Mama is lonely.
I remembered those times vividly, when Father left on business trips. Surprisingly, Mother never entertained customers then, although it would've been a great opportunity. Instead, she cooked a meal that we ate in silence and she'd hold me close and I'd fall asleep in her arms. On those nights, she felt almost like a mother.
I can tell because she holds onto me so tightly, as if she's afraid letting go will make me disappear. She is close and warm and I am snuggled into her side, as if this is a common occurrence, as if I spend every night curled up beside her instead of staring at a faraway ceiling all night long. She tells me her dreams, her hopes, her fears—as if she needs this, as if being able to confide in me makes something inside feel better—and I listen as best as I can, for her.
"Never be like me," she says, her arms suffocatingly tight around me. "Please don't turn out like me."
"It's okay, Mama," I'd tell her, not knowing how much comfort my words could possibly have.
She'd stare at the ceiling for ages, so long I'd almost drift to sleep before she moved or spoke or even breathed loudly. And then, timorously, she'd say, "Sing me a song, baby."
"W-what? Why, Mama?"
" 'Cause you always sound so sweet when you sing to me. It makes me forget so many things… sing to me so I can forget."
The big brown eyes would stare at me, practically boring into my soul, and my voice would tremble and shake as I began to sing.
After we moved it didn't happen so often, not that it had been a common occurrence back then. But there were nights when it did happen, and after the customers left she'd bang on my bedroom door until I responded, and she'd try to coax me to pretend we were a family.
"Don't you want to sit by me?" she'd ask as she sat on the couch, crossing her bare legs.
I wanted to say no but couldn't, so I acquiesced. She held me close and played with my hair and asked me how my day was, how I felt, if I hated her for what she'd done.
And I wanted to say, 'Shitty; Shitty; Yes,' but of course I lied. For being seen as such a respectable person, I lied quite a lot, mostly about my feelings, because honestly, my feelings tended to crowd out people's happiness.
Nights like that I didn't know what to make of her. I never knew what brought on the sudden motherly impulses; was she drunk or pregnant or what? Did she yearn for the warmth of another body so much that she'd resort to me? Did she, just for a few moments, realize what she'd done to me? …Maybe it was her own pathetic form of penance. But either way she talked to me until her breaths evened out and her pretty head would fall against my shoulder.
As soon as she drifted off I'd flee to my room, lock the door, and wonder why tears were coming to my eyes. As I leaned against my door, chest heaving and breaths puffing out of my mouth, I always wondered why she did it. In times like those, it seemed as if she'd finally realized what she'd done—and she was sorry, and she loved me, and things would be OK—but those moments passed. They crumbled to ash and the memories got scattered away on the wind until they meant less than nothing, because after all, nothing could repair the things she'd broken. It didn't matter that she loved me or that she was sorry because she had still done those things, still broken me, still ruined everything, and I knew I'd never forgive her for that. I'd spent so many years being angry and I didn't feel like stopping anytime soon, no matter how many times she patted my head and asked for a lullaby. Even though it hurt me more than her and most of the time she didn't give a damn what I thought.
Even though I cried every night she didn't. Even though tears slipped out of the corners of my eyes as her arms suffocated me and her fingers clawed at my hair and my voice trembled along the edge of her ears. Even though the creaking of the bedsprings that echoed from her room made me die inside.
Even though… I wanted nothing more than to forget all she'd done and make those moments last forever, burned into my skin like a hot poker.
So when she asked, I sang her the longest, saddest lullaby I knew and tried in vain to will the tears from my voice.