I often share excerpts from my novels but usually only the first few chapters or the prologue. Today, this particular chapter of Wildflower was on my mind. I think it was on my mind because I’d been thinking about difficult relationships and how they shape us. In Wildflower, Iris Meadows had a difficult relationship with her mother, Jolene. This particular chapter demonstrates how the wounds are sometimes difficult to heal. I hope you enjoy it.
Camden had told Iris that Mercury was in retrograde. In astrology, that meant things were about to go haywire. It was definitely wreaking havoc in Iris’s life. Certainly, the most devastating blow was the death of her mother, Jolene. But she had neither the time nor the inclination to cry about it. As a matter of fact, she thought she’d be relieved, that she’d feel the burden of her mother lifted from her. She thought she’d finally feel free. Instead, there was a dull aching in her heart like a menacing bout of indigestion. Like a pocket of gas that lingered in one spot refusing to move. She’d suffered at the hands of her mother nearly all of her life and, now that she was gone, all of the wounds seemed to burst open, oozing out all the hurt and pain.
It had been seven years since Iris had been back to Cicero where her mother lived — where Iris and her brother spent the latter part of their childhood. Nothing had changed. The house was exactly the way it had been when she left — every broken board, missing brick, chipped mortar, and patch of dirt where grass might have grown had it been tended. It was all the same and it sickened her.
She had no idea that Idris had put Jolene in a nursing home or that he’d put the house for sale. She hadn’t learned any of this until she arrived in Chicago just in time to watch her mother breathe her last breath. She would have preferred that Idris demolish the eyesore — burying mom, the house, and all its memories at the same time.
Iris rifled through the bin of mail the neighbor had been keeping since Idris put Jolene in the nursing home. The note she’d mailed to her mother was buried in the middle. The pink and yellow envelope with the gold foil seal stood out among the sales flyers, bills, and magazines. She retrieved it from the bin, ripped open the envelope and unfolded the notecard inside. It read:
My dearest mother,
I’ve spent the better part of my life being haunted by your words, by your mental abuse, by the physical abuse of your husband, by your negligence. I’ve spent my life surviving my childhood that never was. So, as you bluntly requested, I will comply and pretend you don’t exist. And, when the time comes, I want you to know that your death will mean nothing to me but freedom. The weight of your existence will be lifted off of me and I will finally be free of you and the burden of your dreadful legacy of oppression. – Iris
She balled the card as tightly as she could and held it close to her heart. She was angry the day she wrote that note and was glad her mother was too ill to receive it. She had written it after she’d received a rather nasty phone call from Jolene who reminded her that she was useless. If Iris could’ve seen past her own pain, she might’ve known that Jolene was just lashing out at her because she was scared and alone. Iris loved her mother but hated what she became. Nonetheless, she was grateful her mother hadn’t left this world feeling the sorrow that such a note might have evoked.
Inside the house, she climbed the old creaky stairs that rose to the second floor where all of the bedrooms were located. Rooms where she and Idris spent most of their time. The memories crowded her mind as the familiar smells drew them forward.
Walking the short corridor, she opened the door to each of the rooms as she passed, where a musty depression escaped and lingered in the air. She stopped at the small closet outside of the bathroom. Most people kept their linen there, but not her mother, though. She used the linen closet to house her many pairs of shoes.
Iris remembered when she was a child she used to play with her mother’s high heels and would slide her tiny feet into shoes that swallowed them. She’d drag-clip, drag-click, and stumble while trying to strut in the stiletto heels. Her mother frowned on it saying that only bad women wore high-heeled shoes, which baffled Iris because her mother owned them.
Iris looked around at the sunlight beaming through the bedroom doors, converging in the hallway. She looked up at the water-stained ceiling then around the door frames that had separated from the wall. She gave some attention to the dull, warped wood floors then turned towards the outdated bathroom where she and Idris were often forced to bathe together… to conserve water.
She walked to the master bedroom, which was only a few feet away — the house was quite small. Two-stories made it seem larger than it actually was. She peered through the door into the room that her mother had once shared with her stepfather. A lump formed in her throat. Her stomach churned. Her hands trembled. Flashes of her stepfather, who she and Idris called Pops, rushed through her mind. She saw his face so clearly as if he was standing right in front of her, screaming, his putrid breath assaulting her. Frozen in time, her body reacted as if she had traveled in time back to those moments – her heart raced, knees knocked, armpits perspired. The voice of the realtor snapped her out of what felt like a hypnotic state.
“Iris? Are you okay?”
She nodded while staring into the master bedroom where her mother’s bed once stood. She couldn’t help envisioning her mother lying there in her cluttered bedroom with the drapes drawn, blocking out the daylight and the rest of the world. What kind of loneliness must it have been lying helplessly in a drafty dark room, hearing the sounds, laughter, and voices of the world going on without her? How many times had her angry weeping penetrated the walls, scratching and clawing to get out?
Her mother had become irrelevant and the pain and knowledge of it must’ve been unbearable. Tears spilled down Iris’s cheeks, but the misty beads of sweat masked them. “I hate you. Sometimes I wish you weren’t my child,” she remembered her mother shouting because Iris reminded her too much of the man who’d abandoned her — Idris’s and Iris’s biological father. Iris had been ten years old when her mother told her she hated her. Idris, however, was the favored one. Jolene had always been kind and accommodating to him. Iris closed the master bedroom door and looked at the realtor with troubled eyes.
“I know this must be hard for you,” the realtor said.
Iris took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I’m sure my brother asked you to allow me to come before the new owners arrived. Actually, I’m not quite sure why I came.”
“Maybe you wanted to have one last look, say goodbye.”
“I said my goodbyes a long time ago. This house has no value to me,” Iris said. But it wasn’t the monetary value of the house she referred to, it was the weight of the memories associated with the house that vexed her.
As Iris handed the duplicate keys to the realtor, her cell phone buzzed. Looking at the screen, she saw that it was a text message from the attorney letting her and Idris know that the transaction had been completed. That meant the money from closing escrow had been deposited into the account the attorney created on her and Idris’s behalf.
The realtor made some conciliatory remark but Iris was already walking down the stairs, making a quick exit from the house. Once outside, she exhaled as if she’d held her breath the entire time she’d been in that house. That house, the setting where most of her nightmares took place, would finally haunt someone else.
(c) 2014 Michele Kimbrough