Stepping outside, the numbing sensation of dread festers in my stomach.
I don’t want to go.
The pressure globs up, choking me. Returning to my mother’s house has that effect.
My mother tries, she really does. If she respects you, she offers smiles and caring touches. Unfortunately, winning her affection is a risky game. I’m still suffering from the consequences of losing.
I can’t think like this now. When she greets me, I need to look happy to see her.
Snatching the keys from my pocket, I unlock the car and sink into the front seat.
This trip was set back for too many months. She might be getting suspicious, but I have no regrets about the delay.
That house forced me into a detached headspace. Striped away from my personality, I robotically completed simple tasks for my mother. My purpose was to smile appropriately, engage in small talk and make her feel appreciated.
Checking over my shoulder, I back into the road. This drive should only take 45 minutes.
* * *
The house looks the same. The mailbox on the porch is overflowing, some envelopes lying on the ground. Most of its probably junk mail. Does she expect me to sort through it? The plants in the yard are shrivelled up, fried by the unrelenting sun. It’s all so sickeningly familiar.
Creaking the door open, the stench of rotten food slaps me in the face.
I gag, stumbling backwards. Leaning against the wall, I pant into the sleeve of my hoodie. Take quick, shallow breaths. Inside, the food recycling bucket sits on the bench, mocking me.
She probably expects me to take it outside. Am I supposed to do that before or after I greet her? She’ll probably find a fault either way. If I greet her first, will she scold me for being lazy and not taking it outside? Or if I throw it out first, will she be annoyed that I smell like rotten food? Why is this so complicated?
An overweight orange cat pads over to me. Sunny. The only good part of this visit. Scratching between his ears, I grin. So fluffy. The sweetest boy.
My mother must have heard me enter by now. Why isn’t she here? Sunny usually sticks by her side.
Is she mad? Have I delayed this visit for too long? Is she trying to avoid getting angry by not talking to me? Wheezing, I try to suck air past the panic bubbling in my throat.
Stepping into the kitchen, she stands at the stove, turned away from me.
The bubbling of the soup echoes in my ears. I don’t know what to expect. Am I in trouble? The crushing weight on my chest is suffocating
“Hi honey, did you take out the food recycling?”
The pressure snakes down, allowing me to gasp in a breath. Oh good, it’s just a normal visit. She was just busy cooking.
“No, sorry. I wanted to say hi first.”
“Can you do that for me? It would help a lot.”
Turning around, she smiles. “Good girl. I can always rely on you, honey.”
I make eye contact and smile back, it’s the appropriate thing to do.
"What are you waiting for?”
“Ah, sorry. I’ll go do that now.”