A fear of cotton-wool. I don’t know where she got it from, but she passed it on to me at the age of six. I brought home a Christmas decoration I had made in school – a paper cone made into a Santa Claus figure, with a hand-drawn face, googly eyes and a cotton-wool beard stuck down with PVA glue. She started to hyperventilate when she saw it and carried it to the dustbin at arm’s length. I remember crying and her telling me it wasn’t my fault, though I didn’t believe her. She helped me to make another with a beard made from scrunched up pieces of tissue paper, but it wasn’t the same. I still can’t look at the stuff without wanting to cry.
A love of proper green pesto, freshly made and bashed up together in the pestle and mortar. She wouldn’t entertain the shop-bought stuff, said it tasted fake. We grew the basil from seed in plastic pots on the kitchen window sill. She showed me how to pick the young leaves from the top so more would grow. We ate it with pasta, on pizza, in sandwiches. Now I grow the herbs by myself, but Dad won’t eat the pesto anymore.
A photographic memory for numbers. Phone numbers, car registration plates, passport numbers – she knew them all. I thought this was normal so I learned them too. I memorised the value of pi to fifty decimal places with some spare time in my maths exam, knowing she would have been proud of me. I run through the numbers in my head when I’m trying to sleep.
The emerald earrings Dad gave her for their tenth wedding anniversary. She said they suited me better than her. I keep them in their box, buried at the back of my underwear drawer where he won’t look. I do all the washing now. I hold them up to my ears in the mirror and imagine I am a married woman going out to dinner, like they used to do.
A box of handbags and shoes she said I could grow into. Clutch bags with elaborate clasps and embroidery, in shades of peacock green and scarlet, leather shoes so narrow and delicate, my feet are already growing too large for them. There are imprints of her toes inside some of them. I wonder if she realised I would never be able to wear them, that I had inherited Dad’s feet and not hers.
Her scent on the winter coat at the back of the hallway cupboard. There is barely a trace of it left now, so I take it out only when I need it most. I hold it in my arms like a sleeping child, breathing deeply into its lining. Dad doesn’t know we still have it. He threw out the rest of her clothes when it became clear she was never coming back.
A father who looks a bit like mine used to.
A deep shame whenever anyone asks me how I lost my mother.
A guilt that grows each day, that I should have seen it coming and stopped her somehow.
Hope that maybe one day, Dad will believe me when I tell him I won’t leave him too, and let me look for her.
Rebecca Field lives in Derbyshire and works in healthcare. She has been published online at Literally Stories, 101 Words, Flash Fiction Magazine, Spelk and The Cabinet of Heed. She has a highly commended microfiction in the 2018 National Flash Fiction anthology, and can be found on Twitter at @RebeccaFwrites