My mother lives in a house full of gravestones. Every morning, she vacuums around their beds and washes their faces clean of any lichen that bloomed overnight, until they look fresh as the day of their funerals.
I’m sure there are more each time I visit. As a peace offering, I’m wearing the powder-blue sweater she knitted, even though it chafes around my throat.
Aren’t they taking up a lot of space? I say in my softest cotton-wool voice.
They’re no trouble, she replies, as I turn sideways to squeeze my way to the settee. And they’re good listeners.
I pretend not to hear the accusation. I’m tingling for a cigarette, poke one between my lips. She glances over her shoulder to where they loom and hisses, Show some respect.
They are stone, Mother, I say, taking the first deep inhalation. The slab at my elbow glitters steel. Heaps of rock.
Although I say I’m not hungry, she makes sandwiches, crusts sliced off and cut into triangles the size to suit a doll’s picnic.
You need to eat, she says. I don’t know what you girls call food but it’s not enough.
The bread is filled with a dense gluey filling, like chewing papier-mâché. I spit a lump onto my palm. Clotted shreds of pastel tissue.
Is this confetti? I ask, picking bits out of my teeth.
You’re not too old to give me grandchildren, she twitters, drifting around the room, polishing granite till it gleams.
Before I can think of a reply, she frisks out her phone and snaps a photo of me, ringed by headstones pert and attentive as bridesmaids.
ROSIE GARLAND writes long and short fiction, poetry and sings with post-punk band The March Violets. Her latest collection What Girls Do In The Dark was shortlisted for the Polari Prize 2021. Val McDermid has named her one of the most compelling LGBT+ writers in the UK today. Find her on the Web: rosiegarland.com.