Ten on Ten

I have my mother's voice. I don't mean I sound like her. I don't. She was a Southern soprano. I am an alto, all chest and diaphragm, with central Ohio everybody's best-guess accent. Her laugh was a rolling giggle, mine a gigantic guffaw.

What I mean is, I have her voice. In a file, In Dropbox. In a folder--an icon of a folder, to be exact--named "Pat," shared with my niece Jessica and my cousin Jill. It was Jill who recorded it, who came up to me when we gathered to place my mom's ashes in the mausoleum and said, "I have your momma on tape, you know." But I didn't. I didn't know.

"I interviewed her, right before they moved. I figured it might be my last chance to get some of the stories." She stopped short of saying that she figured, when my parents moved, she would never see my mom again, but we knew. We all knew, there was no coming back, except for this way.

The recording is four hours long. I managed to listen to about two minutes a year for the first five years she was gone. Ten minutes total. 

The first few minutes are contrived, my mom hostessing, exchanging pleasantries with Jill and her mom, my Aunt Joan. My mom talks brightly about the move, about the furniture that our friends are giving them--a full living room set, dining room set, dishes and glasses and silverware. A whole household. My mom sounds like a newlywed. These details tell me Jill must have caught her only days before the move, when these last plans fell into place.

Only a few minutes into the recording, my dad comes in. His entrance is the occasion of their forgetting and just for a moment the tape captures the real story. The door brushing open against the carpet, the greetings, the keys setting down on the marble top table, my mom popping the handle on the recliner.

"The coffee's on the stove," she says. "You want me to fix you some?"

She sounds so good. Her voice is strong, with no hint of the fibrosis that would suffocate her within the year. She had the diagnosis, the prognosis, but in this moment it seems meaningless. Ten minutes in, there is no sign of it. Ten minutes in, there is only my mom, with her stories, holding court.

 

Milford, CT

Elizabeth Boquet is a Louisiana writer living in Connecticut. She writes in the space between New Orleans and New Haven. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in _100 Word Story_, _Full Grown People_, and _The Bitter Southerner_.

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