One For Your Mother

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April 2, 2023 by The Citron Review

by Annie Marhefka


On Sundays, we clean, my mother and I, while the boys do yard work with our father. Bette Midler lends the soundtrack to our scrubbing; I turn the nozzle on the Windex bottle from squirt to spray and fold a wad of paper towels as Bette croons. I wipe the cleaning solution across each window in rhythmic circles to Bette’s cues. One for your mother, I sing to my Windexed circles as I move from room to room.


My mother plucks her eyebrows in front of the bathroom mirror, then pencils in the space where the hairs sprouted from pores. She is gifted a make-up mirror and promptly sets it out on the lawn with a for-sale sign. “It’s brand new,” I protest, but she says her mother used a mirror just like that one, and so she will not. Instead, she uses the large, rectangular mirror while she pats, dabs, and smooths color onto skin. I sit on the toilet and watch. I think she looks the same as her mother, squinting to pluck those tiny hairs as she arches what is left of them, but I don’t tell her. I watch as she swirls pink blush under her cheekbones in tight circles, the brush barely skimming skin.


Mother is in the kitchen, scraping grease bubbles from below the stove’s burner grates with a Brillo pad. Bette keeps time. I’ve made it into the kitchen now, making faster circles at the window next to the stove as Bette chirps, the beat picking up. The corner where we clean is tight, and Mom and I bump elbows as our hips bounce side to side, the scent of the blue ammonia filling my nostrils. Mom cracks the window I just cleaned, and the hum of the lawn mower trickles through the window screen.


Someday I will hire a maid to spray my windows clean, rather than wasting my Sundays. I will earn enough money doing something other than nothing, which is what I think my mother does. I will make memories with my children in fancier ways, like going to the pool, a place you can only go to if you have an expensive membership, or to Disney World, a place you can only go to if your mother isn’t afraid of flying. I won’t make memories with my children in the kitchen doing chores; I’ll let the dust and the grime build up, take over the windows and smudge the frames with a film of having-lived-here.


When we finish cleaning, Mom pops a cork off a bottle of champagne that is lodged between a carton of milk and a box of butter sticks in the refrigerator door. The champagne is cheap, but she pours it into her fanciest fluted glass, clinks the edge of the bottle over a juice glass for me. “C’mon,” she says, “a little post-cleaning celebration.” I take the glass, sip from the rim and let the fizz sit on my tongue, tasting of cheap berries and Windex.


I dream that she sews the Sunday champagne corks together, makes a skirt for me, one that hangs from my waist and flares out as I spin myself in dizzying circles. I see her hunched over her sewing machine, slim legs tucked under her chair, toe tapping the floor. I know it’s a dream even while I am in it because she never made clothes for me, only accessories for the house–curtains to dress the windows I cleaned, hanging sheaths of fabric as makeshift wallpaper, her staple-gun hammering cotton into sheetrock.


In my forties, thin eyebrows are out of style, and thick arches are in, so I make an appointment at the salon for a consultation. “An over-plucker?” the stylist knowingly asks me, separating what is left of my blonde hairs with her tiny spool. I can smell her raspberry lip gloss when she breathes. “No,” I lie, “I just have thin eyebrows.” She scrunches her lips together as if she doesn’t believe me and lays out her plan for changing my eyebrows, how it will alter my face, how much I will love it. I sign the paperwork and tell her I’ve got to go because it is Sunday, and my daughter is waiting for me to come home so we can sweep the hardwood floors with her toy broom and twirl around the house pretending to wipe windows.

At home, my daughter asks where I was and I tell her I was seeing a girl about my eyebrows. “But I like your eyebrows,” she says, reaching her chubby finger up to my face and touching the thin hairs. “Do you like mine?” She makes an exaggerated frown and I laugh at her scrunched forehead. “I love your eyebrows,” I say, but I am wondering what I will do if she wants to pluck them one day, if the trend tides shift again in ten years and I find her in front of the mirror with tweezers. I wonder what I will say if I see her trying to be like me, or trying to be not like me.


In the dream, I am spinning, the patchwork of corks woven together like a weighted poodle skirt, and though it must be heavy and stubborn as the grease on the stove, it feels as light as chiffon, translucent and gauzy, floating around me in circles, rhythmic and constant. I twirl and twirl, cork skirt sailing through the air as my head whips in a stop/start motion the way my ballet teacher instructed: find a spot to focus on, every time you turn, find it. Whip, whip, whip. I find my mother at the sewing machine, watching as I turn: whip, whip, whip. Her face and mine are the same: round, flushed, overplucked. All those Sundays we spent together hang heavy from my waist. I spin and twirl and find myself in her features again and again: whip, whip, whip.


Annie Marhefka is a writer in Baltimore, Maryland whose writing has been published by Lunch Ticket, Fatal Flaw Lit, Literary Mama, Pithead Chapel, and others, and her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Annie is the Executive Director at Yellow Arrow Publishing, a Baltimore-based nonprofit supporting and empowering women-identifying writers, and is working on a memoir. Follow Annie on Instagram @anniemarhefka, Twitter @charmcityannie, and at



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