by Maureen Wilkinson
HER ONCE VIGOROUS hair is wisps of silver, her scalp
pink against the white pillow. Liver-spotted hands lie inert
on the hospital sheet, the ragged nails a little too long.

‘Shall I cut your nails, mama?’

Wrinkled lids lift and she stares at me. Hazel eyes once
full of fire are faded, a water-blue circle for an iris.

‘You’re a good girl,’ she says, her long upper lip shielding
the toothlessness of her smile. She draws a ragged breath
and closes her eyes once more, as if keeping them open
had been an effort.

You’re a good girl. Was that it, the words I had waited all
my life to hear? Not much balance against all the times
she told me I had let her down or that I’d never amount to
much. Or the many times she’d screamed. ‘Can’t you do
anything right?’

I look down at her immobile face.
Maybe she’d said I was
a good girl because I’d fulfilled all her expectations and
proved her right. Two failed marriages, no job prospects
and living on welfare.

My eyes follow the labored rise and fall of her chest. I
remember my one moment of success and how it
displeased her.


I’d come home from the factory, where I spent my days
making cheap dresses. ‘I’m thinking of taking a university
course,’ I said, sitting opposite her at the kitchen table.  

She raised her eyes, her mouth turned down at the
corners. ‘What for?’

‘I want to be a writer, Mama.’

If I’d said, ‘I want to be a hooker,’ her look couldn’t have
been more contemptuous.

‘Don’t be stupid. You need
dedication to write. You’d give
up after a month.’

‘I’ve had a short story accepted; it’s going to be published
next month.’

‘I suppose you were fool enough to pay for the privilege?’

‘No, they
chose it, I didn’t pay anything.’

Her eyes narrowed. ‘But how much are they paying you?’

‘Well, nothing. It’s a start—to get your name in print I
mean. That’s why I want to go to university to learn form
and structure.’

Her lips stretched into a thin line. ‘So, you gave it away?
Haven’t I always told you there’s no taste in nothing?  
Anyone will take something that’s free.’


Now I get a perverse joy from her disapproval. I'm
punishing her with my failure.  

I find nail scissors among the clutter of my bag and lift her
hand from the sheet. Her eyes snap open.

‘What’re you doing?’

‘I’m going to cut your nails.’

Her fingers curl into her palm. ‘Stop fiddling. If I want my
nails cut I’ll ask.’

I lay her hand back on the blanket. ‘I have to go.’

She turns her eyes towards the window. Her lips tighten
and disappear into her face.

‘Go, then. I don’t need you.’

She’s close to death. I want to tell her I love her—
tomorrow she might be gone.  The words lie frozen in my
throat. I suck in my bottom lip to stop it from trembling.
My heels tap on the polished floor as I hurry out. I stop to
wave, but she doesn’t look my way.

‘Goodbye Mama—I love you,’ I finally whisper as I leave
the hospital. The door swings closed, my words lost in the
still air.

Born and educated in Belfast, Maureen Wilkinson now lives in
Norfolk in the United Kingdom. Her short stories have appeared in
Champagne Shivers, Flashme, The Deepening, Literal Translations,
and elsewhere.
Return to Home Page