art by Liz Clarke
Memories of My Mother
by Ken Liu
Dad greeted me at the door, nervous. "Amy, look who's here?"
He stepped aside.
She looked exactly the way she did in the pictures hung everywhere in our house: black hair, brown eyes, smooth, pale skin. Yet she also felt like a stranger.
I put down my book bag, unsure what to do. She walked over, leaned down, and hugged me, first loosely, then very tight. She smelled like a hospital.
Dad had told me that the doctors had no cure for her sickness. She had only two years left to live.
"You're so big." Her breath felt warm and tickly on my neck, and suddenly, I hugged my mother back.
Mom brought me presents: a dress that was too small, a set of books that were too old, a model of the rocket ship she rode in.
"I was on a very long trip," she said. "The ship went so fast that time slowed down inside. It felt like only three months."
Dad had already explained it all to me: this was how she would cheat time, stretch out her two years so that she could watch me grow up. But I didn't stop her. I liked listening to her voice.
"I didn't know what you would like." She was embarrassed by the gifts that surrounded me, gifts that were meant for another child, the daughter of her mind.
What I really wanted was a guitar. But Dad thought I was too young.
If I had been older, I might have told her that it was all right, that I loved her gifts. But I was not yet so good at lying.
I asked her how long she would stay with us.
Instead of answering, she said, "Let's stay up all night, and we'll do everything Dad says you can't do."