Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Red Gloves

"Did you buy new gloves?" my husband asked me, holding up a pair of red leather gloves that our 15-month-old, in her usual path of destruction, had strewn across the front hallway.

"No," I said quietly. "Those were my mother's. I bought them for her."

It was December, almost two years ago. My mother was clearly getting worse, confined to her bed for much of the day. Her birthday was December 19th—close enough to Christmas that it was always a struggle to find two distinct, yet appreciated, gifts. That year, however, she'd been quite specific about what she wanted. I turned up for her birthday with a bag of presents that seemed woefully inadequate for the situation: a book on harnessing your brain power, some cosmetics and the red gloves she'd asked for.

I presented everything to her in bed, with the weak winter sunlight shining through the window, and she thanked me. We talked briefly, awkwardly, avoiding the elephant in the room, and she complained that she didn't have the strength or energy anymore to do the things she wanted to do.

Taking a page from the cancer books that espouse optimism, I smiled at her and took a deep breath. "Well, you'd better work on getting your strength back," I encouraged. "Because...I'm pregnant. We're having another baby."

It was early in the pregnancy, but—seeing the writing on the wall—we'd decided to tell our immediate family the news. I don't remember her exact reaction, but I'm sure she smiled and congratulated me.

She never got to wear the red gloves I bought her, so quick was her decline. Other than a brief phone conversation on Christmas Day, when she complimented the cake I'd made and sent home to her with my father, that was the last lucid conversation we had.

And when, months later, my second daughter was born, she was no longer around to meet her.

I kept those red gloves, though—just as I've kept the scraps of Christmas wrapping with her handwriting and the sweaters that still hold that faint mix of tobacco and perfume. I hold tight to the physical objects that remind me of my mother, because I'm afraid of the other things that are slowly slipping away. Enough time has passed now that I can't recall the exact timber of her voice or the specific slant of her smile. I worry that, if more time passes, all of the ties that bind her to me will slowly disintegrate.

So the other day, when it was cold enough, I wore the red gloves as I left for work, kissing my beautiful family goodbye. I know my mother would have loved my girls. And the gloves.

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