Of Bell-bottoms and Bones by Deborah Torr

One morning, my mother’s earrings bubble to the surface of my muesli, the garish cobalt blue stones in zero-karat gold swimming among the oats, raisins and flaked almonds. I spy a diamante earring in the dregs of my morning coffee.  Then, as I leave the house for work, I see her olive anorak haunting the hollow of the upstairs bedroom window.

I’d like to say that this all seems in very poor taste. My mother wasn’t superstitious. She never read her horoscope in the paper, didn’t try to give meaning to the shapes of clouds, never gazed up at the moon and wondered how it got there.

Each morning now when I get out of bed, her reptilian leggings slither towards me in sapphire and aquamarine, her socks and knickers following in their wake. They crumple at my feet. Then, in the laundry basket there’s a clutch bag of hers, forgotten, quilted with a gold chain. Glitter in the seams and laying in wait for me. I fall asleep on the sofa and wake with her faux fur stole wrapped around my shoulders.

Arriving home late one evening, I find her velvet blue bell-bottoms dancing a jig at the top of the stairs. As I run up, they collapse in a heap. I can’t imagine my mother giving her blessing to this. The sight of the bell-bottoms would have terrified her. In the bedroom, the clothes have assumed the postures of my mother. They are all sitting there in the dark. I switch on a lamp but they remain. One poses in tennis gear, another modelling a butterfly dress she’d wear to host dinner parties, another still dressed in her nurse’s uniform.

‘Get out!’ I say, but my voice carries little authority. I leave them to their gathering.

I read online forums about riding boots galloping away. About emerald ballgowns waltzing round kitchens. About salmon shirts flying out windows. People start their entries with, ‘this sounds impossible I know…’ and, ‘you won’t believe this but…’

I load up the car and take three boxes to the charity shop. I drop off her tie-dye t-shirts, gardening shorts, sports bras. Two days later I find them piled up outside my front door, like I’ve been snowed in. I usher them inside – it’s cold out.

My mother wasn’t superstitious, but I am. I don’t open umbrellas indoors for fear of some unnamed horror. I routinely ask my tarot cards for life advice and kept the Ace of Pentacles under my pillow for three months’ straight last year, just for good luck. And, most importantly, I believe there are things baked into me that I can’t run away from.

One Thursday evening, the houndstooth coat sits beside me on the sofa, watching TV. I’m falling asleep to a documentary about the bottom of the ocean. Eighty per cent of the ocean’s depths remain unseen. The right sleeve of the coat brushes against my arm.

I put on the coat and do up the buttons. Her clothes never used to fit me. This coat is snug.

Deborah Torr is a writer from Croydon, South London. Deborah has just finished Dahlia Book’s writer development programme, A Brief Pause, was one of the London Library’s Emerging Writers 2019 and has words in Reflex Press, Fictive Dream and more. You can find her on Twitter, @deborah_torr.

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