by Lisa Johnson Mitchell

THE NAME VICTORIA GARDENS sounded nice, like a pleasant place to smell flowers. Fragrant, not like death. Mom sat next to me in the passenger seat, not asking for much, as was her sweet, sacred style. Her twiggy fingers, her sweet, pruney hands, once porcelain, patted her sweater as she sang.

Blue skies, smiling at me, nothing but blue skies, do I see.

In the rearview mirror, my childhood home hugged by a riot of weeds collapsed into a blur as we puttered away.

‘I sure would love some chocolate ice cream.’

‘I brought you a gallon a few days ago.’

‘It’s all gone.’

She plunged her wrists, oxblood scarred, into the blankety abyss of her skirt. If only she’d never found out about Dad and his receptionist. If only my brother hadn’t drowned.

My once-Amazonian mother had shrunk. Her hair boasted a runway of white roots hugged by Deep Raving Red. Her ancient eyes were diamonds. Her beauty queen smile, front-tooth missing, my forever.

In 1966, the day I threw my Raggedy Ann out the window. I wailed the minute it left my five-year-old hands, the yarn hair clinging to my sticky palms. That evening, my tattered heart was healed by her off-key lullaby and lilac scent.

Years later, she forgave me when I broke her mother’s soup tureen. Then she housed me and my son after my life was shattered by divorce. She always picked up the pieces. Her love was Big.   

The pandemic had separated us. Her condition weakened, her sinews seemed to have dissolved into whispers.  

The year had been a lifetime of phone calls. Confusing forms. Doctor visits. Finally, POA.

‘We’re going to your new apartment.’ 

‘I don’t want to move.’ 

The sun was shining and I hated it.

Under the balm of the porte-cochère, at last. I dialed the main number on my phone. Hello, we’re here. My hand, heavy like time, found her shoulder.

I opened her car door and cupped her sweet question-mark shaped body to my chest. We were one, once more. My bones ached, cried with deafening sighs. I placed her crumbling frame into the cushioned wheelchair and I couldn’t let her go.

Then like a guillotine, the cut came in one swift, benign push by a nameless person in grey scrubs, as Mom was wheeled away. Bald in the back, her scalp a beautiful, bright moon.

I never want to do the right thing again.


Lisa Johnson Mitchell’s work has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Fictive Dream, and Cleaver, among others. Her collection of  her short stories is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in January 2024. One of her pieces was a Finalist in the 2022 London Independent Story Prize Competition. Another received First Place in the 2021 Button Eye Review Summer Contest and placed in the Top 10 of the 2020 Columbia Journal Short Fiction Contest. Other works have been honored by Glimmer Train, ScreenCraft, and PEN Women. She was a resident at the Vermont Studio Center and holds an MFA from Bennington College.