|Mother of Pearl
By: Cori Chong
“Another cut, sweetie?” Colleen’s voice echoed through the empty diner.
I didn’t respond to her question. My eyes stared, focused on the bright glare of the shiny, red tables.
The light pushed the memories of yesterday into my mind. I automatically pressed the rewind button
and played it again. There I was, in my daddy’s room. Light streamed through his small rectangular
window illuminating the dust particles swirling through the air right above my head.
Adjacent to his bed, I stood. Taking deep breaths, the stench of Nebraska River Old Liquor burned my
nostrils. The staleness of the liquor was palatable. Smiling euphorically, I grasped the necklace tightly.
Its imprint tattooed into my skin. It was for me. It was mine. All mine. Loosening my grip on the
necklace, I took both ends in my warm hands and pulled it around my neck. I tucked my long, stringy,
brown hair behind my ears and in one motion, raised my head to face the dresser mirror.
My plain reflection stared back at me. Sunken gray eyes, dark brown hair, pale, translucent skin, a few
odd freckles—and of course my glasses that framed my nineteen year old face. Nothing special, I
thought. Then, I began to caress the largest pearl centered on the necklace, letting the tip of my finger
graze its soft surface.
“I’ve never felt so close to you, Mommy,” I said.
I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so secure. I found the necklace on the checkered floor of the
diner next to the second window seat. It’s where she always sat. She must’ve left it for me. I knew it. I
carefully removed the necklace and tucked it into the tattered jewelry box atop Daddy’s dresser along
with Mommy’s other mementos. I better get going, I thought. Daddy will be home any minute and he
hates it when I’m in his room.
I propelled myself across the room; my feet barely felt the floor. Just as I was about to open the door, it
swung open from the other side. Bang. Daddy stood facing me, his blue eyes searing with a fiery rage.
“Jane! What the hell are you doing here?”
Drenched in alcohol, his words dripped with a wild madness.
“Oh nothing, Daddy,” I smiled sweetly.
He didn’t respond. Instead, he raised his monstrous arm and his jagged fist sliced through the cushion
of my pale cheek. The jarring blow sent my mind careening off into thoughts about Mommy, my dear
You see, I would have cowered away. Usually, tears would have flooded from my eyes. But now
everything was different. I had her. She returned every day with a purple bag, plaid skirt and brown hair
just like mine.
The first time I ever saw her was on November 16th. She ordered a black coffee and eggs. Then, she
returned to the diner again and again, almost every day. She had come back. Mommy had come back.
After sixteen long years without her, Mommy wanted to see me again. I was sure of it. My thoughts
ebbed back to Daddy. I let out a cackle, my voice resonating. He didn’t react. Drunk, he turned and
walked down the dimly lit hallway, leaving me on the cold hardwood floor, warm blood oozing from my
“Another cut sweetie?” I noticed that Colleen was staring at me, wide-eyed.
“Seriously, you got hearing problems or somethin’? Gotta get that checked out, hun.”
I nodded inattentively.
“Let’s just start closing. I want to go home.”
“All right, Jane, hun. I’ll sweep the floors and you wash the tables. My baby Charlie is waiting for me at
home anyways. ‘Bout fifteen more minutes. We’ll be outta here in no time.”
When I got home, I rushed upstairs to the bathroom. I made use of the light penetrating through
window grime. Glancing at the mirror, I noted my plain reflection. Behind the mirror was the medicine
cabinet. I opened it and saw that the rusty shelves were plagued with black specks and purple clusters.
The shelves must be molding, I thought. On the top shelf, there it was…in all its glory. Colleen found it
at the diner in the exact spot where Mommy always sat. She foolishly tossed it into the garbage, but I
salvaged it. Mommy was trying to connect with me by leaving the necklace and the lipstick. She just didn’
t know how to approach me. I knew it. Her lipstick, in its bright red casing, whispered at me to put it on,
‘Wear me. I’m so pink. Wear me now!’
I smeared the moist pink shade over my dry, cracked lips. Mesmerized by my resemblance to Mommy, I
smiled. I then placed the lipstick back onto the shelf, imprisoning it once again in the decay. Sneaking
quietly past Daddy’s room, I was overtaken by a wave of relief when I saw that he passed out on his
bed. I went into my room and lay on my covers. Burying my head into the depths of my pillow, I drifted,
dreaming of my lovely mommy.
I biked to the diner at dawn, my lips still protected by Mommy’s pink lip color. The rays of the rising sun
etched my long shadow extending me yards ahead. Cycling through the residential streets, I wished she
would visit today so she could see me wearing her wondrous lip color. I wanted her to ask me about it. I
longed to talk to her—to hear her say my name.
All morning I waited. Finally, at 1:37 p.m. she came. I knew she would. She would never leave me again.
She sat down, claiming her usual spot by the open window.
“Hi, I would like a coffee and two scrambled eggs,” she told me.
I wanted to shout out, ‘Hi, Mommy!’ but I didn’t want to cause her alarm. She would talk to me when
she was ready, I decided.
“Anything else for you?”
She said this nonchalantly, but her lip curled, almost as if she was smiling at me. Five minutes sped by
and I was back with her coffee and two scrambled eggs. As I set her plate down, Mommy started
brushing her gorgeous brown hair. Each hair rested vertically on her shoulders; it was perfectly straight
“I have straight hair too!” I said, beaming.
“That’s nice,” Mommy said, still brushing her hair and staring out the window.
With my right hand outstretched, I glided my fingers though my hair. Halfway through, my hand halted
abruptly. What? A knot? I vehemently raked through, trying to ignore the entanglement.
“That’ll be all,” Mommy said.
I smiled and curtseyed, praying my knot had gone unnoticed. I really did have straight hair like hers. I
The next day at work, I felt the eyes of customers cemented on my skin. Even Colleen’s mouth gaped
open at me.
Several times, she asked me, “What happened to all your hair?”
I didn’t respond. It was my private business. I had been awake during the night, blindly brushing my hair
on my bed. In the morning, when rays of light finally lifted the obscurity of night, I realized that I was
surrounded. Colossal clumps of my hair littered the bed sheets. Disgusted, I bolted to the bathroom to
see my reflection. Dried blood drew thin lines across my forehead. I splashed some tap water onto my
bloody skin. At least my remaining hair was straight like Mommy’s.
At noon, the clouds parted to reveal the scorching sun. The huge windows of the diner allowed all the
sunlight to saturate the room. I just knew Mommy was coming. Then, as expected, she showed up at
12:27 p.m. and I rushed over to serve her.
“Hello there. Did you do something with your hair?” she asked staring at her menu.
She must’ve seen me from across the diner, I thought. I laughed nervously.
“Just get me a black coffee and eggs,” she said looking down at her watch.
I returned to the counter area. I stared at her. Her eyes honed in on the paper; she was reading the
Daily Times. She must be nervous too, I thought. She’s just distracted because she’s...
“Jane, soup’s all ready!” the chef’s voice called from the back.
The red bowl burned my hands as I navigated my way through a sea of bright red tables and white
Just as I was nearing her table, my foot slipped and I plummeted to the floor. Embarrassment rose like
steam, and I glanced upwards to see the eyes. Mommy was watching.
“Oh dear, don’t worry. My daughter is also a waitress.”
“Don’t talk to me like that, I’m right here.”
“What did you say, dear?”
I turned away, hot soup trickling down. Confusion consumed. Colleen approached us, laughing
“Sorry ma’am. I’ll take care of this. Jane, sweetie, you go clean yourself up.”
My mommy’s voice pervaded through the door of the diner bathroom as I stood staring in the mirror.
“Oh, it’s all right. My baby’s a waitress,” she said in a muffled voice. My mouth widened into a smile. She
continued, “I hope she gets me something nice for my birthday...”
“Something nice? She wants something nice? Nice…her birthday. She wants something nice for her
birthday,” I repeated aloud.
Sometimes the world was played in fast forward while I was paused. My concentration did not stray. All I
could think about was how I was going to make everything up to Mommy. Recalling her upcoming special
event, I had a brilliant plan.
“Today is a special day,” I said to myself.
I told my boss that I was sick and left work. I removed my glasses and applied the pink lip color.
Departing from the diner, I straddled my rusty, blue bike and followed her car. I cycled as carefully as
possible, but without my glasses, I was blindly swerving on the road to the unknown. I stayed half a
block behind her because I wanted it to be a surprise. We turned left on Stratton Rd., right on Minx
Ave., and then finally another right onto Malabar Dr. I parked my bike behind a giant oak tree a few
doors down from her yard. The scent of lavender from a nearby garden filled my nostrils. Sweet
surprises come. Watching her step out of the car made my hands tingle.
Leaving her door open, she walked in the opposite direction with her—no—our dog and then I realized…it
was my chance! My legs carried me on a mad dash onto our luscious green lawn and up four stairs onto
our wooden porch. I peered inside. A blanket of darkness covered every room except the kitchen where
the light was on. I entered the kitchen, glanced around at the wooden cabinets and the liquor bottles
lining the counter then closed the door. I felt right at home. Excitedly, I reached into my pocket and
pulled out her pearl necklace. I cracked the eggs, and boiled the water. I was preparing her favorite.
Every day she asked for eggs and coffee. That’ll be my surprise. I finished, put the pearl necklace on and
then sat at the table, patiently awaiting Mommy’s arrival. The door creaked. She was back! I could hear
her drop the dog’s leash and remove her shoes. The sound of her footsteps was amplified in my mind
and they grew louder and louder as she came towards the door. The booming noise caused a surge of
excitement to convulse through my body. The door opened. I smiled.
“Happy birthday, Mommy. I wanted to surprise you.”
My mommy’s eyes widened.
Glancing at the table, I realized my mistake. Quickly snatching a bottle of liquor from the counter, I set it
on the table like I had always done for Daddy.
Mommy extended her arm and reached for the bottle, but I sensed something was wrong. I turned my
downcast eyes towards her. All I saw was the bottle.
Crack. My skull split. I crumpled to the ground and a warm bath of blood soothed my open wound. The
bitter taste of Nebraska River Old Liquor once again invaded my senses. To my surprise though, the
grace of my mother’s touch was so much more pleasant than the sting of my father’s punch.