“Perfect Memory” by Elizabeth Motes
I need it to rain so I can see my mother.
She died ten years ago, when I was seven, from cancer. My memories from that time are mostly just blurs with a few vivid moments, like when it really hit me that Mom wasn’t going to get better. My dad had brought home fast food that night, and I remember crying at the table with a half-eaten burger in front of me. The funeral itself was a rush of hugs and well-wishes, but I remember Dad and I sitting on our old living room couch and watching a movie afterward, both of us quiet and tired.
I don’t even remember all of the details of the first time Mom appeared to me after she died. It started around a year after her death, and it was pouring that day, so I had to walk home from school gripping my umbrella close to me from the wind. Dad was still at work when I got home. I dropped my backpack on the ground and hurried to the backyard to let our dog inside.
And then Mom was just there. Not in her hospital clothes, like in my final memories of her. She wore one of her old sweatshirts and jeans with her blonde hair pulled into a ponytail. She turned to face me as if this was our routine, her waiting in the rain for me to come home.
I don’t remember how I reacted. Knowing it, I probably cried, unless I was too caught off-guard. I know I didn’t go back inside, or even consider it. She was there. She was back. I didn’t care how it was happening, not at first.
Mom can only visit when it rains. I once tried asking her why.
She shrugged. “It’s just the way it is.” The words were spoken gently. Just a mom trying to help her daughter understand a bizarre world.
All of her answers about the logic of it were just as vague. How she was there, what she knew about death, where she went when the rain passed. Maybe she didn’t want to tell me, but I think she genuinely doesn’t know. I try not to think about it.
Right now it’s late July. It hasn’t rained since the middle of April.
I’m laying down in the grass of my backyard and staring up at the cloudless sky with sweat prickling at my forehead. It’s not as if I can expect a lot of rain in Arizona, of all places, or act surprised when we get less and less of it each year. I’ve tried different ways of summoning her throughout the years. Spraying our hose up in the air, for instance, or filling up my bathtub, as if the quantity of water has something to do with it. Dad thought it was all part of the mermaid phase I went through as a child. I don’t think he questioned it much because he was just happy to see me engaged in something. We still visit the aquarium every summer because of it.
Years ago, we had a snow day, and I was so thrilled because I thought Mom would appear. She didn’t, which I still don’t think makes any sense since snow is literally frozen rain. I told her as much when I saw her next, and she didn’t even try offering an explanation.
“Did you do anything fun with your snow day?” she asked me instead.
I told her about sledding with Dad, and the subject was dropped.
But I’m counting on it raining this summer because I won’t be here in the fall. Even though I’m going to school farther north of home – meaning more storms – I don’t think I’ll be able to see her. It’s tricky enough to find time to see her at home alone, and a lot of that depends on Dad working long hours. As far as I know, I’m the only one that can see her, but I don’t know if that’s my will or hers or neither. Our dog never even reacts to her. That’s always bugged me.
I assumed it would rain sometime between April and now. I didn’t say goodbye the last time I saw her.
It’s a ridiculous thought. I’ve already gotten nine extra years with her, and there’s no reason to think she won’t be here whenever I visit home.
That’s what’s bothering me. I don’t think she’s real.
If she works with some kind of magic, then what are the rules? Only I can see her. And why rain? That’s the heart of it all, right down to the amount it pours. When it drizzles, Mom’s voice comes out in faint words and her skin is pale. In storms, she looks just as she did when she was alive and perfectly healthy, her laugh loud and cheeks rosy with joy.
You would think the rules sound like they were made up by a grief-stricken eight-year-old. It makes the most sense. I think I didn’t know how to cope with the first anniversary of her death, so I imagined her in my backyard, and I’ve kept it up since because I don’t know what else to do. That’s why I think that once I leave for school, she won’t appear again. I don’t think she can survive the change.
I asked her once if she was scared when she was dying. I was worried she would dodge the question, but she didn’t.
“I wasn’t,” she said. It was barely drizzling, but her voice came out steady and clear. “I had you and your dad with me. That was all I needed.”
Grim topics aside, we’ve talked about everything throughout the years. We sit together in the wet grass and she listens, sometimes offering stories from her own life, ones that I remember her telling me when I was young. All the while, I try to ignore how her shadow doesn’t appear in the growing
puddles, how she manages to stay perfectly dry in the wet, or how she hasn’t aged and simply appears the way she looked before she got sick.
There were long periods of time where I could forget all the fantastical elements of it. Sometimes I could almost convince myself I still had my mother in my life. But then the image of her lying on the hospital bed would flash in my mind, and no matter what I told myself, I had to reconcile that those were my real and final experiences with her.
A single cloud appears in the sky. Just a small puff of white. I watch it linger in its place. There won’t be a storm today, or tomorrow.
Dad will be home from work soon. He had an early day and said he would bring home dinner. I get up, wipe the sweat from my forehead, and go back inside.
Biographical Note: Elizabeth Motes (she/her) is a sophomore studying English and Creative Writing at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. She has previously published her story “Haunted” in the Trinity Review. She is passionate about writing fiction and aspires to pursue it as a career. Find her writing Instagram @emotes.writes