Ma at the bookshelves, searching for new knowledge. She takes a novel between her calloused fingertips, rummages through the pages like she’s looking for something lost. The chair by the window hugs her hips, softens beneath her rump. She trails the book’s worn spine and creaks it open to the first page. Her eyes go cross as she follows the words. Ma in the sitting room where no one else can go. It’s here she goes to leave behind her senses and think her lonesome thoughts. Do not disturb, baby. This is Ma’s time.
Outside, the gutters are swollen with trickling rain, the pavement saturated dark grey. From the front steps I see Ma through the window pane. Her skin glows in the warm lamplight, pretty as a picture. Stay outside, baby. Wait for Ma to finish up.
Drizzle turns to downpour as I chase myself in circles, waiting for Ma to call me back in. My yellow raincoat wards off the water but it can’t fight the cold. The more pages she turns, the closer I get to warmth, the closer I get to her.
The lady across the street calls me over, tells me I got no business being out in the rain, asks where’s my Ma. ‘No worries ma’am. Ma’s just on her time. She’ll call me inside any second now.’
‘You been out here for a long time, child’. ‘I told you, she’ll be comin’ any minute.’
The lady sighs under the shelter of her awning. ‘Why don’t you wait inside mine. It’s cold out here. You gonna get sick, child.’
I’m not supposed to go into strangers’ houses. Ma wouldn’t like it one bit. ‘That’s all right, ma’am. I’ll be all right. Won’t be too long, now.’
She looks at me like I’m not right but doesn’t argue any further, goes back inside and leaves me be. I skip back across the street’s flood, water soaking through my socks.
The lady keeps watching through her rain-stained window. She doesn’t like me being outside alone. I don’t like it much either. I hurry up our porch, tap my knuckles on the front door. ‘Ma, come on now.’
I wait for her to open up, but she doesn’t. ‘Ma, please. I’m gettin’ real cold.’ I clench the doorknob, shake it in my palm. It won’t budge.
I look back to the neighbour, whose eyes I meet through smudged glass. She raises her chin as if to say, ‘Keep trying, child.’
I knock as hard as I can, pound at the wood with my frozen fists. ‘You let me in this damn house, Ma!’
I take two steps back and look inside. Ma in the sitting room, eyes glazed to the floor. ‘Ma!’ I call, crushing my knuckles against the glass. ‘Ma, let me in!’
Ma in the sitting room, not moving, not even looking at me. I knock at the glass again, this time gently. ‘Ma,’ I say. My knuckles find a rhythm. I stare at her. She doesn’t look up. She doesn’t even blink. Then the rain stops, but only for a second.