A short story by Heather Nanni
“Hannah,” my mother said, watching me through the rearview mirror. “Think of a name, but don’t tell me what it is. Okay? Did you think of one? Ready?” She waited a minute, glancing back at me and smiling, and then she said, “Blaire.”
I wondered how my mother did it. “Yes, Mommy! Yes! Yes! Do it again. Let’s play again.”
“Okay, Hannah, now remember not to tell me. And be sure not to move your lips. As a matter of fact, why don’t you look out the window? That way I can’t even see your face. All right. Think of a name.” She waited a moment. “Did you think of one? Are you ready?”
“Okay. Here goes.” She made her silly drumroll sound-the one I tried to mimic but couldn’t. “Cindy!”
“Mommy! How do you do that? Again! Again!”
And so the game continued, until my mother had enough. “All right, Hannah. That’s it. Mommy’s tired.”
“Mommy. How did you do it? Tell me how you did it? Is it magic?”
“Hannah, you know there’s no such thing as magic. I’m disappointed at you for even asking. It’s God’s special gift to me.”
“Mommy, do you think God will give me the gift too?”
“No Hannah. Like I said, it’s a special gift from God to me. You have gifts, right? Like the doll I gave you for your birthday? Did Mommy expect a doll too?”
“Well then you can’t expect this gift either.”
That’s how it started. I was six years old when Mom first played the game with me. And, although Mom told me I didn’t have her gift, once, when I was a few years older, I tried to see if she was right. We were having tea together and I said, “Mom, think of a name.”
“Why Hannah?” she asked.
“Because I want to see if I can do what you do.”
But, rather than think of a name, she reached across the table and slapped me in the face. “I told you already! That’s God’s gift to me. You greedy thing!” With that she threw my teacup against the wall, tea and ceramic pieces flying everywhere. After I cleaned the mess, she sent me to my room where I remained until the next morning when she took me to her minister so I could confess my sins. I was eight years old then, and it would be years before I tried my hand at mom’s gift again.
As I got older, mom developed her skills and expanded her repertoire. By the time I was about ten, she no longer limited herself to guessing names. She read my thoughts.
“Hannah, did you like the chicken Mommy made for dinner?
“Hannah, do you like Mommy’s new outfit?”
“Hannah, did you pay attention during today’s sermon?”
My answer was always, “Yes, Mommy,” and her response was invariably, “Oh Hannah. When will you ever stop lying?” Then she would continue with either a reprimand or a beating.
When I was a teenager, I realized my mother was paranoid.
“Hannah, did you tell Kathy about what happened here last night?”
Kathy was my best friend. Of course I told her about what happened the night before. How my mother rolled on the floor and begged God to expel the demons from our house. How she prayed over me, dragged me by the hair and locked me in my bedroom. My mother didn’t wait for me to answer. Instead she punched me on the side of my head and took me to her pastor’s office where they decided it was best to take my phone away and not allow me to see my friends any longer.
Being without friends or any life outside of school gave me a lot of time to study my mother. I learned the only thing that calmed her down after working herself into a frenzy was watching religious videos-mainly of zealot preachers yelling at congregations to repent. One night, she woke me from my sleep and yanked me out of bed. “Did you say your prayers?”
I hadn’t. I had fallen asleep. My mother raised her hand to strike me, and when she did I just closed my eyes and pictured her walking out of my room and going into the living room to watch a video. To my surprise, she lowered her arm and left, and, like a sinner’s sudden realization that Jesus is their Lord and Savior, it came to me-if I could hold a thought with an image rather than with words, my mother would receive the message without even realizing.
It took a lot of practice and a lot of beatings to perfect my skill. I started small-envisioning a roast chicken rather than asking my mother to make one. It was tricky though. If I allowed the words to slip in-I hope mom makes a roast chicken for dinner-she would hear them.
After about three months, I decided I could put my gift to good use and help my mother manage her meds. She took all sorts of pills-for arthritis, migraines, her heart condition. I got pretty good at visualizing her not taking some, taking too many of others, swallowing entire bottles. One day, in fact, I walked into her room and found her lying on the floor, an empty bottle of heart meds next to her. I never felt so strong in my life. I finally had God on my side.
Of course, I’m nothing like my mother. I would never abuse my gift. Anyway, I’ve got to go and take mom to day care now. She’s never been the same since her unfortunate incident with the pills. She really needs round-the-clock assistance. Looking at her through the rearview mirror, it’s hard to imagine the person she once was.
“Hey Mom. I have an idea. Let’s play a game.”