I don’t mind if I do.
Christ, you were always so horrible to travel with. Even on short trips in the car, you were so critical. You hated how I drove, the backwards routes I took to avoid left turns or freeways. How messy the car always was, how my pile system for cassettes was not an actual system. You did really like some of those cassettes, though. That was always nice if we were arguing or if you weren’t speaking to me. You loved jazz. Thelonious Monk especially, but you’d pronounce it The Loneliest Monk. Remember when I’d put on jazz records after dinner and we’d dance around in the kitchen until late at night? You’d be tired for school in the morning, but I still say it was worth it, the way you’d spin and swing your body and you’d let the music take your mind. I wish we’d had more moments like that.
The day you were born, Mimi. I was petrified. They were still using Twilight sedation back then. Nobody knew how dangerous it was. Evan sat in the waiting room watching television and eating pretzels. I can’t recall a single second of the actual birth. They’d put this saccharine-smelling mask over my face and time wobbled loose from its meter. Then hours later they brought you to me, swaddled, impossibly small. I was nauseated and couldn’t keep a clear thought in my head. You were covered in these soft translucent hairs with bruises all down your neck and back. The nurse said something about how they were only stork bites and they’d fade in the next few weeks. You were a downright misshapen little thing if you ask me. Dented and swollen from the forceps. Evan physically recoiled at the site of you, which I thought he could have done a better job of concealing, at least in front of the nurse. There’d never been any kind of initial imprinting, and I wonder if that made it easier for him to leave just a few years down the road. I am sorry for that, Mimi. I hope you know. You had these dark eyes too big for your head that just swallowed me up when I stared into them. There was a tiny universe under construction behind those eyes, gears turning, building blocks stacking. You were a wonder.
Later that night I made my way to the nursery to look at you. And it was just down the hall, but I could barely walk. They’d stitched me back up and wrapped me tight, but there was no ignoring the fact that you’d torn me right open, Mimi. I rested my forehead against the nursery window and I watched your body rise and fall with each breath. I didn’t know how it’d be one long, blind curve ahead.
You weren’t altogether wrong when you said that I didn’t always consider you when it came to the men in my life. Evan was bad, but there was also Brock, who you saw when he’d come over for dinner and spend the night every other weekend for about a year or so. He’d bring you a toy each time and call you things like darling and doll-face. And I remember you’d look at me like, Him? Really? Brock said we couldn’t get too serious, but he’d also told me how much he cared about me, how beautiful I was, how intelligent. I was still so young, Mimi. There were a lot of reasons why things didn’t work out between us. One was just the sound of his name. Whenever I had to call out to him in a crowded place like a park or a grocery store, if he couldn’t hear me, I’d have to keep saying his name louder and louder, and I could tell by how people looked at me that I seemed deranged, birdlike. A bigger reason was Brock being married, I never told you this part. The last time I saw him, his wife, Vanessa, who was an airline attendant, was working over the weekend so I’d stayed at his place. You were having a sleepover with Tracy Gomez in the apartment beneath ours that weekend. Vanessa was due back early in the morning, and I was supposed to wake up at dawn to disappear before she arrived. Instead, I woke up to Brock shaking me saying what the fuck, and when I opened my eyes the sun was streaming into the room. I was naked and my mouth was dry and sour from vodka martinis and cigarettes. The sheet was dark red and wet beneath me. It spread in a wide circumference, a Rorschach of an eagle in mid flight. I was early. And Vanessa was, too. Her car pulled into the driveway and she cut the engine. Brock screamed at me to get my things and go out through the back. I tried to say I was sorry and he held out his hand like a traffic cop. Go, he said. Brock piled blankets on the bed, frantic. I was so stupid, Mimi, I asked would he call me and he said to get the fuck out of his house. I scrambled for my dress, wrinkled in a pile on the floor. My hands shook and I got the thing half on, backwards and crooked. I made it out the back door just as Vanessa was turning her key in the lock. I bought you a toy every other weekend until you stopped asking where Brock was.
You were always naturally strong. A born leader. At one of our first apartments in Ocala, there was that swimming pool out back. Remember how the management kept a cover on it at night? You couldn’t have been more than ten years old at the time. We were out on the patio next to the pool one night. I was reading the paper, having a beer and a cigarette. And you had tested into what they called rapid math at school. You were doing your algebra on the chaise next to me, stopping every few minutes to sip from your Coke can. And out of nowhere, this deer charges over the fence and goes headfirst into the pool cover. And it’s writhing around and trying to fight this big piece of plastic and the thing is panicked, it’s going to drown. And you’re little, but you walk right up to it, even though I try to grab onto you and I’m yelling that you’ll get your skull kicked in, and you reach down and grab on tight to the cover and hold it steady, planting yourself firm so the deer can shake itself free. But even then, she couldn’t pull herself out of the pool. It was too deep. Mom, you’d said with this grave look, go inside and phone the police. Now.
So I did, and out the window I saw you sit down on the poolside and start talking to the deer. The police said they’d send someone from Fish and Wildlife over, to sit tight. You sang all eight songs from your school’s chorus recital, Hooray for the USA, to the deer while we waited for the men to come. I knew those songs well. I’d been late to that recital since I had to rush from my shift at the restaurant, so you sang the parts I missed to me on the car ride home. We are springing to the call with a million freemen more. Shouting the battle cry of freedom! And we’ll fill our vacant ranks of our brothers gone before. Shouting the battle cry of freedom! You belted it into my right ear from the passenger’s seat. Two men came in khaki uniforms with a tranquilizer gun. The deer slowed, but she refused to comply. The beast kicked and thrashed her massive head around as they hoisted her out with blankets and ropes. You kept on singing, just trying to soothe the poor thing. And even through the splashing and the men barking commands, the voice from your small body resounded.
Casey Bell teaches first year writing at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she’s earning her MFA. She’s also the drummer of an indie-rock band called Fine Motor and is hard at work on her first short story collection, which explores motherhood, feminism, and plants. Her work has appeared in The New Limestone Review and is forthcoming in LadyLibertyLit.