She’s in the garden digging at the roots of the rosebush. Her straw hat and gray chignon bob up and down to the tune of the song she’s humming. She only hums now, lyrics don’t come to her anymore. From afar, she looks so normal, happy even. A dirty plastic bottle filled with brown muddy water sits by her squatting form. Where did she get that from? I’ve only started thinking that when she opens the bottle and takes a dip swig out of it, ending with a satisfied “aah”.
“Mama! What are you doing!” I push the sliding door open with exasperated force. “What is that?” I try to snatch the bottle from her hand, but her fingers are coiled tightly around it. “Let go, Mama!” She grunts and clutches it tighter. “This is going to make you sick! God, I’m so tired of taking care of…” I stop before I complete the sentence but really, I want to stomp my feet and bawl, but she isn’t in a position to comfort me anymore.
She looks up at me towering above her with my hands on my hips. In true reversal of roles, I see fear and tears pooling in her eyes. “Who…who are you and why are you yelling?” She stammers. My knees buckle. I kneel beside her and envelop her in a hug. “I’m Ronnie, mama, your daughter. What were you drinking?” My voice is calmer now.
She wriggles out of my hug, eyes wide, excitement dancing in them. “You want to know what this is?” She picks up the bottle and hugs it. The excitement is looking a lot like madness now. Not wanting to look at her face, I focus on the mud stain the bottle is leaving on her blouse. She comes close to me and whispers, “this isn’t ordinary water.”
“Yeah, no kidding…” She shushes me before I can spew more sarcasm..
“Do you know I was one of the archaeologists who discovered the lost city of Asafhan?”
Amazing she remembers that but not my name.
“We found a well there, with water intact. I had read about it — it was magic! How it sparkled! It could cure any illness.” She’s talking faster now, trying to get the words out before her brain erases them. “The book called it a fountain of youth. The team, they didn’t believe it, but you never know, you never know, right, so I filled my bottle with it when no one was looking and brought it with me, hid it right here under this rosebush and then, and then, last night, the well, that well came to me in my dream, drink the water it said, really, I heard it, drink the water.”
“Okay mama, calm down.” I rub her back and take her indoors, give her her meds and take her upstairs for her nap. Back to the dining table, cradle my head in my hands. It’s time, I’m sure now. I start typing an email to Julie, my perfect older sister. I’ll have to bear a barrage of i-told-you-so’s, but Mama does need professional care now. It’s for the best. Maybe I could get back in the dating game. Never thought I’d need that in my 40s, but I’ll be lonely without Mama to care for, so why not.
An hour later, Mama calls out to me. By my name. Which she hasn’t uttered in weeks — it’s alien and familiar. I rush to her room. She’s facing the window. The late evening sun is like orange candy melting on my tongue. “Ronnie, look, what a beautiful sunset! How lucky are we to see this!” She turns around and my heart skips. Is it the dusky light or is her grey hair turning black? Her face looks strange, like someone’s ironed the wrinkles out. She pats the bed and motions me to sit beside her.
“Mama,” I ask after a long pause. “That elixir, did you really get it from the lost Bronze Age city?”
She takes my hand in hers. It’s warm and velvety. Still looking at the sunset, she asks, “what elixir?”
Okay maybe it’ll work if taken every day. Small doses. Maybe…maybe I should try it first
I delete the email to Julie. She doesn’t need to know. She has the perfect life anyway. If anyone needs it, it’s me.
Mama, actually. Not me. I’m just the guinea pig.
Maybe it has magical properties. You never know.