I sent this story out to a few different journals, but ultimately couldn’t find a place for it. I’m still happy with what I wrote though, so I’m posting it here instead.
Ben knew she preferred to cry in private. He had always assumed it was because she was embarrassed, which seemed silly, given that he was her son.
Dad knew it too. He’d smirk as mum turned away, pretending to be busy or suddenly remembering some unfinished task that needed completing. Any excuse to hide those reddening eyes and escape to the garden.
If they had argued, she would sometimes stay out there until dusk while dad suffocated his anger with tobacco smoke. Mum’d only come back into the house when the light had all but dissolved. On these occasions, Ben would ask her some trivial question just so he could catch her eye. Sure enough, her gaze would be clear and soft again as though she’d buried her upset somewhere in the dirt and made peace with the world.
It was a process that Ben accepted as much as any kid does about their parents’ idiosyncrasies. The hitch was that just about anything would cause her to well up; a harrowing news item, an uplifting news item even orchestral music. If was as if she was constantly on the verge, the tipping point, a body brimming with tears just waiting to be released.
As a teenager, Ben would dread bringing friends round in case something would set her off. Between the beginning and end of a meal, there was every chance that Dad would nit-pick about the food one too many times or a tragic headline would be broadcast on the radio. In these instances, Ben would just keep his head down and hope that the moment would pass unnoticed.
But all these years later, as he knelt at the edge of the lawn watching the tulips dance while his own tears fed the compost, he finally understood.
The neighbours always wondered how mum kept the flower beds looking so good. They accused her, politely; of using fertiliser even though she stuck to organic methods before organic was even a thing. The answer, it seemed to Ben, was simple. Everyone knew that plants absorbed Co2 and gave out oxygen in return. One man’s meat is another man’s poison as the saying goes. Less so was it known that they also drink up our hurt. Mum knew this and she had plenty to give.
It seemed there was method in her sadness after all.