SSM: “My Mother’s Ghost” by Mary Swan

3 May

What I think I like most about this project, this celebrating of Short Story month, is I get to dig around in all these old stories I read a good while ago, dust them off, and pass them on to you. I get to think, “What was that one story about the mountain lion?” and do some searching, maybe I remember the journal or collection it was in or who it was written by.

And so it was with “My Mother’s Ghost” by Mary Swan, an incredible story in the first ever issue of Freight Stories.

Ruby told my mother that she didn’t know what to expect, the night she stood at the top of the plane’s steps, wondering how air so cold could burn when she breathed it. She thought maybe a room with blue walls and a balcony overlooking a garden, a job at a desk with a nameplate and a telephone. Her cousin’s car clunked and rattled but Ruby barely noticed, looking out at the snowy streets, the tall buildings, the bright windows full of everything you could ever imagine wanting.

My mother had a brother, my Uncle John, who always did what he was told. When she was older she wondered sometimes about the long gap between them, but she never asked. Uncle John was only four when their father died and he was always asking for stories about him. My mother usually said she couldn’t remember; she was afraid of using them up, of thinning them out. He went to my grandmother instead, and my mother sat very quietly on the stairs, just out of sight.

I remember reading this story and being blown away by it, how it juggles each character, how each character contains each their own grief and how each grief touches another’s grief and how everyone tries so hard. I remember now as I read it again, and think of all the angry people and the people who know who they are and the lucky ones, the ones who get to forget, and the lucky ones, the ones who get to remember.

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