I was born in a place with hills; verdant in spring, imprisoning in winter. My mother raised me on honeysuckle nectar and fresh-killed hare. We bathed in a river dotted with blue fish and we walked on a road paved only by dirt. The path out of the hills wound itself in a labyrinth, and, on one occasion, I saw a troll hunched over a well, pleading it to return his wife. And so, we only left our dwelling in those hills for supplies before a strong winter.
In my final year living in the hills, it became harder to recognize my mother. Where once she had tended with obsession to my needs, making sure I was fed twice before she had eaten once, she grew negligent, only remembering I had to eat after she had cleaned her plate. Sometimes, out of my peripherals, I’d see a shapeless black light and I’d snap around, expecting to catch a monster, only to find my mother. Other times, I’d find her crouched down on the floor, speaking with the floorboards. Sometimes, they conversed with smiles, about the wind on the trees, but more often, she’d spew vitriol at the grains of wood. It was in that time that I learned all of my curse words.
Still, my mother never directed her sudden anger toward me. Her disposition was not personal, and certainly, it was not anything that necessitated my traveling over the hills for help. When she’d come to me and tell me the floorboards were acting up, I’d nod along. We’d talk it through, me, her, and the wood, and the two of them would be back to pleasantries within the hour. Her yelling in the morning would wake me up before dawn, a wolf’s cry that demanded my immediate tending to, and then I began to learn the patterns of her disease. I would wake before her and bring her dandelion tea in the porcelain mug she made before I was born, when her mind was sharp and interested in beautiful things. I’d sit with her on the floor as she began her discourse with her newfound companion. We would walk to the river after lunch and I would wash her hair while I sang the words she taught me when I was knee-high –
When you are near,
I am the water.
Holding you, dear,
My sweet daughter.
When you are far,
In blue skies,
I am the sun,
From morning’s rise,
Till the day is done.
She would try to join me but her new mind often obfuscated the words and turned them foreign. I could tell she hated this edition of herself, and she would weep out apologies when she couldn’t sing along. After we bathed, we’d look for food, which I would then prepare while she cleaned house. At the end of each day, I gave her a summary of everything that was done and then weave a story to tell her while she slipped into her dreams. Some nights, they were stories of places with rolling, green hills. Other nights, my thoughts drifted to places outside of the hills, and I would invent a life for us in a tall stone building where we lived within twenty feet of people on all sides. Those stories were my favorite, bustling and alive, and I found myself still talking hours after my mother had fallen asleep. Each tale brought me closer to this place, and so I grew to love the sound of my voice echoing in this wooden room. On the mornings when my stories carried into daylight, she stayed in bed until she was ready for breakfast, skipping her conversations with the floor. Those days, the house felt warm and still again.
Despite our living in seclusion, my mother was never a misanthropic woman. Though she chose to leave behind the town she grew up in, she still spoke with a light in her eyes when she recounted her childhood. She told me about falling in love with my father, how they met when they were 10 and never spent a day apart until he died. It was then, with me in her belly, that she could not ignore the shallowness of life existing around her. Suddenly, without my father, her surroundings revealed themselves as absurd. The office where she worked, with a pen and an infinite yellow notepad, the train which she took every morning and evening, with heavy eyebags and an empty wallet, the people walking past her on the sidewalk, with their matching eyebags and empty wallets. And so, her refusal to submit to absurdity led us to the hills of a land whose name I did not know.