by Dora Šustić
April 17th, 2015
There she is, sitting in front of me. Solemn and sad. She confines in me. Nothing exists when she looks at me, everything ceases to breathe.
Nothing else is relevant when she cries, as if the entire world turns into water and crystallizes in her tears. She is here at insane hours, melting with pride. The smoke is creating a thick, dreamy barrier between us. She talks of solitude while a slim cigarette is dangling from her mouth. The familiar smell in the kitchen, a combination of lavish perfume and the stench of nicotine – the smell of nights she had tucked me into bed. Always the same fragrance, transcending the ephemerality of time, joining the past and presence into an eternal memory, erasing the boundaries of space; the fragrance that lives inside of her, in rooms she strolls through thinking, in clothes she wears and pillows she sobs on. It must be her soul that smells so frantically pleasant but at the same time so bitter and gray. She is my mother, my beautiful mother, who bears this smell of an ashtray angel.
We sit together, embraced in the softness of words and fumes, and fight for a coherent interpretation of our memories, but the more we try to agree, the more it becomes clear we used to be miles apart. Strange how we sit joint in our addictions and nocturnal routines, when the day I smoked my first cigarette was the day I tore the umbilical cord apart. Life acting on its own principles of destruction and creation; what was the end of my childhood and her motherly oblivion was also the seed of restitution of our humanity. Carefully eliminating fractions of lies from our faces is still part of our mutually hurtful duty; duty to say the truth, even if it means hearing the cracks within and howls of the soul pleading to fly, the whispers of spirit we share as mother and daughter, the whispers silenced by the punk songs of puberty and boiling screams of menopause. The renaissance of a mother-daughter relationship begins when we are liberated from these preconceived identities. When mother stops acting as a mother and daughter stops acting as a daughter, then two women can finally meet, again, for the first time.
Ten years ago, after coming home from school, stinking of cigarettes, a bad conscience and pleasurable mischief, I found my devastated mother sitting in her usual chair at the kitchen table with eyes of worry, disappointment and guilt, soaking in a cloud of smoke and sipping red wine lifelessly. She knew everything, but I nevertheless tried to soften the tragedy. I lied, poorly – a distinctive attribute I inherited from her, one of the kindest gifts she had given me. Mother was preaching about the deadliness of nicotine addiction while meddling the half burnt cigarette between two fingers. Cheeky laughter coming from my stupefied head made the whole thing worse, and for a while, her hysteric voice kept throbbing me in the forehead. Rather than the girlhood awakening, she saw in my little nicotine escapade the end of her seamless perfection. It was the first time I thought of her as a caricature, some absurd character from a cartoon, repeating questions in a loop almost as if singing a canon of defeat with her own echo. As she was gorging me with moral judgments and tearful pleas never to smoke again, the whiteness of my clothes became more and more alien and appalling, the innocence of my eyes reflected in the wine glass vanished, the purity of tongue vaporized as the smoke, and my very first “fuck you” pierced the abstract clamor of her ruffle. The beginning of our separation.
At the time I didn’t realize that not only mothers know everything, but they have known it from the beginning of time. Female intuition seems to boost to heavenly proportions in the moments such as giving birth; all physical boundaries and sensations of flesh must seem altered and perceptions of time and space are lost. Heightened awareness, since life within you ceases to exist solely in the profusion of placenta and becomes part of the world outside. The new spirit sprouts out – it’s the shriek of pure life that makes mothers holy. It’s the pain of having your vagina ripped apart. It’s the breath of two, the existence of two in the same body. I guess that’s what god is – the radiating life. The unison of souls, from the moment of conception to the moment of birth. The unconditional love.
There is something that appears within a girl after exploring the depths of her own granted femininity, after wallowing in unpleasant profoundness of shame, shyness and sensitivity – all three being burdens given by her mother in childhood and nurtured by others in puberty. It is something that arises from realizing the universality of own experience and accepting the wilderness within. Something that starts flickering between the ovaries when love fucks you up – the urge to procreate. I felt it once, in a single fleeting moment, but the flash of its humbleness reappears each time I sense the smell of my mother. It lives in the space between us, in the clarity of our mutual presence, and I can do nothing but pray to her for forgiveness and leave ignorance in the past. Now when the heart is healing in the hands of the kindest man, I love her more, because I understand myself. Her sacrifice and purity of decision to be a mother became clear to me. Her longing for something higher and unattainable became comprehensible. I know where her sorrow comes from, why a contagious melancholy torments her during sleepless nights – it lies in the brutal nature of motherhood. What you’ve made in ecstasy of great love violates you carelessly with each “fuck you”, each unanswered call or each ungrateful reply. She told me long time ago I will forget her moments of snappy crudeness or nasty nervousness once I feel in my stomach the urge to unconditionally share. She told me I will forgive her, once I want to give to someone something more than myself. She said I will know, everything, once I love.
Today, illuminated by moonlight, the sacred dust of our two-faced ally, she reaches across the table and hands me the cigarette pack. Marlboro Light. Today we smoke together. Sitting across one another, gazing at the moon and crying over memories. The intangible barrier between us is evaporating and her face feels as my own. Everything about her reminds me of the fact we were once one. The way she cries. The way her voice resonates throughout the room. The way she smiles. The way we smoke.
Born in Croatia, Dora Šustić is a screenwriting student on Prague’s Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts, having previously obtained BA degree in Political Sciences, Ljubljana. Besides creative writing and filmmaking, her main preoccupations stem from feminist tradition of thought and gender related social issues.
Image: Roger Reuver/Flickr