A Mother’s Day Special
She takes a drag, eyes hard and dark.
“You don’t have to squeeze out a kid for him to be your own, Dad.”
The hard woman before Rhanji is a stranger in their home, completely unknown to him. But then her chin trembles under a stream of smoke as she exhales and, as if by magic, Yasmin is once again the baby girl he loves, the one for whom he can make everything right. He lifts his arms and steps forward, but she stops him, the cigarette end burning the space between.
“And he was your own, too.” Her voice breaks and she wipes a tear from her face with the heel of her hand balancing the cigarette. “Emphasis on ‘was,’ I guess.”
Dolly remembers this from long ago, this raging panic, heavy in her belly like the worry stones she’d find in little Jack’s pockets. She’d visit and revisit it all day, caressing its sides, forcing herself to believe it. She can’t say now what it was that upset her so but recalls crying into scrambled eggs before serving them with a smile. That’s motherhood, isn’t it? Hum through the pain. Little pitchers have big ears. Sob into a pillow later. Claim a headache—God bless sleeping pills—take to bed and let your busy little world move all around you. Back when life was wild, all Dolly wanted was stillness. Now life is still and all Dolly wants is wild. She would scratch faces, upset tables, pull hair, tear clothes—if only this clumsy body would cooperate.
Motherhood sure is different from when Lacey was growing up. Used to be that moms took care of everyone, but now women spend more time looking at their phones than they do their kids. Some even have housekeepers. It doesn’t seem right; no one at home when oilmen make decent money anyhow. That’s what she told Dave the last time he was home from camp, anyway.
Susan cups the girl’s face in her hands and kisses the birthmark on her cheek. A strawberry, the doctors called it when she was born, but Susan always thought it was shaped more like a flower. Bright pink when she was a baby, now faded gold. Magic. This springtime girl is special.
“The answer’s in you,” Susan whispers. She notices the way thin blue veins travel from her daughter’s wrist down her arm and moves the girl’s sweater sleeve. “You’re part of the pattern.”
Susan shouldn’t be talking like this; she got into trouble this way before. She thinks of how Iris used to rub crayons over paper covering aspen leaves, how she’d tack the pictures to her bedroom wall, adding to an overgrown collection, the spindly hands of so many trees reaching, veins exposed. They thought it was disturbing. If Garrett hadn’t adopted Iris, if he hadn’t married Sue…
Acorns creep up her throat.
Patricia wonders if she’s as pathetic as she feels. Maybe she’d just been married too long. Norm’s young-ish, maybe late twenties, but she’s only thirty-three. That’s also young, but motherhood ages a person fast. If Zoe weren’t here, would the driver consider Patricia a girl, or merely just a woman? She thinks about the teenager that stopped to help on road, so thin and beautiful and innocent. Patricia made her get help. Is the driver disappointed that the woman in the cab isn’t the same girl that waved to him from the road? She had to wonder what the girl was running from. Trouble at home? She runs her hand over Zoe’s cheek. Some people just don’t understand how to treasure a child.
She was good at being a mother, Karen realized. She liked deciding what the children would eat and when they would bathe and what jammies they would put on at bedtime. It was as if she were the powerful captain of a great ship, her care steering the family through each passing moment of every day. It was nice to be soft and strong, to envelop others in the same way she so often craved to be held. On the third evening of the sickness, Karen caught Earl watching her rock baby Carrie while he lay beside little Jack, the nursery children too feverous to sleep.
Later, after it went too far and all was ruined, she would take solace in the fact it had been Earl who kissed her first, on her lips and then just under her ear, Dolly asleep upstairs. But she couldn’t quite lose the truth of this: that night, when he watched her as she rocked Carrie, Karen hadn’t looked away. She had known exactly what she was doing.
And it had cost sweet Dolly so, so much.
But Karen has always been brighter than women like Dolly.
Tara cocked her head. “You think I don’t know the pill between the fingers move?”
Leah rolled her eyes and shook out her sleeve.
I was only going to break it in half, she said. Just in case.
In case of what?
In case you forget about us.
Not going to happen. We have to trust each other.
I won’t put my baby through that.
You won’t have to.
If you forget…
– Be Brave
– Be Kind
Always Brave, Sometimes Kind
Set in the cities, reserves, and rural reaches of Alberta, Katie Bickell’s debut novel is told in a series of stories that span the years from 1990 to 2016, through cycles of boom and bust in the oil fields, government budget cuts and workers rights policies, the rising opioid crisis, and the intersecting lives of people whose communities sometimes stretch farther than they know.
We meet a teenage runaway who goes into labour at West Edmonton Mall, a doctor managing hospital overflow in a time of healthcare cutbacks, a broke dad making extra pay through a phone sex line, a young musician who dreams of fame beyond the reserve, and a dedicated hockey mom grappling with sense of self when she’s no longer needed―or welcome―at the rink.
Always Brave, Sometimes Kind captures a network of friends, caregivers, in-laws, and near misses, with each character’s life coming into greater focus as we learn more about the people around them. Tracing alliances and betrayals from different perspectives over decades, Bickell writes an ode to home and community that is both warm and gritty, well-defined and utterly complicated.