When mother is no longer around

Sylvia Maria Zöschg
When mother is no longer around
Only after the evening meal is on the table, the housework is finished, Mother is finally asleep and Franz is still sitting by his after-work beer, only then does Maria have a few minutes to herself.

She goes out on the balcony. Sometimes she plucks away the dead petals of the flowers which wink at her thankfully. Or she observes the few cars which pass down the street in front of the house. Automatically she waves her hand in greeting, regardless if she knows the people or not. That is what you do when you live in a village. That belongs to good manners, Mother always said.

Maria sits herself in a plastic chair that was once white and which always makes a painful noise like an old donkey.
Then she lights a cigarette. She sips a glass of home-made elderberry juice and watches the gondolas of the cable car lift that climb the mountain over on the other side of the river in the valley.
She has never once stepped into one of the gondolas. The mountain is a favourite among tourists and native locals for its numerous hiking trails. But Maria, no, she refuses and has not been there for years. Franz and the boys always teased her about it, pushed her around and laughed at her. But she remained stubborn. And she ignored the ridicule in her mother's eye, again and again.
Now, there is no taunting expression in her mother's look. There is only confusion.

By day, one cannot recognize the hotel at all. But Maria knows it is there. At night, one can see the lights and sometimes she hears music and laughter. Franz often complains about it. Even though they don't hear anything at all from their bedroom. And Franz sleeps like a rock. “He would sleep through the end of the world,” Mother once said shaking her head. “If it wasn't his snoring that caused the end.” Then Mother could still talk. And what she said made sense.
“How do you endure it here I can't understand. With Mother. With Franz,” Veronica said a few weeks ago while on a visit. The balcony on which they were standing suddenly seemed far too small and narrow, like a cramped cocoon. Veronica, with her elegant clothing, her Italian accent with hints of Milan. “You amaze me,” she claimed with sympathy in her eyes and the corners of her mouth turned down, “Franz should really help you more, and the boys, too.”
Maria could only laugh, “Franz has two left hands; he breaks everything when he washes up. And the boys are rarely here. Martin has his own apartment and stops by only now and then for a meal. Klaus is still studying at the university and is home only on holidays. No, I get along just fine.”
“Then hire a helper! Filippo and I would love to help cover the costs; she is also my mother.” Maria scrutinized her sister. Veronica, who earlier was always so jealous and envious because Mother had always given Maria more respect, more motherly love. She had been drawn into her mother's spider web, and Veronica had been let go without opposition. Even when Veronica did not say it: Maria knew that she was glad not to have to care for the sick Mother. Glad that Maria had taken on that burden.
Maria did not tell her sister that more and more often Mother's nagging tone and her jarring words popped out of her own mouth. She did not tell Veronica that she sometimes even scared herself. And sometimes she actually enjoyed saying things to Mother, really bad things. After all, mother could not answer back, could not complain any more.

But now, on the balcony, Maria does not think of her mother, nor of her sister. She is not thinking about her sons or Franz.
She thinks about a man, the owner of the hotel.
Earlier, nearly forty years ago, he was nothing more than a son and she was an attractive young lady. Then, at the dance, he had led her across the floor with a firm touch.
She remembers his hands on her hips, remembered the expression on his face as he looked at her, his lips on hers. Shameless and dashing and oh so sweet.
Maria closes her eyes and becomes once again fifteen years old and in love. He holds her hand and they make plans. She could change to the hotel training school he says and work in the hotel. He talks of marriage and children; his voice is velvet and silk. Travel, see the sea, the cold north. They dream of it all. There is nothing else except Maria and the young man at her side and a wonderful future. And the yearning for more, for something that she still doesn't know and what she now misses.

The puckered mouth and narrowed eyes of her Mother. A snort and shaking head. “What are you thinking, girl. Nothing but child daydreams. They would never accept you. They are better than you. Get it out of your head. Do you really think that someone like you is enough for him? You are nothing but an amusing way to pass some time, believe me. Stay here by me and Father. He needs help in the store. You will find another who is more fitting to you.”
Maria believed her.
Perhaps because it was easier than fighting, she thinks sometimes even now.
Maria did what her mother expected her to do.
The injured look on the young man's face she had buried in her heart and banished.
Maria learned how to be satisfied. She dropped out of school to help her father in the store. Then she met Franz and had her boys. She learned to take care of things. The housework, her boys. Her father after his first heart attack. Her mother after her father's death.
The boys grew up. Franz grew stranger.
And Maria dreamed.
But Mother was still around.
Mother is still around.
Later, she had often thought. Later, she thinks even now.
She saved the yearning up in her heart. And dreams, every time she sees the gondolas. She dreams of one day being not just merely satisfied.
Maybe she will fall in love again, just like earlier when she was fifteen. A feeling that she almost cannot remember any more.
At some point, she will take the chance.
When Mother isn't around any more. When Mother cannot paralyse her any more.

Then she will enter the gondola and ride up to the mountain station. Then she will enter the hotel with a smile on her face.
Then she will visit that man. He is meanwhile married with children. Still, maybe he will recognize her, maybe even remember her. Maybe he will even hold her again, and kiss her.
Maybe she will then be happy.
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