Leah Browning

Part 1: Because I Didn’t
Notice the Little Signs

The day after my mother’s birthday, I take her to the premier of a film. It is a local, low-budget production. My friend Lori helped with the lighting, and she gave me the tickets.

I am sitting in the auditorium. It is dark. We are about ten minutes into the film. It is a documentary about a woman whose mother was dying, whose mother died during the course of the filming.

We arrived early, and we are in the front row. My mother is sitting to my right, and the woman who is the subject of the documentary is on her right. Lori is somewhere in the darkness behind us, probably holding hands with her boyfriend, the director.

On the screen in front of us, the dying mother retches into a plastic trash can before raising her head weakly and asking for water.

Leaning close to me, my mother twists her mouth into a frown. “I don’t like this,” she says in a loud voice.

I try to shush her. I am too embarrassed to look in the direction of the woman sitting on her other side. I hope she didn’t hear.

“The acting is terrible,” my mother complains.

“Shhh! It’s not acting,” I whisper. “This is a documentary.”

My mother clicks her tongue. “Well, it’s awful.”

I hiss, “Mom, please—she’s sitting right next to you.”

The woman on her right stands up, sharply, and her seat swings back and forth before coming to rest. She doesn’t look back at us as she walks up the aisle and through the doors at the back of the auditorium.

Sighing, my mother says, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

I no longer bother whispering. “You know, she was sitting right next to you.”

My mother shrugs. “Well, she’s not anymore, is she.”

My mother has always been difficult, but not like this. She stares at me defiantly, a teenager in the body of a seventy-something woman, waiting to see what I will do. Her eyes glitter in the dark.

> part 2

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