Melissa Cistaro

I am underneath my Indian wool blanket. Sleeping. Dreaming, perhaps. My bedroom door opens and light from the hallway floods in. Her shadow approaches my bed and she sits heavily; I can smell her—my mother: smoke-drenched dungarees, red wine, Y’Satis perfume, and Amaretto Di Sartini. She sits next to me, and I don’t feel like waking up. I hate these late-night wake-ups. It’s always something that could wait for morning. It’s always that same bright yellow hallway light that I see.

“Darlin’? Darlin’, I need to go,” she mumbles.

Her hands are cool and damp on my shoulder. She’s not looking at me—just talking with her head drawn down, almost as if she’s talking to herself. Her voice is soft and garbled.

“I can’t stay, darlin’. I just can’t. I’d stay if I could, but I hate California, everything about it. There’s too many people here, too many cars driving on the road. You can’t understand how I hate it.”

I shift my body under the covers. “What time is it, Mom?”

“It’s late. Three a.m. or something.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going back to Port Townsend. I’m better there. My friends are there.”

I try to find her eyes, but they stay down while she fidgets with a set of jingly keys on her lap.

“I’m sorry to wake you... I just wanted you to know.”

“It’s OK, Mom. Maybe you’ll feel better in the morning. We can get donuts.”

“No. I’m going to drive back tonight. I should make it as far as Eureka.”

I can see the edges of the taped-up cards and horse pictures on my bedroom walls behind her head. The ones I put up before she came back. The ones that were supposed to make her stay.

She leans in and kisses my cheek. Her face is wet, her breath heavy with liquor.

“I’m so sorry, darlin’. I’ll send you a letter soon.”

“It’s OK, Mom,” I repeat. It’s all I know how to say.

She stands slowly and walks out into the yellow halo of light coming through the doorway.

Somewhere inside me I think I have this other voice that can scream out to her, Please don’t go, Mom. You can’t leave again.

But, instead, I give her permission with the only voice I have, “It’s OK, Mom.”

I don’t even take my head off the pillow. I just watch her leave. And, as she leaves, I hear every sound. The front door opening, then clicking shut. Her uneven footsteps descending the stairs, the creaking of her car door opening, then slamming with a finality. Maybe not every girl needs a mother, I think to myself.

I hear the engine rev and the wheels roll out of the driveway. I pull myself into a tight ball.

I don’t feel anything, not even the sheets against my skin. I am nowhere, with no one touching me, and she is gone.

Melissa Cistaro lives in Woodland Hills, California with her husband and three children. For Melissa, the birth of her daughter raised several unanswered questions about her own mother that she felt she needed to explore. She began work on a collection of nonfiction stories, which ultimately led her to write a recently-completed novel. "Leaving Again" is Melissa's first published piece.

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