BY MICHELLE GREEN
The snow was falling like a blanket, white and soft, drowning out the noise of the world around me. Lily couldn’t look away, her gaze fixed on the icy marvels, fluttering on the frigid breeze like some winter dance. They fell, crashing into wet pavement, and melted away. If it was colder, the flakes might stick.
"I called the police. They said ten minutes, and that we should try to move your car to the shoulder," he said, but Lily didn’t hear.
When she was little, she had a blanket that was as white as snow. Her mother had knit it for her, a cluster of flowers tucked inside woolly lacework, repeated over and over. A gift for the baby, white, because they hadn’t known if she’d be a girl or a boy.
"Hey, are you listening?"
They’d known that she was a mistake. That maybe it’d be better if she didn’t make it.
The snow was wet, heavy. The best sort to make snowmen out of. It fell on the thin fleece Lily wore and, as she’d been standing by the crushed bumper of her little blue car for several minutes now, began to seep through. She shivered, and looked up.
Her voice was small.
The older gentleman bit back a sigh, still trying hard to be polite, even though it’d been her fault. She had gone through that stop sign as if it wasn’t even there, struck his nice SUV right in the side, and sent them both spinning off towards the curb into oncoming traffic. Now she stood in the middle of the road, dumbfounded, dreaming of her mother as she watched the wisps of white in the air. She heard his voice, saw the furrow of his brow beneath salt and pepper hair that was becoming wet, threatening to drip, but she didn’t understand what he wanted from her.
"Put it in neutral. You steer, I’ll push."
Lily thought he’d mess up his nice loafers if he pushed her car through the rapidly accumulating slush, made dirty by the road. He’d soil that long, dark coat he wore over the finely tailored suit that hugged his body.
"Okay," she repeated, and this time moved to comply. Her sneakers made a sloshing noise, left a cloud of white scattered across the mat as she slid into the driver’s seat.
His name was Neil. He told her so, after he pushed her car out of the lane. Neil was a podiatrist across town. He wasn’t upset with her, he said, more than once. Everything would be alright. The police would come and make a report, the insurance companies would take care of it. Lily didn’t need to do anything.
"Have you been driving long?" Neil asked, making small-talk as they waited.
"What? Oh. I’m twenty-three."
“So…yes?” Neil was confused, looking at her the way people often did when she spoke lately. She closed her mouth, furrowed her brow, and stared at him. He didn’t try to speak again.
The police did come, just as he had promised. They asked questions that she couldn’t answer, like why hadn’t she stopped for the sign? Had she been drinking? No. She knew the answer to that one. In the end they gave her a copy of a report she didn’t really understand, fixed her with strange looks, and left her. Neil seemed a bit more hesitant.
"Will you be alright?" he hedged by the door to his car, fingers hesitating on the handle.
"I think so."
When he left, Lily climbed behind the wheel and sat staring over the dash, across the hood, and at the storm raging in the halo of her headlights.
"Mama, I can’t find it!"
"Lillian Grace, you’d lose your head if it wasn’t screwed on. Look on the table, behind my purse. It’s a blue envelope."
Lily doubted she’d find it. Her mama always forgot things like this, could never remember up from down if she or daddy weren’t there to remind her.
"Okay mama," she replied loudly, and looked.
The envelope wasn’t there. Mama’s purse wasn’t even on the table, but that didn’t surprise Lily much. The diagnosis had come from the doctor almost a year ago, a young man in a crisp white coat who smelled like clove cigarettes.
"It’ll make it hard for her to remember a lot of things," he’d said, and so much more. Papa had heard it all, had listened as the doctor used words like aggressive progression and quality of life. Lily had forgotten to listen, had turned instead to the frosted glass plane that separated them from the hall outside, the place where other people were bringing their mamas in too, maybe their papas instead. A brother, a sister, a lover--it didn’t matter here. Walking that long hall toward the doctor’s office was the end of a long journey, a deafening finality.
"It can be hereditary," the doctor had said, and they’d both turned serious eyes to her. But Lily wasn’t sick. Lily was young, only just out of college, her whole life stretched out in front of her. She watched her breath fog the opaque glass, thinking of losing her mama. What girl wouldn’t be stunned to silence at news like that?
Mama didn’t leave, but her mind did.
"I found it!"
The yellow, not blue, envelope was tucked behind a vase of daffodils Mama had placed inside the refrigerator. Lily had moved them back to the table, where the sunshine yellow petals could brighten the whole room, and found it.
Mama was staring out the window by the time she got to her chair, her face stolid, eyes distant.
"I found the card," she said again, softer now, the sweet tone one would use to coerce a toddler into putting on their other shoe. "Mama?"
The moment had passed, mama was gone. Lily sighed, sat on the dingy carpet by the recliner, opened the card herself. There was an old stain by her knee, pink nail polish. Mama had been so patient, painting a seven year old Lily’s toes all those years ago. Lily had promptly disregarded all of the instruction Mama had given about sitting still, waiting for them to dry, and rolled around on the fluffy cream carpet with their old dog, Waldo. All that pretty polish had smudged off onto the rug, and Mama had only sighed as she tried to clean it up. She’d always been good to Lily, loved her with the best of herself, and Lily could do nothing less now that Mama needed her, too.
"It’s a card from Uncle Pete," Lily said, pretending Mama heard her. "There’s a big yellow dog on the front, sipping lemonade under a palm tree."
She held it up. Mama didn’t look, but Lily gave her the chance to do just that before she opened the stiff card.
"He says he misses us all. He’s praying for you, mama, hopes you feel better real soon. He might bring the kids up for Easter, if all goes well."
Mama never saw that card. Pete didn’t come for Easter, and Lily’s mother began to forget more and more. Sometimes it was little things.
"Lily, let the dog out before he messes on the carpet."
"Mama, Waldo died years ago."
Sometimes they were bigger things, moments when Mama couldn’t remember who Lily was, upended the soup her daughter held all across Lily’s lap because she was convinced she was being poisoned. Lily’s heart would break, the fear and confusion in Mama’s eyes almost too much to handle. She’d call for daddy, wrestle Mama away from shards of broken glass, and then sweep up the mess, wishing all the while it was so easy to repair the shards of her broken heart.
The bigger moments gradually became the more common moments, until Lily couldn’t handle Mama herself. Daddy called in a private nurse, but it was expensive and the money ran out. Mama had been moved to a nursing home. Lily visited her every day.
"Is that you, Lily?" Mama would sometimes ask, and Lily would glow.
It was heartbreaking, watching her deteriorate. The vivacious, incredible woman Lily had known wasted away into vacant stares, trembling hands, violent outbursts. It made Lily wish for a quick death, the silent kind that stole you away in your sleep, that made no announcement, had no build-up.
What she got instead was a diagnosis.
It was a diagnosis that had sent her hurtling along in her powder blue car, thinking of driving and driving, until Route 40 turned into a barricade, signs posted to warn drivers of the bridge washed out. She’d drive through those, right into icy water, right into a death she could face as Lily, not Mama.
Even that had gone wrong. Instead of hitting barricades, she’d crashed into the side of a podiatrist named Neil, who felt badly for her, who spoke kindly to her, who had hesitated by his door. The easy answer, the quick escape had been ripped away from her as cruelly as Mama had been, and Lily spent hours staring at the snowstorm that raged on, blinding, battering her little car.
"Will you be alright?" he’d asked.
"No," Lily found herself wanting to reply. No!
But the breath had been sucked out of her hopelessness, the momentum swept away. Her determination wavered. Mama had left her, but she didn’t have to leave. Not like this, anyway — at the bottom of a ravine in icy water. She could count it as a sign — turn to the nudging of the universe and fight. For her daddy, maybe. For herself. But most of all, for Mama.
Michelle Green enjoys living, reading, and writing in beautiful Lexington, Kentucky withher wonderful husband and three children. She earned her BA in English Literature at the University of Illinois, and is pursing an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University. She educates her children at home, and loves to travel. She is particularly fond of writing about darker human emotions, grappling with tragedy, and can be found on Twitter @milegre.