Monarch Mother

Mommy is sitting on the stool in front of the easel by the yellow slide painting green apples and coke bottles. She says this is a “still life.” Mommy’s paintings are hanging all over Bridgehampton. I like to go and sit by them in The Golden Pear while mommy gets coffee, and in The Candy Kitchen when we get ice cream. Mommy’s paintings are all over the walls too, she calls them “murals.” She has been painting way before I was in her belly, and she knows how to paint the faces of the apples without seeing them. And the faces of trout, and monarch butterflies and hummingbirds and roses, but she never looks at me. Today I finally learn how to pump on the swing. I watch my little brother’s squirmy legs do it, he says it’s easy and he goes flying and jumping off and back on again, but it takes me two hours. I pump and pump so high, higher than my brother and each pump I scream, “Look mommy I’m doing it! I’m pumping look how high!”
 “That’s nice,” she says.
 The trees are swirling green laughing faces so I jump off and scrape my knees crying, “You love your paintings more than me!”
 I run to the basement where I never run because it is where the dark lives, but I know mommy won’t look for me there. I pick the scariest spot by the big red humming tank and crouch in there. I am sitting till my whole legs fall asleep and always watching for spiders and listening for monsters. Would mommy even miss me if a monster got me? I hear her yelling upstairs for a long time asking where I am, now she is crying so I am crying. The basement door creaks open and she comes down the stairs and goes into the play room. I am not in there but she hears me trying to breath and calls my name soft like a flower, so I come out. “Oh my God what are you doing back there? You could have had an asthma attack and I wouldn’t have found you, don’t you know how dangerous it is back there? That oil tank is so old it could explode, don’t you ever go back there again!” Mommy is yelling so I am crying a lot more now with hair sticking to my face and boogers running down my nose, picturing my brains exploding so she picks me up. From this close I can see my eyes reflected in hers, both of our eyes are green speckled water. People say I look just like my mommy, that she is so pretty we look like sisters. We have the same hazel eyes, the same round nose and pink lips, but not the same hands. I think of the painting she made of herself; kneeling in the sand at Long Beach with a curved knife in her hands, her swan necked fingers scalping the iridescence off a fish. “What is wrong?” she asks. “You don’t love me! You never care what I do, you only care about your paintings.”
 “What do you mean I don’t love you, are you crazy? Of course I love you, I love you more than anything in the world.”
 “Not more than your paintings! All you ever do is paint, you never pay me any attention!” She doesn’t say anything for a while.“Listen little girl. I do love you. And to prove it, I will never paint again, from this day on.”
 “Promise?”
 “I promise. Now let’s get out of the basement.”
 We go in the car with Casper the poodle who is not supposed to be in the car because he eats the seat belts. Mommy is looking in the mirror putting on her lip balm the whole time we drive. She dabs some on my lips. We drive straight down the turnpike, and then another 3 miles to the end of Ocean Road. First I am still sad but she holds my hand, picks me up and says, “I know this is your favorite place. The sun is shining just for you.”
 Casper runs around off his leash and I chase him and mommy pretends to run away from the lava water with me. The lava almost gets me but she scoops me up quick and we spin around like an airplane. Then the water comes up fast, hits her legs and splashes on me and we laugh. Mommy picks the black, flat round stones that fit perfectly between her thumb and pointer finger. She waits for a calm spot in the water and skips it, one two three four five skips! She lets me try but they go “plunk” “plunk” so we look for jingle shells instead. Mommy knows where all the jingle shells are. We pick only the biggest, shiniest ones, yellow and orange and white baby suns we put in our pockets for later. They jingle while we walk until we find a conch shell. She holds it to my ear. “If you listen really carefully, the ocean will speak,” she says.
I put the pink pearled curve to my ear and listen. “What does the ocean say?” she asks. “It says maybe you love me.” Mommy scoops me up on her shoulders and runs runs forever down the beach. “Maybe? Maybe?”
 I am laughing and laughing and Casper is barking and jumping and the water is chasing and the sun is waving and mommy is spinning spinning, “I love you, I love you, I love you, do you believe me?”And I am screeching laughs. “No!” I say, just to hear it again.
 “I love you I love you I love you little Francine and I won’t stop spinning until you believe me!” And the whole world is moving and my head is circling and I am laughing till my mouth hurts from smiling and I say, “Stop! Stop spinning!” “Not till you say it!” 
“Okay you love me, you love me, you really love me!” and laughs and laughs and she stops. “Look at the ocean. Do you know how big the ocean is?” I look. The ocean is swirling into the sky. Everything is twirling like a dream. A monarch flutters by, bright orange and shiny black against the blue and white.
 “Bigger than ten blue whales. Bigger than thirty countries. Bigger than—” I can’t finish because the ocean is so dizzying and the monarch is fluttering so I close my eyes.
 “Do you know how much I love you?” “How much?” I ask.
 “I love you bigger than the whole entire ocean.” I open my eyes and smile. Everything is still.