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The International Writers Magazine
Life Stories

Dora and her Mother.
Gabriela Davies

The day that Dora was born was the happiest day in her mother’s life. Everyone; family, friends, neighbours, and even the birds that lived in the trees had come to see the birth of the new baby girl. The sun could not be there at the time, but snowflakes rested on the windowsill by her bedside. For years to follow, snow would always be by her side, and she would grow to comprehend that the magic of life lies not in the miracles of sudden fortune, or in the cure of incurable diseases; but in the small simplicity of wondrous happenings. She had been blessed with a happy life, and was reminded always, that you must do to others as you wish they would do to you.

"When I grow up, I want to be just like you", Dora once told her mother. She was only seven at the time, and already she helped about the house, laying the table as soon as her height permitted her to do so. The grown-ups that visited their home would say, "She’s her mother’s daughter, an apple off the apple tree," and she would see her mother smile, blushing slightly in admiration.

It was snowing on the morning of her eighth birthday; and Dora awoke with the sound of voices nearby. Her mother had company, which was unusual, and she ventured in to the kitchen to find out who the visitor was. As she walked down the stairs she heard the front door closing, and she caught a glimpse of her mother drinking tea.
"Mother, who was here?" she asked curiously as she entered the room. Her mother looked up at her "I’m afraid I have some bad news, Dora. Your grandfather stopped by to remind me of a deed that was made many years ago. This house was given to me when you were born, by an old friend of your grandparents. They told me I could raise you here, and this would be the place you would grow to call your home, but only until your eighth year."
"And what would happen then?" Dora asked, worried about what would become of their life.
"Now, you mean. We will move out and find somewhere else to live. It’s simple. To live my darling, is to constantly fight against the odds of defeat."

And indeed they would move out of the grand house, in less than a week’s time a small hotel room by the edge of town became the place that they called home.

Dora grew up in that hotel room. Both mother and daughter found happiness here, as they did in the most uncommon places. They found, after time, that they did not need the luxury of the grand house, or the comfort of a large garden to play in. To be happy, to have good food and a warm bed to sleep in, this was sufficed. Dora had never quite grasped why they had to move from the house, but when she questioned her mother all she would get as an answer was, "When God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window."

It took her a long time to understand what this meant, but she believed it as she did so many of the things her mother said. Religion was a tradition in her family, and her mother insisted on it. As for Dora, she thought it quite magical, and was fond of the idea of having someone watching over your every move. In her prayers she would thank God and her grandmother for protecting her. She would say: "goodnight God, goodnight Granny" at the end of her prayer, but we shall come back to her grandmother later.

The two had many possessions, mainly photographs and books, and her mother would read to her every night from the books, or open up the dusty photograph albums and tell stories of the people that Dora had not had the chance to know. Her mother was an only child just as she was, so together they were each other’s mother, daughter, sister, aunt, and every other relative you can imagine. They did everything together, and even though she was only eight years old, Dora felt that her mother needed her tremendously.

Every morning when the clock struck six Dora and her mother would awake, and to the sound of Bach’s Air in D major they would do their morning duties. It was her mother’s favorite song, and she always would listen to it, "when I hear this song, I sense my mother with me," she would tell her daughter, and Dora would listen hard and try to find a voice in midst of all the violins and pianos but all she could hear were instruments. She decided that that was the gift of the grown-up, to find magic in such normal things.

Life had played Dora a tough hand of cards, but the toughest event was still to come. On the day of her fifteenth birthday, she was given a letter written to her by her grandmother, a few days after she was born. Her grandmother was a beautiful woman, and had chosen to give her heart to the first man she had ever shared a kiss with, remaining by his side till the day she died. The letter was seven pages long, it spoke of life and was so rich in feelings and truth that from the day she first read it Dora felt as though that letter was her grandmother herself, and carried it with her like an omen whenever something important was to happen.

Sometimes, although she did not tell anyone about this, she could feel a unique scent coming from the pages, an odour of edelweiss, her grandmother’s favourite flower. The border of the pages had been delicately drawn, and each page had a ring of edelweiss flowers surrounding the script. The paper in her grandmother’s letter to her was a slightly different colour, a shade of pink, not the bright pink that you see in crayons but a much softer tone, like that of an old lady’s lipstick. This letter was a detailed description of the events preceding her birth, and she was finally able to understand her past.

"Darling young one,
It is with great pleasure that I write this letter to you, I hope it shall bring you some faith, and some understanding of what has happened before your arrival in this world. We are what our parents bring us up to be, but not only; we are all reflections of the world that has passed in front of our eyes and of the years that we lived through. You, my child, are the daughter of a strong woman. She will protect you and love you dearly until the day she dies. I wish you a long and beautiful life; I will not be with you for the duration of it, as God has chosen me to be by his side shortly. When you are older your mother will explain. But remember that I am always watching over you. And I will always love you dearly..

When she finished reading it for the first time she asked her mother; "what did granny die of?"
"She died of cancer, Dora," her mother replied. "Her friends, who own the house we used to live in, felt pity on us for they knew that one day your granddaddy would die and it would be hard for us to live on our own. So they loaned us a house. They were sympathetic to our condition, I had no husband, my mother was passing away, and my father could not provide for the both of us."

As her mother said this, Dora could see a tear coming to her eyes, and she reached over to hold her mother’s hand. They moved closer together, embracing each other tightly, the kind of embrace that is given only from mother to daughter; loving, protective, comforting. Dora said quietly "mother, you are so strong. Thank you for being here for me, I cannot imagine myself without you. And even when I am gone, when I grow up and move out, this will still be my home, my shelter. Whenever I am by your side I will feel sheltered."
Dora’s mother started to cry even more; it was as though a sudden overwhelming nostalgia and fear of the future had overcome both of them. "You are so young, only fifteen, and still I burden you with my sorrows. Your grandmother’s letter has made you grow so fast, my dear. Yesterday you were fourteen and today you turned fifteen, but you have grown since reading the letter, sometimes I feel as though you are even older than me, you are so mature and wise. I feel so weak sometimes."

To this Dora replied "only the strong have the luxury of momentary weakness, mummy. You are a warrior, a survivor, and with you I have learnt to survive as well." In the warm embrace they both remained until they realised nighttime had come and it was time to go to bed. Outside, it began to snow.

It was mid spring when one day Dora decided to go for a walk. Her twentieth birthday had been a few months before; and for the first time in years, for as long as she could remember, it hadn’t snowed. She was quite disappointed, and she blamed its absence for a series of unfortunate events that had occurred since then. A strong flu had left her bedridden all through March and April, and it was the doctor’s orders that she went for daily walks around town. On this day, Dora was by herself and she decided to take a different road, she did not like it when her mother was not with her, so as a sign of rebellion she changed her path. The highway took her down to the place she least expected to find, the old house they used to live in. How ironical of life, she felt, that in all these years never had she come by the house, and suddenly she should come to find it twelve years later.

The house was big and gloomy; it looked as though it had been empty since they had left it. The paint, which used to be white, was now an ugly shade of grey, not pretty and happy as it used to be, the house looked sad and worn, bitter and dead. As she stood there, staring at it for minutes that seemed like hours, she suddenly realised that there was something wrong with the house.

What was it? She could not put her finger on it. Truth be said, it was not as grand as she had remembered, maybe she had grown or it had shrunk. Her mind went back to the days when she would lie in the garden with the beautiful white snow that covered the grass surrounding her and she would spread her arms and legs around her, making snow angels. Her mother would laugh and join in too, and together they would play until they tired. They had been so happy here, but how? No longer did she believe in a past, what mattered was your future, look what her past had consisted of. As one grows older, she decided, it becomes difficult to just believe. Everything meaningful in her life, she decided, was worth nothing at all. She reached in to her pocket and took one last look at her grandmother’s letter. If her presence was still alive it would follow Dora around, she did not need to keep those tatty pages. Without hesitating she ripped the pages in to millions of little pieces and threw them at the house.

As she walked away, she did not look back to see the remains of her grandmother’s letter, neither did she realise at the time that this was representative of a much bigger fact, Dora was growing up. The torn pieces of letter fluttered to the ground, white and crisp, flying gently to their destiny like the snow to a garden in winter.

A few years on, Dora was a grown woman. The conversations she had with her mother so many years before had paid off, now every night before she went to sleep she would tell her own stories, not to a child of her own, but to the notebook that rested on her bedside table.

Her mother still lived on by her side, but in a quieter way. Her grandmother’s illness had been passed on to her mother, and so she lay in bed day after day, reading the novels that had put Dora to sleep so many years before. She was still a warrior, and a victorious one. Dora was proud of herself, proud of her upbringing.

In one of her autobiographical pages she wrote "when we left the big house on Elysian Fields Common, we became roofless. But finally we could see the sky." By her bedside she had a toy that had been given to her by her mother a long time ago, it was a snow dome. Shaking it and watching the snow fall over the image of the large castle gave her peace of mind, it reminded her of all her birthdays and Christmases, all the occasions when snow had been by her side. And she realised, every morning she realised a little more, that snow would always be by her side, and she had finally grown to comprehend that the magic of life lies not in the miracles of sudden fortune, or in the cure of incurable diseases; but in the small simplicity of wondrous happenings. She had been blessed with a hard life, but with the immense capacity to make it work out. She was a warrior, just like her mother.

© Gabriela Davies March 2007

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