When she wasn’t doing this or that, she was reading. My mother, that is. She was a very wise and intelligent woman, even if at the time she lacked much in the ways of education. As a high school dropout, you’d think that she would abhor books and avoid them at all costs. But that just wasn’t true.
My mother and I, we had a habit we shared. She would lay down with her legs open and I would lie between them with the back of my head resting on her stomach. And together, lying like that, we would read our own separate books. Her most favorite genre to read was fantasy. My choice was usually anything that I could get my little hands on, for like my mother, I loved reading.
Admittedly, my books were usually picture books. I was only four at the time. But because the books I read were picture books, I was led one day to question what it was my mother was reading. So I looked at her book and saw that it lacked pictures. “Mommy,” I asked her. “Where did the pictures go?” She smiled at me that usual warm smile she would give me, a smile that melted my heart and made me feel like there was never a thing to worry about.
“Well, dear,” she began. “You see these big empty spaces at the end of the chapter?” And she showed me the space underneath the text at the end of a chapter where there was a distinct lack of words or any markings. When I nodded my head, she pinched my cheek gently and said, “That’s where the pictures go.”
“But Mommy,” I protested. This was a habit of mine. I always protested. I wanted to know everything I could as fast as I could, and if someone said something even mildly incorrect, I felt like it was my personal job to correct them. “There aren’t any pictures there! Did someone forget to paint them in?”
She laughed, “No, Gabby.” She rubbed my head a little, a soothing gesture I was accustomed to. “Those spaces are there so you can use your head and imagine what happened in the chapter you just read. It’s so you can paint your own pictures in your mind. The space is there to act like a canvas, and your imagination is the medium.”
Years passed, and in her passing, I found myself utterly alone. Her books, her belongings, all taken and given away. Facing the world without her is a difficult thing. She was the one for me. She was my life, my everything. And what do I have left of her? Just a few blurry memories and the fuzzy afterimage of a woman lingering in my heart. To discredit these memories would be rude and disrespectful of both her and the dead in general.
I knew when she passed on that my time with her was far too short. So I did what I could do to remember her. My method of choice was acting in ways that she herself had acted and essentially becoming her doppelganger. I took on her stubborn streak, her caring persona, her harshness, her kindness. I took up cooking meals and cleaning the house, even though I was just a child. My age didn’t stop me, nor has it ever.
And lastly, I came to love reading as much as she did. Fantasy books became my genre of choice, just like my mother’s had been. And through acting the ways she had, I remembered her. But still, every time I come to a big blank space in any book, the memories come rushing back to me. I can’t help and stare at that particular empty space for a while and remember what had happened that day, all those years ago.