“Hello my darlings. Missed me?” The woman said hoarsely when she entered the living room, carrying two full bags of groceries. She made a theatrical bow to both her sons. They chuckled and hurried towards her. She bent down to give her sons a kiss.
Her name was Ramona and she was the loving mother of two boys. The eldest was seven and the youngest would turn six in a week’s time. The three of them lived in a small flat in one of the forgotten outskirts of a town that had lost its former glory.
Ramona took off her brown fur coat (which made her perky, long red curls shine brightly) and threw it on the purple couch. The living room was very colorful, suiting Ramona’s personality. The furniture consisted of purple mixed with turquoise and beige colors.
She did not enjoy the view out of her window, so she had placed an immense painting of two women engaged in a sword fight before Mount Fuji in front of her window. That way she had transformed the lackluster view into something beautiful, although it prevented most of the daylight coming in. It was a fantastical, almost mystical painting, that she liked very much.
The boys were sitting on a Persian rug in the middle of the living room, playing with all sorts of action heroes. The eldest, Oscar, was busy attacking his brother’s troll doll with a Batman figure. The youngest, Dylan, had a vivid imagination and mimicked all sorts of sounds and gestures the troll would make for its defense.
Ramona looked at them happily as she sat down a big, dilapidated brown leather armchair in front of a heavy lit mirror. One of the light bulbs surrounding the mirror glimmered in malfunction, resulting in her face being lit up every once in a while like flash photographs were being taken of her. In a reflex, she effortlessly posed for the flashing light, for she was used to it from the many premieres and social parties she had attended back in the days.
With two hands, she pinched both her long eyelashes between her index fingers and thumbs and with one movement she tore them off. Next, she slowly removed her heavy makeup to reveal her yellowish, sallow skin. Skin that was tarnished by cancer and chemotherapy. Bit by bit, her red cheeks became pale. Her cobalt blue eyeshadow was soon replaced with dark, puffy looking eyes. This became even worse when she removed the concealer from under her eyes, showing dark and sunken circles.
When she was finished removing her make-up, she looked at her reflection and immediately winced at the sight. She missed her young and vibrant skin.
She had a reminiscent gleam in her eyes as she thought about her acting days. On set, she used to stare into a similar mirror. These memories could not help but make her feel melancholic. How she wished she could go back to work. But ever since she had discovered she had lung cancer, things had changed rapidly.
Luckily, she had discovered it quickly and it had not spread to any other organs. Still, she had to face the fact that she had stage one lung cancer.
Adamant for a full recovery, she dropped out of a major motion picture to take care of herself. She needed to get better. For her sons. She could manage not being able to act ever again. But she could not bear the thought of not seeing her boys grow up. It would be detrimental to their upbringing if she would not be there for them. Otherwise, they had to live with their father, who had always been abusive to her. She had made a vow to live at least until Oscar would turn eighteen. Anything to prevent her children from growing up with their dad and their former nanny, Rebecca, whom he had now married.
Carefully, she removed her curly red wig from her head and placed it on the marble, faceless bust on her dresser. She sighed as she gently massaged her head.
“Who’s in for spaghetti and meatballs?”
“Me, me, me!” Oscar and Dylan shouted excitedly.
Ramona laughed throatily, which resulted in a bad coughing fit.
Dylan hurried to the kitchen to get his mom some water.
“Thanks dear, now go play with your brother as I prepare dinner.” She spoke softly.
Ramona put on some opera music and left for the kitchen.
Dylan sat down next to his brother and gathered two more trolls to attack his brother’s Batman. The night had started quite uneventful, two children playing with their toys while their mom was singing and cooking in the kitchen.
Then the doorbell rang, and the evening started to take an eventful twist.
“I’ll get it!” Ramona yelled. “Who could it be? It’s dinner time!”
She quickly put on her wig again and walked to the door.
Dylan looked at his mother opening the door. He wondered who the unexpected guest would be. He did not have to wonder long though, he recognized that voice.
“Dad!” Dylan shouted excitedly as he was about to get up. But Oscar held him back and he could see Ramona waving her hand gesturing at him to sit down.
Disappointed, he sat down again, listening intently. However, he could only hear murmurs, alternated by some words. He could make out ‘not now…listen to me…money…leave…’.
Oscar did not seem to pay any attention to his father. The voices of his parents became louder and they were making wild gestures. Then, Dylan heard a loud smack. It was as if it was happening in slow motion. His tall, sturdy father hit his mom in her face. His face bestial. His mother screamed and fell against the wall, her wig falling on the floor. Their dad stepped backwards, looking both angry and shocked. Oscar ran towards the door and smashed it shut.
Dylan whimpered, afraid to see his mom hurt. He half expected his dad to come back. But there was no sound of a doorbell or a knock on the door, there was no shouting.
Oscar helped his mother to stand up and led her to the couch. Ramona started sobbing, softly. This made Dylan’s whimpering turn into crying. She looked up to him, her left eye red and swollen. She beckoned Dylan to come over and embraced both of them and muttered that all was ok. That she was ok. As she held them, she stared at the painting of the two samurai women. At that moment, she felt angry but determined.
After some minutes, Ramona gathered herself and conjured up a broad grin. She started impersonating one of the trolls. She grabbed her wig and held her hair up high with one hand, mimicking the troll hairstyle.
“I am the queen troll, where are all my minions? I want to have a festive evening with dancing and singing.” Ramona said with a high pitched voice. Dylan sniggered and went to bring his trolls.
“Ah thank you, my prince, you will be the guest of honor tonight. Now, we shall put on our special song! Be a darling and get the record, your highness.”
Dylan hurried to the cabinet and took the requested record out of its sleeve. He placed it on the record player and pressed play. His mom got up and took her wig off with a portly bow. She took Oscar’s hand (who was a bit reluctant, feeling too old for this game) and then Dylan’s. From the speakers, La Lambada started playing. Ramona danced with her sons and sang. It was a mighty sight seeing them dance like this.
Dylan relaxed again, he was laughing. When the song was finished, Ramona took off her wig and bowed to them. Dylan hugged his mom and softly kissed her swollen cheekbone.
“That kiss has healing powers, my prince.” Ramona beamed at Dylan.
Ramona sat down in her chair, still half impersonating a troll. She placed her wig on the bust once more and lit a cigarette. She allowed the indulgence of smoking a couple of times a week, in spite of her illness. And tonight, smoking was especially welcome.
Oscar argued that she should not smoke. Ramona waved his protests away.
She continued smoking, trying to stay strong. She ought to put some ice on her bruise and finish cooking. A fire raged within her as she thought of her ex husband. Tonight had surely re-affirmed one thing, she should never let her boys near that man again.
Dylan also wished that she would not smoke, but he had never told her not to. He was alarmed by a shrill voice, singing. As he turned sideways, he had to blink twice. One of his trolls was waving at him enthusiastically. Dylan looked at his mom and Oscar, but they did not seem to notice the sound. The troll increased in size a bit, up to about one foot tall. It was still made of plastic and had popping orange hair with red bits here and there, like his hair was on fire. Suddenly, the troll spoke: “Take good care of your mother”.
Taken aback, Dylan watched the troll approach his mother. Just when the troll touched Ramona, his vivid orange hair lit up, as if it now was really on fire. A golden light flowed from the troll to Ramona, giving her a soft glow. Then, the wig flickered briefly too.
Eleven years ago, Ramona made two promises to herself. However, she had only managed to keep one of them thus far. Irrational love made her break one against her own will. Her former ex husband was now her husband again. Now, she shared a spacious home with him and their sons in a posh neighborhood. Her ex came to his senses after a short marriage to their former nanny. Apparently, he realized that Ramona had been the love of his life. Unfortunately, he had never really been able to express it in a loving manner. He was a selfish man, but deep down he was in desperate need of company, to feel loved.
She did manage to keep her most important vow, but it was not easy.
The last few months had been tense. Oscar and his dad had never quite been on good terms; an explosive fight was imminent. However, that was the least of their problems. After having spent close to eight years in relative good health, Ramona became sick again. The cancer had returned. This time it could not be operated on, for it had spread from her lungs to her lymphatic system. In a matter of weeks, her hair had fallen out again and she lost much of her weight. Apart from chemotherapy and other hospital visits, she had become house bound.
For her sons, it was horrible to see her like this. Ever since she got better, she was able to act again and frequent parties and fancy dinners. She had reclaimed her spot in the world of glamour, but once more she had to trade it all in for an unbearable illness.
Ramona spent most of her days either in bed or on the couch, resting or sleeping. Everywhere she went, she had to bring her oxygen mask, tube and tank. She panted and puffed for breath most of the time, because of both the pain and the lack of oxygen.
The highlight of her day was when Oscar and Dylan got out of school and talked about their day.
Her husband could not cope with her illness, not again. Even though they lived in the same house, they led different lives. He made all the arrangements in order for her to get proper care. Money had never been an issue, so he hired help who checked on her daily, who also took care of the boys. He buried himself in work and secretly met with another woman. Ramona knew of course, but she could not fathom the strength to be mad at him for it. In the end, she wanted him to be happy. Her only concern was the hope that her sons would build great lives for themselves.
Dylan got home at about four and went to look for his Ramona. He found her sitting at the kitchen table, the oxygen mask lying in front of her. Ramona was jotting down ideas for Oscar’s upcoming eighteenth birthday party, while she sipped some chardonnay. She lit a cigarette.
“Dylan, honey, come help your poor mom with the preparations. I need you to find some addresses for me on the internet. And will your friend still be able to DJ? And when should we send out the invitations?” She had hardly been able to breathe in between those sentences, she panted heavily.
“Mom, you know you shouldn’t smoke! Why do you keep at it?”
“Dyl, my dear, I know you’re worried, but this is all I have. If I die, I’d rather die enjoying the things I love.”
Dylan decided to let it go, as he usually did. He never had any success bringing up this issue. The two of them were planning for a good half hour, until Oscar arrived.
Quickly, Oscar put out his joint and took a peppermint. He kissed his girlfriend goodbye and opened the door to his house. The door to his father’s study was open. They looked at each other, but did not say a word.
When Oscar entered the kitchen, his mom quickly turned her notepad around and hurried to close her laptop.
“Aren’t you going to give your mother a kiss, darling?” Ramona pouted.
Oscar grinned and kissed her on the cheek. He nodded to Dylan.
“Was that Fiona’s scooter I heard leaving? Why didn’t you invite her in?”
Oscar merely shrugged.
“Speaking of Fiona, sit down hon, have you had sex with her yet?”
"MOM!” Oscar flushed and looked perplexed. “You can’t ask me that, I’m your son!”
Dylan’s ears turned bright red.
“Well, darling, I know I’ve said it a hundred times, but please do it safely. And, remember, always please the woman first. You know I actually have a book that would be useful, if you–”
“Mom, honestly, you can’t say that!” Oscar spluttered.
The three of them started laughing.
“You know me, I’m not a typical mom, nor do I care to be one. And its good advice, trust me.” She winked at Dylan. “And what about you Dyl, have you found a nice guy yet?”
“No, you’d be the first to know.” Now it was his time to wink at her.
“Damnit, where are my fags?” Oscar said huffily.
“AGNIESZKA! Where have you hidden my fags?” Oscar bellowed angrily.
“Behave boy, don’t treat her like that!” Ramona snapped.
Agnieszka helped out around the house ever since Ramona got sick again. She had her own room in the house. She cooked, cleaned, got groceries and took care of Ramona too. Every month she would send half of her income to her parents in Ukraine.
Oscar did not pay attention to his mom. Agnieszka walked in with a laundry basket and handed him his packet of smokes. Oscar opened the window, and lit a fag. He hated Agnieszka, but only because of the reason that her presence was required.
“Who’s making that noise, I’m working.” Their dad said glowering.
Oscar and Dylan’s dad had gained even more weight in the last few years. The sickness of his wife had deteriorated his body too. His hair had thinned quickly and had become completely grey. He looked ruffled.
“It’s about all you can do, innit? Selfish prick. It wouldn’t hurt you to spend time with mother every once in a while. Or are you still seeing that bimbo?” Oscar growled.
“Honey, don’t speak to your–“
“Ungrateful little snob you are. How dare you speak to me like that, you brat. Put out that filth. Your mom is sick, idiot. And if you speak to me like that again, you’re out. I mean it this time.” Their dad spoke angrily. Even his bald spot had become red now.
“Boys, don’t fight, please–” But the rest of Ramona’s words were caught in a severe cough. Dylan hurried to his mom. The coughing would not stop. She panted heavily and let out hoarse sounds. Then, she fainted.
“Dad, do something! Call the hospital!” Dylan yelled.
Oscar and Dylan carried her to the living room and put her on the couch. Their dad was left standing in the kitchen, calling.
“Oscar, why’d you have to fight dad in front of mom you know–” Dylan stopped talking. He was shocked to find a troll of about two feet tall standing next to the couch, peering behind it to get a glimpse of Ramona. It was the same troll he had seen as a child.
Oscar followed his brother’s gaze, but saw nothing but a couch and his mom.
“What is it Dyl?”
“Nothing, I just… Never mind.”
“She will come back to you Dylan, but only briefly. Deep down you know it’s only a matter of time. Use the time you have left together wisely. Know, that she will be taken care of once she crosses the other side.” The troll spoke dreamily.
“But how do you…how do you know all this? Why are you back? Why am I the only one who can see you?” Dylan spoke in anguish.
“Because I was appointed to you, and now it is time to guide you.”
“That’s beyond your comprehension my boy. Do you remember when you were little? When you saw me for the first time? Your mother’s vow to live to see you both grow up brought me to her, to you. To watch over you, to guide you. Where we come from we have never felt such powerful and loving determination.
That day, my form manifested itself into something you thought could protect you. One of your trolls. I can take any form, but usually its something like that and its different for everybody.
Out of you and your brother, you are more susceptible to my presence. That’s because of your nature. Always wondering, always curious. You’re open to my presence, and therefore I am only visible to you.
Luckily, eleven years ago, it wasn’t Ramona’s time. But I’m afraid death is anticipating to welcome your mom into its arms. Deep down you know. And I must prepare and warn you. Because you shouldn’t fear your mother’s death, it will relieve her from her agonizing pain. It’s the unknown you fear, of what happens next. She is the only one binding yourself, your brother and father.
Listen to me Dylan, you must look out for them. Your mom’s death will tear them apart, probably more than you know. You are the only one who could prevent them from walking towards a dark and deprecating path. Remember her for the strong woman that she is. Remember why she’s still here.”
The troll gently touched Ramona’s hand, his long and pointy hair lighting up. This time however, it did not illuminate as bright as it did eleven years ago. It was fainter, as the light shuddered from the troll to Ramona. Her red wig glimmered briefly.
Dylan looked confused. “Why does she have to go, why can’t she be with us longer?”
“You must find that out for yourself, and you will in due time.” At these last words, the trolls’ hair turned even brighter orange and then, it vanished with a pop.
Dylan was left in despair, praying his mom would heal.
Dylan put his right hand on his dad’s shoulder, his left on Oscar’s. Quietly, the three of them walked to the car. On the way home, not a word was spoken. Their father sobbed quietly from behind the wheels. Oscar looked outside the window, thoughtless. Dylan’s eyes were bulging, tears rolling without a sound.
The three men entered the house and realized it would never be their shared home again. Not without her presence. They sat at the kitchen table. Dad poured three glasses of an expensive wine. One Ramona wanted to save for Oscar’s eighteenth birthday. However, she had not had the pleasure of being able to drink it.
Still, the three men had not said a word. Quietly, they cried together. Dylan laid his head on his dad’s shoulder and let the tears fall freely on his dad’s jacket.
Together they cried in mutual respect for each other, but there was no true appreciation between the boys and their father.
Later that night, Dylan and Oscar visited Ramona’s now empty dressing room. She had one made in the house, adjacent to her own bedroom. The floor was laid with a thick salmon colored carpet. The room was messy and full of clothes. On the dresser stood her mirror with the lightbulbs, the lights shining brightly.
Dylan approached the dresser and picked up one of his mother’s bright red, curly wigs from the marble bust. He put it on its head with grace, treating the wig like a frail crown.
Oscar did not say anything. He walked towards a mannequin in the corned of the room and took his mom’s favorite kimono. A deep blue one made of fine silk and animated with brown and grey falcons. Oscar put it on.
It seemed the brothers both were thinking the same thing.
Dylan imitated Ramona’s voice and spoke: “Behold my children, let me tell you a tale about a woman trapped in the wrong body…”
Oscar finished his sentence and the brothers acted out their mother’s monologue, from her most successful movie. It was their way of honoring Ramona. The woman whose love for her sons had kept her alive, helped her beat her illness and held death at bay. Their mother, always full of life. With her colorful character and wise lessons. And now, she was no more.
It had happened on Oscar’s birthday. When the troll appeared besides Ramona, Dylan knew it was time. The troll had aged significantly since their last encounter, his last orange hairs visibly changing to grey. Its plastic skin wrinkly and a shade of amber.
In his despair, Dylan plead for the troll to save his mother. For him to perform his magic again. But the troll said he was not allowed anymore, for Ramona had completed her vow to stay alive until the eighteenth birthday of her firstborn. That was the deal she had made. A deal which resulted in the birth of the troll and his protective and healing purpose.
And now, death was ready to collect Ramona. They had all been there, Oscar, Dylan and their father. It was as if she was finally able to go to sleep after all those years struggling to stay awake for the sake of her boys.
Dylan fell asleep at her bedside, his head lopsided, his left hand still clutching Ramona’s.
When Dylan awoke, he was not alone in the room. The troll was there, his hair now fully white, his skin light golden. Dylan felt an anger rise within him at the sight of the troll. He could not help it. He had to let his anger out.
“Why haven’t you saved her? WHY?” Dylan said disgruntled. “Why haven’t you used your magic? What use is your magic anyway?”
“Oh, but it was never my magic. Don’t you see? It was yours. I’m just its vessel.”
“Have you been a hallucination?”
“I’m afraid not, dear boy. I am as real as you require me to be. But only you are able to see me.
You humans are magical creatures. Regrettably, you have become to view yourself and everything you are capable of as mundane. Although you crave to perform unimaginable magic, you fail to realize that you perform magic every day. You are able to create anything. ANYTHING. To conjure up a story, to invent a new product, to let your creativity pour into a piece of art, to compose music and to solve problems. Alone, but most importantly, together. Cooperating.
And now, you and your brother must savor the good memories of your mother and let those memories accompany you forever. By some force of magic, her spirit is omnipresent within you. Your mortality allows that. Until, one day, you must cross to the other world yourself, where she will be standing, waiting.”
- The End -
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