She had brown hair, curled and soft. Michael remembers it as being the color of rich coffee. At least, he hopes that the memory is real. It might be something he learned from the pictures that he saved.
When he’d done something funny, and he cannot imagine now what that might have been, she would laugh like the world could never disappoint her. She had a lilting, light-hearted way of laughing just then, and Michael wishes he could hear it again. He remembers the quality of it more than the actual sound.
When he was young, he would ask his ritual questions when he missed her too much. When he was older, it would be when he felt too many parts of her falling away. “Tell me about Mom,” he’d say, and Lincoln would almost always oblige him. Sometimes Michael would settle in on his lap, back before he got too big. Later, Lincoln’s voice would rumble behind his ear in the dark, telling him everything that was important. What clothes she wore. How her hands were shaped. Whether she had pets when she was a little girl. What foods she liked best of all.
There was one question he had asked only once: “Do you think Mom misses us right now as much as we miss her?” He could feel his brother’s body stiffen behind him, before a careful reply was given. He never knew what was wrong about that, whether it was him forgetting that Lincoln wasn’t supposed to miss her so much—or remembering that he did.
In his loneliest moments he found comfort in his brother’s strong arms or over-muscled lap. Sometimes Michael felt guilty when that helped. He knew losing your mother was a wound that should never heal, and that no-one should ever fill the ache she left behind. He missed his mother’s softness and tender touch, and he knew he’d never have that again. But his brother’s fierce love helped him to survive, and he can’t deny that when it cost Lincoln so much. There was no-one to give Lincoln the care he gave to Michael. If Lincoln had been the younger brother, their lives would have followed a different path.
Now that Lincoln is in prison, Michael sees him every week. They talk about all sorts of things, some important and some not. No matter how badly he wants to, Michael never asks for stories about Mom. It is his turn now to give support, not to take it, and he knows Lincoln needs it as much as he once did himself. They discuss Lincoln’s cellmate, the food, LJ’s achievements, Michael’s new job. The world moves on without Lincoln, and that life is a tale from someone else’s book. Sometimes Michael sees forgiveness in Lincoln’s eyes, as if success is a betrayal all its own.
He thinks that his mother’s eyes, if he could see her right now, would look very much the same. He has studied them in so many photographs, trying his utmost to remember who she was.
The only thing he’s sure of makes the pain even harder to bear.
Her eyes, so like Lincoln’s, would forgive him for starting to forget.
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