I don't remember my mother very well.
I was twelve years old when my mother died of an illness. Her death was apparently sudden. The shock was so much that it made me sick, and I lost all of my memories from before and afterwards. My memories from before that feel like some sort of hazy dream, too.
When I think about my mother, only tiny fragments appear inside my mind. My mother wearing something white and floaty, out in the garden cutting flowers. My mother hard at work in the kitchen, wearing slacks with a pattern made up of small flowers and her hair wrapped up in a matching scarf. My mother reaching out a slender arm to pour tea into my father's cup.
But they all seem almost like scenes from an old movie, obscured by a fine veil of silk. I can't remember the warmth of her hands when she touched me. I can't remember us ever physically touching, like when she hugged me or kissed me, and I can't even remember my conversations with her. There's nothing but a video image playing on a foggy screen.
The way I see my mother is like an angel out of a storybook. Maybe someone murmured that old cliché of your mother has become an angel to me. She watches over me, but she never speaks to me directly.
I've often been asked whether I feel lonesome without my mother. It's not as if I've never imagined what life would've been like if she were here, but I was never lonely. I always had my father.
My orderly memories begin with the years I spent travelling across America with my father. Maybe because of my illness, the first six months or so of my memories are patchy.
For at most a year and at least a few months, we moved to the next place. We rented a small apartment, and my father went to work at a nearby university or hospital for only two to three days a week. On only those occasions, for my sake, a temporary maid or private tutor would come to the house. I didn't attend school on the basis of my body being feeble.
I'm sure it was because of my father being such an eminent surgeon that we were able to live such a life. Once I went off to medical school, I heard that my father's surgical skills were so fine that they might as well be called an art form, and that his judgements regarding the latest techniques and equipment were extremely accurate. It made my heart swell with pride. Yes, my father was my pride and joy. No - I suppose, really, he was my everything.
I think it was around the time when I was beginning to recover from my illness. I can't remember what city we were in, but it was an apartment on the second or third floor of the building. I woke up in bed, and found myself transfixed on the curtain fluttering in the breeze.
I heard a voice from the next room. The nurse who looked after me during the daytime was saying something in a low voice. I could hear my father's quiet voice, too. Finally, I sensed the nurse leaving. The door opened, and my father poked his head in.
"...Laura. You're awake?"
I nodded. He came into the room, standing beside the bed.
"How are you feeling?"
He reached out his hand and felt my forehead. The smell of disinfectant that followed him everywhere tickled my nostrils. I loved that smell.
My father's hands were slender and white. He had long fingers, ones that would make you immediately think of a surgeon.
"You don't have a fever. You said you didn't have much of an appetite? Tell me whatever it is you want to eat and I'll go and buy it for you."
I shook my head. My father straightened up, a worried expression on his face. He was a tall man. To me, still only a child, it looked like his head might reach the ceiling."Daddy..." I whispered, and he bent down, bringing his face closer to mine. To my eyes, it looked as if his face were falling towards me, filling my view. I smelled disinfectant again, and it made me happy. "Stay with me?"
My father nodded, the same worried smile as always upon his face. He pulled up a large chair at my bedside and read to me until I fell back to sleep. That is my first clear memory.
These same nights went on and on, recording my history. My father was present on every page, eternally watching over me.
Since we were always on the move, I had no friends. But as long as I had my father with me, that was all I needed. Whenever he didn't have to work, he would spend the whole day with me. Once my body got better, he took me along to all sorts of places. I was perfectly happy.
When we returned to Los Angeles, the house where I was born seemed to have undergone quite a bit of change. I was given a large and beautiful room, which made me happy. Each of the rooms so far had been "mine" in name alone, since we weren't going to be living there for long.
The room was decorated in accordance with my new tastes. I rushed into my father's room to thank him. It was the first time I had gone inside the room since we had been back.I came to a standstill. Hanging on the front wall was a large portrait. It was of my mother. She wore a deep rose pink jumper, her hands together, and there was a kind smile upon her face. Her presence was much bolder than it had been in my memories.
I spun around. My father stood straight upright in the corner of the room. A look of unease the like of which I had never before seen cast a shadow over his face.
"Daddy?" I called, and he took a single step towards me, as though hesitant somehow. "What's wrong, Daddy?"
Upon hearing my voice, my father's face softened with relief in an instant, and he walked over to me. Something about his behaviour seemed strange to me, but as he wrapped his arms around my shoulders I looked back up at the portrait.
"She's pretty, isn't she?"
Something in his voice sank deep into my bones. I nodded firmly.
Life in Los Angeles gradually settled down. I began to attend school. Nobody there knew me from before, and to them I was just a normal transfer student. For me, making friends with the other girls in my class was almost like a brand new experience, and I was a little worried.
But it didn't take long for me to grow used to it. Maybe me being the daughter of a famous doctor and not having a mother had something to do with it, but my friends accepted me. My grades were good, too. That was another thing that was thanks to my father.
One time, not too long after we had come back to L.A., some old colleagues of my father's came over to our house. I went out to say hello, and they all stopped talking all of a sudden, looking at me with wide eyes.
"...Laura? You're Laura, aren't you!" said a woman flirting with middle age. She hurried over, opened her arms wide and tried to hug me. I didn't know her, so I pulled away in shock. The woman stopped suddenly, looking over at my father with a stiff face. My father walked over slowly, standing between me and the woman.
"This is Marian Ceres. She was a friend of your mother's. She spent quite a lot of time looking after you, too."
I nodded and the woman smiled as if in relief, hugging me again.
"That's right, Laura. You've gotten so big. I can't believe it. You're the picture of Lenore."
Her arm around my shoulders, she guided me over to the sofa in the corner. It bothered me that my father's face remained oddly tight, but I let her take me along. Marian began to talk incessantly.
"Your mother was such a wonderful woman. We were all in love with her. I spent many a fun hour at this house myself, the two of us chatting away like schoolgirls. You were there, too, just a little baby..."
A tall, bearded man was speaking to my father, but he kept shooting frequent glances at me. I simply nodded at Marian's stories. I was, of course, interested in hearing about my mother.
Marian went on regaling me with tales of old times. About how beautiful and happy my mother seemed, how much she loved my father, how busy my father was with work but still showered me with love... Hearing about what my mother had been like when she was alive for the first time filled me with bittersweet emotion. I began to tear up. Marian saw this and smiled, her own eyes red. I decided to try asking her something I had been curious about for a while.
"Um... What was my mother sick with?"
Marian inhaled sharply, and she looked at me with wide eyes. It was the same look she had given me when she had tried to hug me earlier.
"Laura, you... Didn't Richter tell you?"
I shook my head ambiguously. I had tried asking him about it several times, but all he would tell me was that it had been a tricky illness. The look of anguish upon his face then deterred me from asking any further questions. I assumed that my father, as a doctor, must be tormented by the shame of having been unable to save my mother.
Marian's response was vague and mumbled. "...I don't really remember myself. It's pretty rare, and its name is tricky. You'd almost think it was in another language..."
I tilted my head in confusion. Wasn't she a doctor? How could she forget the name of the illness my mother had when they were so close?
"I'm not a doctor," Marian said quickly, as if reading my mind. "I'm just a medical laboratory scientist. I'm sorry, Laura."
Marian got smoothly to her feet. My father came over to us, almost like he had been watching.
"Well then, Laura. Time to say goodnight to everybody."
It really was past my normal bedtime. Everyone's eyes on me once more, I said my goodbyes and left the room. Several of the guests - in particular, the bearded man who had been talking to my father a few moments earlier - watched me with scathing stares.
Even after retiring to my room, I dragged my feet. Something about the visitors seemed off. It felt to me almost like they were somehow awkward while I was in the drawing room, their conversations and laughter sounding forced. When I thought back on it, I realised too that Marian's old tales of my mother, her friend, had been confined to the time when I was just a baby. It was almost like she was purposely avoiding the subject of my mother's final days.
And then there was my father's behaviour...
I quietly stole out of my bedroom and retraced my steps to the drawing room. As I approached the door, I heard drifts of a loud argument.
"...Are you just going to leave the girl as she is forever without ever getting her counselling!?"
I came to a standstill as if I'd been shot. The voice belonged to the doctor with the goatee. By "the girl", I knew he meant me.
"You said to me at the time, didn't you? That you would get it for her. You're supposed to be an expert in psychiatry, too, aren't you? You must understand the gravity of the issue at hand!"
There was a chill in my father's voice I had never heard before.
"No, you do not understand! If you did, you would have got the girl the help she required as soon as her body had recovered. How could you have gone all this time without arranging so much as a single counselling session for her? It's preposterous!"
I could hear a small, pacifying voice. It was Marian's.
"Come on, Birke, don't yell like that. Laura will hear you."
I tensed up and backed into the corner of the hallway. I had no intention of returning to my room, though. The voices inside the room grew a little lower. I heard the voice of someone I didn't know.
"Is there something wrong with Laura, Richter?"
"Don't be ridiculous."
Hearing the confidence in my father's voice sent a wave of relief through me.
"It's true that there's a gap in her memories. If you exclude that, though, she's completely normal. She's developing like an average child without any issues. She's settled in at school, and made friends, too. She's enjoying life. What could possibly require forcing her to remember the past?"
There was a commotion... I couldn't really hear what was being said, only faint bits and pieces of people in seeming agreement with my father. Then, albeit stifled, came a bold voice.
"It's not natural. People exist with a cohesive chain of memories. Laura doesn't have that."
"Yes she does."
"Before she was twelve? What about her memories of her mother, then?"
"They're not linked in. Perhaps that isn't an issue now. Perhaps she will remain normal tomorrow, and the day after that. But what about in ten, twenty years from now? Nobody knows. She's a ticking time bomb, and no one knows just when she's going to go off. You must know that the sooner you deal with this, the better.
"Look, I'm telling you this for your own sake. You don't have to bring her to me. Just find a trustworthy doctor and get her treatment!"
As he spoke, I crouched down and hugged my knees. I hadn't thought that my patchy memories were such a big deal. I was afraid. I felt like I had been told that I had an incurable disease. I couldn't stop shaking. That was when I heard my father speak.
"Laura is fine. I know she is."
His voice was quiet. It seeped down through my ears and into my chest. My frozen heart began to pump warm blood around my body once again.
"Laura is fine as she is."
Their yells overlapped, and I heard someone's footsteps approaching the door. I snapped to my feet, turning the hallway corner swiftly. I didn't hear the door open, but I was no longer in the mood for eavesdropping.
That night, and even afterwards, I kept thinking about it. When had I realised that there was a period in time I couldn't remember? I couldn't tell for certain, but I had asked my father about it once. And he... yes, I think he had looked at me with such anguish in his face. Don't worry about it was his response.
Once I got quite a lot older, he told about it properly. About my mother's illness. About my illness.
"You loved Mommy so much that you tried to forget she had died. And you did forget. It happens to people sometimes. It's not all that uncommon. Daddy loved Mommy, too. I wish I could forget."
I accepted his words without issue. I read similar things several times in books I read later on, too.
After that, I stopped talking to my father about it. His comment about wanting to forget too weighed on me. I didn't want to see him in pain.
I never stopped thinking about it, though. One day, I was determined to bring back my memories. No matter how much they hurt, I could take it. I wasn't that twelve-year-old little girl anymore.
I couldn't ask my father. I had to remember it for myself. There was no need for me to worry him unnecessarily. But somewhere in my heart, I clung to his words. I was normal, and nothing was wrong with me. My father's trust kept me going.
For whatever reason, our guests from that night never visited the house again. I wasn't particularly bothered about the others, but I wanted to see Marian Ceres again. That chance never came.
As soon as we arrived back in Los Angeles, my father became extremely busy. I felt adrift, my life so different from what it had been like up until that point. Either way, I hardly had any time to speak with my father.
Someone of my father's status would not ordinarily be on duty, but at times when he was concerned about a patient, he would stay the night at the hospital. Even when he didn't, he would come home late at night, leaving me to eat dinner at the table alone on most days. Once mealtime was over, the helper would go home, leaving me to spend a long night all alone awaiting my father's return.
When we chatted, my friends, hearing that I was left alone at night, reacted in different ways.
"Oh my God, isn't it lonely!?"
"Don't you get scared?"
"You really don't get scared, Laura?" asked a friend with long hair and docile eyes, looking frightened. "Just hearing a weird noise outside at night freaks me out. I tell my brother to come take a look, but he just laughs at me."
"The security company takes care of it, so not really."
"I don't mean like that. I mean, like, something supernatural..."
My friends all burst out laughing.
"That's because you're always watching and reading that occult stuff! You're such a scaredycat!"
"I'm sooo jealous, Laura!" said the loud voice of a friend known for her liveliness. "My parents never shut up at home! I try to watch TV and they ask about boring stuff like what happened today, and even when I'm in my room they make up some excuse or another to come in. I wish I could get just one night at home to myself!"
Many of my friends nodded.
"Don't you just wanna yell 'shut uuuup!' sometimes? At your dad in particular?"
"Oh, yeah. They normally don't know a thing about their daughters. Sometimes they just get this self-important look on their face and say something way off base."
"Like, 'Do you have a boyfriend?' So dumb."
Everyone knew she was already going steady with a boy from the year above.
"Your dad is the only one you have, right, Laura? I bet he never gives it a rest."
I think my quiet-seeming friend was more shocked by the rude comment than I was. In any case, I answered indifferently.
"He doesn't hassle me. I'd tell him anything even without being asked."
"You're so honest..."
"I can't believe it, though! You really mean anything?"
"Yeah. What happened, what I'm thinking about - all of it."
My friends' eyes all went wide.
"...Hey, uh, Laura, you..." the loud girl murmured in an oddly mean-spirited tone. "You don't have a father complex, do you?"
The friends seated with us stole glances at my face, their expressions a mixture of reproach and agreement.
"That's right," I said plainly. "Do you have a problem with that? My daddy is absolutely wonderful."
"That's a risky business," she yelled with put-on disgust. "And anyway, if he really is that wonderful, he'll be popular. You'll only get hurt when he finds you a new mommy."
I glared at her. My fainthearted friend looked at the two of us, seemingly on the verge of tears. I remembered then that her parents had remarried, and her current mother was her stepmother.
"...Maybe you're right," I said with a playful laugh. "But I'll go down fighting!"
A moment later, she shrugged and laughed, and my other friends joined in with apparent relief. They had taken the situation as me shutting down the situation with a joke. But even as I laughed along with them, I thought, Of course it's not a joke. My father would never remarry. He loves my mother and I. And now, only me.
Maybe, if someone else had heard those thoughts of mine, they would have assumed it to be classic teenage stubbornness. To me, though, it was the truth.
My life was quite different from that of my friends. The biggest difference between us was that I didn't have a mother, but as I grew older, I realised that it was more than just that.
Aside from a couple of maids, we employed no staff. I had no other relatives. Despite my father's social status, he had virtually no social life. In other words, aside from the bare minimum of a social life that was required of us, it was just the two of us in the whole world. Things were just as they had been before coming back to Los Angeles - and, just like I had been before coming back to Los Angeles, I was satisfied with my life.
While I was in high school, I never ended up going on a single date. It wasn't as if no one tried to ask me out, but I couldn't help but see the boys in my year as children.
Even after giving up on L.A. as my father told me and moving on to a university in San Francisco, I staunchly declined any attempts to lure me out on a date. My friends whispered amongst themselves, wondering if I had a boyfriend in L.A. whenever we had a break and I sped home in my car. I never denied it. That was exactly what I wanted.
Sometimes, my father seemed troubled by my behaviour. It wasn't like he was intentionally avoiding me, exactly, but every time I went home he would say to me meekly, "You should be living by yourself."
It didn't bother me, though. I knew my father said such things not because I was in his way, but out of worry for me. I would look at him, his face slightly haggard since I left, and say firmly, "You can try to get rid of me if you like, Daddy, but it won't work. You're popular with the ladies, so I have to keep an eye on you for Mommy."
My father, the shadows in his cheeks plainly deeper than before, gave me a wry and ever-weakening smile. I was worried about him, too. He had nothing left but work. If I wasn't there, he'd probably overwork himself and get sick.
My father needed me, too. I knew he did without question.
I had just one memento left of my mother's. It was a blue compact my father had apparently given to my mother as a present a long time ago. I gazed at my face in its small mirror, said to look just like that of my mother, and spoke.
"Hey, Mommy. I love Daddy. I decided to go to medical school so I could become a doctor just like him and help him out with work. I plan on being with Daddy forever. You'd allow it if you were me, right, Mommy?"
The blue-eyed and yellow-haired face within nodded back kindly.