Graeme −> Language −> Short stories −> Mom's Dying Words 

I had a good cry; well, good for me, which is tears in my eyes and a few short breaths.  Still, it felt good to cry.  A release of tension.  A cleansing of the soul.  No, not that.  My soul is still dirty.  Anyway, my point is I don't have to bawl like a baby to have a good cry.  Here's how it happened.  I was listening to a story on the radio.  It was a woman talking, in a pleasant country accent.  (Her name was Hollis Gillespie, and she was from Georgia, it turns out.)  Her story went like this, the best I can remember:

When I was a little girl I got the idea that I would some day grow up and marry the Devil.  I got that idea when I saw a picture of the Devil in a children's bible at my friend's house.  The picture was of a handsome man with beautiful hair.  I remember his hair especially.  I swiped the bible, and showed my mother the picture.  "When I grow up I want to get married to the Devil", I told my mother, poking my tiny index finger at the page, and holding it up for her to see.

She fixed me with a hard stare and said "Don't you ever get married."  She never talked about it again.  Her instinct was right; I soon forgot all about marrying the Devil.

All my friends went to church, and even though my mother was a confirmed atheist, she had no objection to my going along with them.  Maybe she was glad to get me out of the house for a day.  The bus came around and picked up all the kids, and we went to church every Sunday.  At a certain point during the service, the preacher would call all the sinners to the front so they could be redeemed.  I went up with the other sinners every week.  One time, an usher stopped me by the shoulder, and she said, "You were already redeemed last Sunday.  And the Sunday before that, and before that.  You don't need to keep coming up."

"It doesn't take," I said.

When the bus dropped me off that day I told my mother what had happened, and she said I shouldn't go to that church any more.  I told her I would go to Hell if I didn't go to church.  She said, "There's no bigger Hell than a heaven full of those people," flicking her cigarette at the departing bus.

My mother enjoyed life, but she died young.  Lung cancer got her.  When she was in the hospital, as she lay dying, I asked her if she had any regrets.  Right away, she answered me, "Just one." I expected her to say she regretted smoking or not believing in God, but instead she said, "When I was a little girl, I wrote 'bicycle' on my Christmas list, even though I knew we were too poor to afford one.  When Christmas came, there was no bicycle.  Then, for months after that I wrote 'bicycle' every week at the bottom of my mother's shopping list.  I wish I hadn't done that."  Then she slipped into a coma while I stroked her hair.  Those were her last words.