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Morning Routine



Artwork by Fatema Rahaman, staff poet and artist


Even at the age of sixty-three, my mother wakes up at seven A.M. in the morning. Instead of walking outside, she visits the same parts of the house, in the exact same order, every day. First, the windowsill, to clean up any dirt spilt from the flowerpots with a brush and trace her fingers along the cool wood. Next, she drifts to her old closet where she stores a few dresses—including her wedding gown—and smoothes out the shiny satin fabric. Finally, the smaller bathroom, now reserved only for guests, to wash her hands rhythmically and replenish the soap if needed. She goes back to sleep right after and never disturbs these places at any other point in the day.


“It all feels like a dream when I wake up,” she explained to me when I heard about the new habit a few years ago. “A dream where absolutely nothing happens, and I forget about whatever I dreamed about in the night.” She half-smiled down into her green tea, letting the whirling steam rise up to her face. “Just so, isn’t it? The way you figure out these sorts of things.”


This morning, she did something new for the first time. “I refilled with lavender soap instead of lemon soap! Such a lovely scent I found at the supermarket yesterday, and I knew I had to get it.”


“Uh huh,” I muttered, stirring honey into my tea and resisting the urge to make a snarky comment about if she ever replaces the toilet paper. “I still don’t understand why you stay in that old house. The wooden boards are ridiculously creaky and I feel like I’m going to fall right through the floor to my death whenever I come here. It’s about time for you to move.”


“That’s not why you want me to leave.” I looked up to match her gaze. She was making the face she used to make when I lied about finishing my homework in elementary school—a slightly apprehensive and displeased frown.


“Well, it doesn’t matter what I think, apparently.” Before she could say or do anything else, I got up and left the porch to go inside.


“I really don’t understand why you keep doing this,” I heard her say. “You still insist on acting like a child sometimes, you know.”


For a second, I let myself indulge the idea of turning around and saying exactly what I wanted to say. That she refused to understand everything that happened to her and settled for shoving it into the earliest hours of the day. At the windowsill where she waited for him to come home most nights. In the closet I hid in when he would get mad. In the bathroom where her head was once, or twice, shoved in the toilet.


I had approached the subject once or twice, in the form of suggesting therapy or journaling. She laughed and reminded me that I quit therapy years ago and had never journaled in my entire life. I don’t need to, I insisted. Then neither do I, was her reply.


Instead, I went upstairs into my old bedroom.


***

“Grandma? Where did Momma go?”


“She’s just taking a nap, sweetheart. She had such a busy day at work yesterday that she needs to rest a bit longer.”


“Oh. Okay.”


Hearing Eleanor’s voice through the open window jolted me out of my drowsiness. I pictured her sweet face softening in disappointment, because she had planned on playing with me this afternoon. A rustle, then quick footsteps—she was walking through the garden before sitting down at the tea table.


“Grandma?”


“Mmm?”


“Abby was really mean at school on Friday.”


I sat up from my position on the bed and leaned behind me to peek outside. Abby was Eleanor’s best friend in her kindergarten class, and if something had happened, I hadn’t heard about it.


“She—she took my doll but didn’t ask, an’ then she said that she likes it more than I do an’ that she should keep it.”


“If it’s true that she likes it more than you do, maybe you can give it to her. You have so many toys already, dear. You’re best friends after all, and doesn’t that mean much more than one doll?” I couldn’t make out her response, but heard my mother murmur “good girl” and Eleanor running away to go and play again.


***

“Abby didn’t even say she was sorry and Eleanor’s just supposed to give it away?”


My mother looked at me as I came down the stairs. “So, you heard all of that? And for Christ’s sake, it’s just a doll. Look, if it bothers you so much I can get Eleanor another one, but she agreed that I was right.”


“It’s not about the doll. I don’t like what you’re teaching her, especially because you know that you can’t always let people get what they want.”


“Eleanor has never even met him before and has no idea he’s ever existed. We don’t have to tell her about him, now or ever. He’s gone.” She paused and took another sip of her tea. “What would you have told her?”


“I—well, I mean…”


“Exactly.” She watched my shoulders slump down in defeat, but took both of my hands into hers and spoke gently. “The lessons that we teach our children are not the ones we know to be true, but the things we hope will be true. That people can forgive and forget and move on without having to make a fuss about it.”


I desperately wanted to find the words to change her mind, and even after thinking about it for a few more minutes, I couldn’t. Resigning myself to another argument lost, I looked over her shoulder to watch my daughter dancing in the garden.




Jisu Yee is a high schooler from New York. Her favorite things to write are poetry & short stories, but she also likes writing the occasional essay. She enjoys tutoring younger students and working on student-led publications at school, though she also secretly wishes to try the improv club. She always wishes she has more time to read.


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