Word Count: 843
Origin: I wrote the first draft of this story while taking Mary Robinette Kowal’s wonderful short story intensive.
Joyce remained at the grave’s edge until long after everyone else had gone. She still couldn’t believe that her sister and her father had both gone off without a word to her. Who did that?
A clockwork cat, designed to keep vermin at bay, prowled by the hole in the ground without a second glance at the copper and brass casket inside. The somber scene didn’t agree with the image of the proud woman that burned in Joyce’s mind.
Joyce’s mother had left specific instructions on where she should be buried. The towering dome of metal and glass above Joyce’s head was built with the same concussive force of will that had made her mother an icon of industry. A covered garden that stretched a handful of acres and offered an oasis from the heavy smoke of the city seemed at odds with her mother’s personality on the surface, but the gardens were a monument to the naturalism that had spawned the scientific savvy that had made her mother famous.
She had noticed Amanda ducking into the shrubbery as soon as their father had begun speaking. Joyce had longed to go after her sister, but propriety demanded that she stay. She waited, all throughout the well-meaning speeches and the teary goodbyes, and tried not to focus on any one detail, lest she retain every moment of the funeral too well. This was not how she wanted to remember her mother.
When she could no longer stand to be alone, Joyce went to find her sister, walking slowly along the slate paths that wound through the garden. She found Amanda near a crowded planter of flowers that was too painfully bright and cheerful for the day, and waited a polite distance away. Amanda sat in the grass, careless of the patches of green that stained her striped skirt.
After a few moments, when it seemed Amanda would never notice her, Joyce scraped her shoe along the stone as if she’d just arrived. Amanda looked up, her jewel-green eyes distant at first, and then sharpening.
“Can I do anything?” Joyce asked.
“You can leave me alone.”
Joyce was on the point of doing exactly that, when Amanda’s sigh drew her up short. Every act of rebellion on Amanda’s part disguised a plea for acceptance, Joyce had known that since she was a girl. She pressed her lips together and moved to the edge of the grass. “If there was any way to bring her back, I would do it.”
Rather than reply, Amanda shrugged and turned to stare at a golden clockwork songbird that perched on the bench nearest them. The bird started to sing a tune Joyce had heard before but couldn’t put a name to. The silence between them drew out, interrupted only by the bird’s song and the steam-turbine generated breeze that rustled the leaves.
Finally Amanda asked, “Did he ask where I went?” The tremor in her voice meant ‘he’ could be only one man—their father.
“He didn’t, but he should have.”
“He never loved me as much as she did.”
Joyce didn’t respond. Her gaze followed the bird as it hopped along the bench—a pantomime of life without the messy bits. She’d spent much of her youth wishing she was one of her mother’s clockwork creations. The ticking cadence of their existence seemed to make more sense, somehow, than hers.
“I want you to unwind me,” Amanda said after a long pause, her voice absent the usual shades of emotion.
Joyce turned toward Amanda, her heart thumping so heavily that she thought it would break free of her chest. “Mother wouldn’t have wanted that.”
Amanda couldn’t cry, she didn’t have tear ducts, but the animatronics of her face showed her expression well enough; her mouth twisted and her eyes squeezed shut. “She’s dead Joyce. She built me and she’s dead. I shouldn’t go on as if nothing’s happened.”
Joyce stumbled forward until she knelt next to Amanda, her pristine skirt be damned. She wrapped her arms around her sister and hugged her close.
Amanda was more than clockwork, and much more than the soulless metal husks that occupied the garden. She was the culmination of a lifetime of research and exploration. She thought, and learned, and loved.
She was, above all of that, a reclusive woman’s attempt to connect with a daughter she didn’t understand. Amanda clung to Joyce as her mother never would have, never could have.
Joyce swallowed back her tears. “Going on is the point, Mandy. She’s gone and we remember her so she won’t be forgotten.”
Amanda rested her head on Joyce’s shoulder, her synthetic skin not quite warm, but not cold either. “It hurts.”
“Will it get better?” The desolation in Amanda’s voice nearly undid her.
“I don’t know, but we’ll be together.” Amanda sighed, and relaxed in Joyce’s arms.
“All right.” Joyce didn’t have the heart to tell Amanda that someday she would have to go too, she just hugged her sister tighter and finally gave in to her sorrow.
A Mother’s Love by Coral Moore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.