All you know is how dark it is—so dark you could hardly see your own hands before your eyes—and how this older woman is pressing her body against yours under the warm sheets that haven’t been washed in a while and smell familiar and moldy. All you know is that you are 9 maybe 10 years old and that you recognize that sweet voice whispering in your ear that she loves you more than anything and anyone in the world.
You are a grown up woman now but whenever this night comes back to you like this, you have this sinking feeling that it wasn’t just a single night and you catch yourself thinking about the purity of maternal love. You—suddenly awaken in the middle of the night, your mother—fully awake after a visit to the bathroom—both of you in your bed even though you sleep in different beds a couple of feet apart from each other. She must have mistaken your bed for hers but the beds have been in the same place for years--yours next to the door, hers next to the window—and this has never happened before.
And what’s so wrong with a mother sneaking into her little girl’s bed, anyway? When you were about five or six, you used to love lying in bed next to her in the morning. You’d snug your wispy head in her chest, she’d embrace you with a head-to-toe hug that ended in intertwined legs—yours and hers. And you wanted all the clocks in the world to stop right there and then. You held your breath afraid of moving, afraid on breaking the magic.
But that night before you went to bed your mother said to you that not having a husband wasn’t so bad after all, that one little girl was worth a hundred husbands and you looked at each other in the mirror as you both brushed your teeth and smiled with white mouths full of foamy toothpaste and saliva. She kissed you good night and made the cross in the air with her right hand. You went to sleep feeling special, as if the kiss and the blessing had sealed a secret covenant between the two of you.
All you remember is noises—the toilet being flushed, steps returning to your room, the rustling of her pajamas against your sheets, your mother’s unintelligible hushing sounds although you are not crying, her whispers that said not to worry, it’s her, your mom, it’s ok, it’s a dream, she has you, she has you. More rustling as if she were changing her clothes right there in your bed, then the warmth of her skin, the cotton of her flowery pajamas gone.
All you remember is the softness of her night shoulders, her breath, that peculiar smell of her toothless mouth, her winter hands pressing yours in downward circles on her breasts. You are old enough to know that breasts are sacred places that married women use to feed their babies. But the voice comes to you and tells you that it’s ok, it’s a dream, just a dream. You hear your mother’s heavy breathing, but you are not sure. You are in a cloud of stupor.
You also remember her dark lips and you think it was perhaps a tiny grin but you know that is an impossible memory because it was pitch dark. You couldn’t see your own fingers had you wriggled them in your face. So why is the memory of those dark lips close to yours so real, so disturbing, so wrong?
And that’s why three decades later, when everything you knew back then is either dead, decaying or far away, you’re still not sure why your mother is in your bed. Three decades later you wonder, even now that you are a mother and the time to share a bed with your own daughter is long past, you still wonder. You tell yourself that it was nothing, probably a lonely mother cuddling with a lonely child in the middle of the night.
But this little girl—you—never told anyone what happened, because maybe nothing happened at all. Maybe there is no reason for your mother’s breasts in your hands to keep returning to you like this, maybe you need to lay to rest the memory of that night or the distortion of it, maybe it was nothing at all; a figment of your imagination, one of those vivid dreams that mess with reality, an accident, the beginning of something tragic that died that very same night.
Adriana Paramo's writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the Los Angeles Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Waccamaw Journal, F-Magazine (f9), Saw Palm Journal, The Clever Title, Lips Service, and Latina Voices. She is a cultural anthropologist currently pursuing a graduate degree in Creative Writing at the University of South Florida. She work with the Seminole Tribe Department of Education and live in Florida with a Scotsman and two mutts.