As the storefronts passed her by and suddenly disappeared into the edge of the bus window, all Eve could think about was her mother. This block was familiar, and now it would never be the same again, she thought, as she looked at the signs belonging to stores that had been there long before she was born, and she remembered walking out of them clutching her mother’s hand as they decided where they would go next. She used to to be so proud of her grasp on her mother’s fingers and made jokes about it–her mother would smile and say “Ow!”, and Eve would giggle and smile back and say “I’m sorry, mommy,” before loosening the tightest grip in the world.
And now as her own hands rested weightlessly on her lap, the fingers of one grasped gently by the other, pride, apologies, and the closing of a child’s hands around those of a parent adoringly, would all have new significance as Eve considered the best possible way to admit to her mother the mistake she’d made, and she could not, for the life of her, figure out what that way was. She did not want to be a mother, and she did not want to make herself a spectacle to the other people on the bus, and she did not want her mother to know she’d been crying, and maybe, Eve thought, that was the difference between a child and something else. Mothers always know when you’ve been crying.
She felt a gentle twist in her stomach as the bus rolled over potholes as old as she was, and she wished it would move slower. She could only imagine how angry her mother would be; angry enough to raise her hand but not angry enough to strike her, angry enough to call her something that wasn’t her name, and angry enough to wrap her arms around her neck and pull her close just as vehemently. One wasn’t much worse than another; her mother’s disappointment would surely be severe, but she’d already beaten and chided herself enough for both of them, and it was more respectful and made more sense to assume that her mother’s scorn awaited her. It happened in her house, anyway.
She turned her head and watched the front of the bus as it travelled in a straight path to point B, and she thought about the little girl and her grasp on the fingers again. As the bus pulled up to her stop, Eve continued to wrestle with her tears, and hoped more than ever that her mother would know without having to be told.
Mika sat gently grasping her daughter’s delicate fingers, and watched her head, bowed in a shameful lovechild of grace and regret as her tears fell from her eyes, almost in slow motion, and the barely audible thud they made when they landed on the table was enough to split her heart in three as she wondered who the woman in front of her was. She remembered the joy of her daughter wailing in the night, and stopping abruptly as soon as she was picked up and cradled, or a bottle of white liquid was put to her lips, and she remembered the perfection of her fingers folding over her daughter’s jaw as the little girl held onto her skirt. She wanted to be angry at the woman crying silently across from her on the other side of the table for taking that girl away from her, and she wanted to know so desperately the name and face of the boy who helped her do it, and shrugged it off like he’d done someone a favor, but instead she reached out and lifted the woman’s head to face her and wipe her tears away with her thumb, and demanded that she open her eyes. She reached for a paper towel and handed it to Eve, and the girl reluctantly took it between her fingertips and used it to wipe the table instead of her face.
And suddenly she felt a strong urge to allow her own eyes to leak, and she wished for a moment that Eve’s head was still bowed. She stared into her daughter’s puffy eyes for a moment, before reaching for the paper towel again and lifting it to her cheeks. She should do it herself, she thought, and when her little girl took the napkin from her mother’s gentle hand, Mika pulled the hand away and placed her thumb on her lips. It was still moist from Eve’s tears, and she savored the saltiness on the tip of her tongue as she put her open hand back on the table. Eve put the napkin down and grabbed her mother’s fingers tightly.
“I’m sorry,” she said, and Mika smiled slightly as she thought of the little girl.
“How mad did you think I was going to be?”
“I’m not mad at you,” she said solemnly, and suddenly Eve got to her feet and walked over to her. Mika stood as well, wrapped her arms around her daughter and kissed her forehead. Eve was still slightly shorter. She looked at her mother’s face again. She had never seen her cry before.
“I don’t want to keep it,” she said, confident that it was what they both needed to hear, and then Mika had nowhere to hide as her eyes welled up with tears, finally. She thought of her little girl.
“I know,” she said.