My mother cried the day Stephen Hawking died. I came home from school and found her sitting at the kitchen table, tears on her cheeks.
‘Stephen Hawking is gone,’ she said, clutching a cup of tea.
Teacher had told us in school. We didn’t know who he was until she showed us his picture on Google. We remembered him from when he was on The Simpsons. He freaked me out a little. That voice.
‘The world is a less intelligent place now,’ Mam said dipping her biscuit into her cup.
I kept my eyes on the broken tile over the sink rather than look at her. I had been starving on the way home, but my stomach felt sick as I stood there.
She told me about a party he had thrown for time-travellers. He gave the invitations out after the party. No one had showed up. She said he had recorded the party, him, alone in a room surrounded by glasses of champagne, little plates of food on the table.
‘He did it to prove there was no such thing as time-travel’, my mam said smiling, but the smile wasn’t real.
‘He was witty like that.’
She suddenly sat up straighter, as if she had just thought of something amazing.
‘You should read his book’, she said.
I looked at her shining eyes, then looked quickly away. I promised her I would. I wanted her to stop crying. It was weird, it wasn’t like she knew him personally.
She pulled some kitchen roll from the holder on the wall, wiped her nose and stood up. I shuffled out of her way as she pulled jars from the cupboards.
‘Have you homework?’ she asked.
I nodded and she shooed me away.
Later that evening I asked dad why she was so upset.
‘Oh, your mother had notions of being a scientist.’
‘Really?’ I said.
I tried to picture my overweight mother crammed into a white coat, bent over a microscope.
‘Yeah, she wanted to study science in college, work in a lab or something. Stephen Hawking was her hero.’
He flicked through the stations on the television already bored with me.
‘Why didn’t she?’ I asked.
He looked at me, his eyebrows raised, then laughed.
‘You work it out,’ he said.
I shrugged. He turned back to the television as I continued to stand beside him. He looked up at me again and snorted a laugh.
‘You don’t have your mother’s brains that for sure. Go on, leave me in peace.’
He reached over for the ashtray, his other hand pulling a cigarette from the box.
On the way up to my room I looked in at Mam. She was mashing potatoes for dinner.
Dad’s tray already had his brown sauce, plate, knife and fork on it. The table had two placemats laid out and two glasses beside them. She glanced up at me.
‘Dinner in five minutes time,’ she said.
I didn’t move. She looked up at me again and tutted, rolling her eyes.
Maria Kenny is from Dublin. Her stories and flash fiction have appeared in journals in Ireland, the UK and Mexico. She was longlisted for the WoW award 2016 and was highly rated in the Maria Edgeworth Short Story competition and longlisted in The Casket of Fictional Delights flash fiction competition in 2018.