In my childhood, I had always gazed at my mother’s snow globe with wide, admiring eyes. Now, all I saw was red.
You see, I had just flopped onto my bed, unsuccessfully rubbing at the grime on my glasses. Finally, I had thought, with a sigh of relief. It had been a long day, especially with my English teacher whining about my incorrect interpretation of The Tempest. Apparently Prospero wasn’t just a selfish megalomaniac, but rather a “complex human being.” All I can see is him ordering his kid around, but whatever.
Anyway, I had earned a nice long bout of ‘nothing time’ in my humble opinion. So, I slid my headphones over my ears, nestled back in the cushions, and clicked onto YouTube.
“Oi!” My mother yelled, flinging open the door before I could even begin a single video.
“What?” I groaned.
She narrowed her eyes at me. “Don’t you take that tone with me,” she warned. “I asked you to do the dishes this morning, and they’re still not done.”
I rolled my eyes. “I’ll do them later, OK? I just want to relax!”
“No, you always say you’ll do them later and guess who ends up doing them? Me,” she snapped, gripping the doorframe. “I have told you a million times that I have to have them done before I cook dinner. But do you ever listen? No.”
I leaned forward to cut in, but she was having none of it. “I am so sick and tired of finding you glued to your phone whenever I come in here. Do you ever do your homework? Do you ever do ANYTHING?”
I sat bolt upright, curling my hands into fists. “MUM!”
“If those dishes aren’t done by the time I get back from the store, don’t expect dinner. Ever.” She slammed the door shut behind her, and the sound of the front door closing came soon after.
I leapt from my bed, hurled my phone and headphones onto the mattress, and stalked to my mother’s room with her words still scalding my ears. It was on her bedside table – her snow globe, a.k.a. her most prized possession. I seized it, taking one last look.
Within the glistening glass, a miniature world, dusted with violet, lay dormant. A crystal cluster radiated from the centre, in which infinitesimally tiny houses had been carved. People the size of a pinprick were frozen in a moment in time; one pulled a milk cart from house to house, another dangled a rope from the top of a crystal spire to a friend down below, and two puppies splashed in a puddle on the street, yet all were completely motionless. It was only when the dome was shaken that the scene would come alive; when the glitter rose from its slumber, swirled and eddied, scintillated and sank.
And that’s how we got here. Filled with rage at this thing that was so her, I didn’t think. It hurtled downwards, struck the floor… and shattered. Shards of glass radiated outwards, unfurling from the breakpoint like the wings of an angel. For a moment, the destruction transfixed me, but then, it was over. The carpet was splattered with the ugly carcass of a once-beautiful treasure. Ruined.
Then, the world was coming apart, fragmenting, rearranging. The white ceiling of my mother’s bedroom bled into blackness studded with stars. The curtains peeled away, and an evening breeze swept back the bedside table, the bed, the wardrobe—
And then I was standing in an empty street. Only, I wasn’t me. Wrapped around me was a long, rose pink coat. It was so familiar that I knew at once it was my mother’s and that I was seeing through her eyes. Her heels clacked against the pavement in a slow and steady pace, leading herself, or me, or us through the enchanting nightscape. A young border collie ran a circle around us, tongue lolling and carefree, before it ran back to its playmate, a muddy husky puppy in a… a puddle…
With the truth slowly dawning on me, I watched with wonder as my mother raised her eyes, revealing the crystal city. Somehow, some way, I was in the snow globe. There was the father heaving his son up on a rope, and there was the milk boy, and there was the glitter wending its way through the sky like the Aurora Borealis. My jaw would have dropped if I’d had control over my own body.
Reaching her destination, my mother opened the door to one of the spires and stepped inside. To my confusion, what lay within wasn’t a sleepy inn with mugs of hot cocoa or a bakery stuffed with freshly baked bread. It was a hospital. The stench of bleach was like a slap to the face. Doctors armed with scissors, stethoscopes, and scalpels rushed past with patients in wheeled beds who moaned in agony or convulsed uncontrollably. A nurse struggled to hold a baby still enough to administer an injection, while its mother clutched its arm. The aircon was six degrees too cold and machinery wailed each time a metabolic rate dropped or a pulse slowed. My mother removed her coat, revealing an outfit of scrubs. She picked up a clipboard and made her way over to a woman in the corner.
“Ma’am, I’m so sorry to tell you this, but there was a complication with your husband’s surgery… ” her voice was soft and gentle, well-practiced at delivering bad news. But, as always, what followed was a violent explosion of rage, blame, and overwhelming grief. After the woman left, the rest of the day was a blur of rashes, tears, and broken bones, as well as yelling bosses and medicine bottles dropped in haste. By the time my mother finally dragged her feet out of the hospital and back onto the sparkling street, I could feel the exhaustion pressing down on her frame. I knew she was a nurse but… I had never known it was like this.
The next house she stepped through turned out to be a train station, and I realised that in each house was a memory – a part of my mother’s life I couldn’t see beneath the shimmering exterior.
She took her seat on the train, and a man gripped one of the handholds right above her, ‘accidentally’ lurching into her when the train pulled into motion.
“Sorry, love,” he drawled, leaning so close she could smell the beer on his breath. “You a nurse?” He looked her up and down, eyes lingering too long. “‘Cause I’d let you give me a sponge bath.” He winked, flashing what I’m sure he thought was a winning smile.
I wish I could have punched him, but my mother was five foot two and she certainly hadn’t had tie for self-defence lessons with her hectic schedule. In her body, what could I do? All she did was mutter, “I’m married,” before she shoved her way past him and through the doors before it was even her stop.
After an hour of walking, I saw that there was a deep gouge in one of the crystals. My mother stepped right through it. On the other side lay a pile of dishes, crusted with day-old food scraps. Her fingers gripped the edges of the sink, hands raw from hand-sanitiser, latex gloves, and a day’s worth of manual labour. Dish soap and hot water seemed like a death sentence for her skin, and she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. And how could she ignore the stack of unopened mail building on the counter? Or the washing machine beeping, ready to be emptied, or the dog whining for food, or the empty pantry? And now she needed to cook dinner for me, who had done nothing since arriving home but crawl into bed. It was too much. A transparent teardrop traced her cheek and trickled into the grimy dish water.
I blinked. I was back in my body, staring at the snow globe in my hands. No shards lay on the floor. It was whole. Cautiously, I placed it back on the bedside table, walked downstairs, and found my mother unpacking groceries.
She looked up. “Hey,” she said gently. “I’m sorry for yelling… I know there’s no excuse, but it’s been a long day.”
I enveloped her in a hug. “I know, Mom... I’m sorry too.”
After pulling away, I finally walked over to the sink, picked up a wine glass, and scrubbed until it was crystal clear.