“Mother’s Day” by Judy Clement Wall

She doesn’t think about Max’s eyes, or the way his fingers felt wrapped in hers. She doesn’t think of how sunlight looked caught in the tangle of his wild hair, or the way his laughter could scramble up and down the length of her, ripple across her skin like a tickling wind. Sitting here now, alone in a house full of people, staring out the window at a day full of color, her lap is empty but she feels the weight of him, the fidgeting solidity of his three-year-old body, his sleepy head against her shoulder, his breath against her neck. Beyond thought, he is her phantom limb, the details of him stored in her cells. His whisper is the sound her movement makes, her arms reaching out, encircling air.

Her neighbors are kind. They bring food in Tupperware containers. They tell her husband what they’ve brought, and he labels each dish with a yellow sticky note before putting it in the freezer. Lasagna. Shepherd’s pie. Enchilada casserole. He thanks them and she marvels at his gratitude, his poise. She wants to crawl inside him, but when he tries to hold her, she stiffens against an urge to push him away.

They bring flowers too, in glass vases, and her 4-year-old daughter, Rose, rearranges them. Every day, Rose empties the flowers out onto the table, sorts them by color, by shape, by emotion. “These ones are happy,” she says, filling a vase, focused, brow furrowed. “These ones are sad.” When she finishes she looks to the empty chair across the table and asks her little brother how he likes it. “They’re for you, you know,” she tells him, more warning than invitation, and after a few seconds, she smiles. “I’m glad,” she says. “Me too,” and then she places the vases all around the house, pausing before setting each one down. “Here?” she asks him. Her mother watches, and it is there, in the stab of pain that reminds her she’s still alive, that she can see him too, nodding, approving. “Yes. There.”

Her husband is gone by then. He leaves whenever Rose starts talking to Max, but she stays, her heart breaking over and over, gently, violently, like waves on a rocky shore.

On the designated day, friends and family come. She sits in a chair and stares out the window and doesn’t think about his eyes, his hair, his laugh. People who loved him, who still love her, lean over to look in her eyes. They tell her they are a phone call away. “Don’t hesitate to call,” they say, and they hug her and she hugs them back and she thanks them, but what she feels isn’t gratitude. It’s rage and fear and loss. It’s a hole where her son used to be, wide and gaping. It separates her from them, from everyone. She could step off the edge and fall into it. She could lose herself there, in the emptiness, the stillness.

She could do that instead of screaming, instead of breathing.

They file past her, one by one, until finally it’s Rose stopping in front of her. Rose who doesn’t have to lean over to look into her mother’s eyes. Rose who picks up her mother’s hand, works her tiny fingers between her mother’s longer ones. Rose who smells like shampoo and grass and sun, her voice curling itself around her mother’s silence. The words don’t matter, it’s the sound that wakes her, the sweet familiar cadence of her little girl’s voice.

“I’ll show you,” Rose says finally, and she tugs on her mother’s hand, leans her body back to pull her from her chair.

She rises, feeling ancient, a tree pulled up by its roots. She holds tight to her daughter’s hand, stepping around the gaping hole because she must, stumbling forward because this is the part that can’t be done gracefully.

More fiction at Used Furniture.


  1. Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
    Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
    Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
    Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
    Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form

    –from King John

  2. You’re a brilliant writer you know. To be able to bring something like this to life, to feel it so deeply — it’s more than a gift.

  3. I love it! I was so happy to see this this morning. I felt the pain and the emptiness as I was reading, great writing.

  4. Thank you so much, you guys. xo

  5. oh j, this is…you’ve captured the very essence of being stricken by grief. That place… And I really think the only thing to help us out of, or around, or through, to finally reach us, is the touch of a love so exquisitely tender and gentle, a love unafraid to bend low, to meet us eye to eye to find us where we are, and ever so softly, and firmly, bring us back through our broken hearts to be able to love again. This is written so beautifully and perfect, with love so profoundly felt throughout, I’m sitting here in absolute awe. Wow…

  6. J, thank you for this. You so expertly guided us down the path of grief, gently, carefully, bringing us to point of being able to feel and accept the harshness of such a loss. We can also see the tenderness of a life that was, and that continues to be in the life of the mother.

    I want to read more… to experience more. To get to know the family more…

  7. i’m sitting here with tears flowing down my face… i could barely read this. i don’t know how you could write it. the emotional feel of the piece is so raw, it goes right into your bone marrow. this is absolutely amazing! *sparkly squishy hugs*

  8. TPM, Dani – Thank you for wonderful comments and encouragement.

  9. Deep, emotional and wonderful. You are all of these, as well. Very nice.

  10. Beautiful.

  11. An absolutely true fiction. Beautiful.

  12. Thank you so much, Rene and Tricia.

    Michael, “True fiction” just made my day. Thank you.

  13. Breathtaking. Can’t wait to buy your novel. <3

  14. Not even 650 words; you cut with precision to the heart of a stage in a mother’s loss of being a mother to one of her children so cleanly, so perfectly that we can see instantly to “the hole where her son used to be, wide and gaping”. It is even hard to me to imagine how you could see that place without having had to go through it. You have all the marks of a gifted writer J. Beautiful.

  15. Ah, Pam. Thank you. I can’t wait either!

    Thank you, Patricia. High praise. I’m giddy and humbled.

  16. Oh wow. I felt that. Lump in my throat the entire time I read that. Wow. Amazing.

    I was kind of thinking what Patricia said, she said it so well. (Thanks, Patricia.)


  1. […] wrote a (very) short story that I’m really proud of. You can read it here. (I hope you […]

  2. […] Furniture Review published my (very) short story Mother’s Day. I’m really proud of it. I hope you’ll check it […]

  3. […] “Mother’s Day” by Judy Clement Wall (usedfurniturereview.com) […]

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