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Eleven years after I left, brunch by Karen Walker

On Mum’s dining room table are:

-Two glass vases, one at either end. So are we. I smile at her. Mum looks through me, glassy-eyed. She and Uncle Cyril were close.

-In the vases, roses from the supermarket. Mum’s prize-winning garden has gone wild, weed.    

-A photo in a black frame: Uncle Cyril grumpy, lumpy in a suit at someone’s wedding. He never married. ‘A picture of him in his barn jeans and wellies would’ve been better,’ I said last night. Arrived at Mum’s late. ‘You should’ve been here earlier,’ she said.

-Macaroni cheese casserole. She chews and chews. ‘Charlotte, you’ve baked it too long.’ I swallow that, don’t reply.    

-The next minute, I do. Smoked ham, salami, little sausages. ‘Nice meat tray,’ she says. ‘It’s a charcuterie,’ I correct.

-Sandwiches. Chicken salad and cucumber stacked into a replica of Goodpoole. Crusty when I was growing up. Crustless now. Even posh.  

-And, my favorite, salmon. I eat most of those. They ran in the river through the village. Uncle Cyril and I fished on Saturdays.   

-Cubes of Swiss. The old limestone mill is being rebuilt. Shops, condos.

-Sugar cookies. Last night, Mum asked if I’d move back. Commute to the city. There’s a new rail station. One- and two-bedroom condos. She could move in with me some day. Crumbly coconut squares. I dryly say, ‘I’ll think about it.’

-Pasta salad.

-Veg: cherry tomatoes, celery sticks, green olives, people asking how I am. Pimento tongues may go wagging back to her who sent them. But what if she didn’t, and Goodpoole is still good, cares about long-gone me?                            

-Yellowish dip. Flavor left to imaginations like Mum’s. She squeezes my elbow. ‘What is a funeral meal called?’ Pause. ‘A repast. The vicar — he’s single! — told me.’ She points him out. ‘I’ll introduce you.’ 

-Lemony jelly rolls. Eye roll. What if I stop that and introduce myself and thank him for a lovely service, for being there for Mum? My mouth is full of sponge.

-A selection of watery fruit. Melon wedges, pineapple spears get to the point. She pulls me away from the table and in the hallway weeps that she’s alone now.

-To wash it all down, my choice of black tea: ‘Must go back in the morning. Sorry, Mum.’ Or coffee, creamy decaf: ‘The office doesn’t need me until Monday.’ Or lemonade: ‘If you like, I’ll weed the garden.’

Hear Karen Walker read her piece

Karen Walker (she/her) writes in a basement in Ontario, Canada. Her work is in or forthcoming in Brink, Flash Boulevard, voidspace zine, Overheard, Blink-Ink, Bullshit Lit, and 

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