Before we went to brunch, Mom and I waited in her living room for it to be time to leave, she on her petite sofa, me at her table by the sliding-glass door. She had washed her hair that morning and it fell in soft waves that framed her face. Her hair is light gray but the part closest to her face is bright white. She was wearing a sage green sweater that complemented her coloring and her pink lipstick was fresh. She had color in her cheeks that wasn’t there before the surgery.
“You look pretty, Mom.”
She looked at me and I could feel her study my face, determining whether or not it warranted a reciprocal complement. She decided, then silently lowered her eyes to her lap. I turned to look out the window, the rain falling, drops bouncing out of the blue birdbath, drops dripping from the bright green tips of the spruce. The thirteen-year-old girl who had been dormant came to life inside me, the one who had just finished getting ready for her first dance, touching her fingertips to the soft velvet of her new dress.
“Look, mom!” I stood in the kitchen, holding my hands out to my sides so I wouldn’t get sweat on the velvet. Mom turned to look at me.
“I used to love going to dances, when all the girls look so pretty and all the boys look so handsome,” she said.
“Am I pretty, Mom?”
She tilted her head, considered the question.
“No. You’re plain.”
I looked out the window at the rain that fell on the baskets of flowers that we had bought and repotted and hung. I could see that two of the bunches of daffodils I had transplanted from the guesthouse had collapsed their leaves on to the grass. The third was still upright. I heard Mom’s voice behind me.
“I’ve started to like your hair. It’s taken a long time.”
I had been tending to my mother but right then I was tending to myself. I reminded myself that she cannot give what she had not been given, that I was the daughter of a motherless child. I thought of what Trent had said, “You only have to look beautiful to one person.” He was right but he was wrong. The one person I need to look beautiful to is myself. I got up to use her bathroom. Washing my hands, I took a long look in the mirror. My mom is right. I am not pretty. And my mom is wrong. I am beautiful. It’s taken a long time for me to see that.
* * *
Chewing the Cud of Good
When I do my morning meditations and stretches, when I get to the part where the app instructs me to take a big breath in and then let it all out, I make a big sigh. At the same time, so does Leda. The sides of her mouth flap when she makes her big smiling sigh.
I am 50 days into writing the novel and as of today the word count is 51,894, so I’ve met my goal of a minimum word count of 1000 words a day. It’s a good thing there were some 1300, 1500, and even 1800 word days because they carried me over the days when the word count was zero. It’s fun on most days, I think the writing is horrible on a lot of days, and I remind myself that this is the first draft and the whole point of the first draft is simply to get the story on the page.