Before popping the top to take a whiff, I stood lit by the open refrigerator and turned the cold jar in my hands. I’d just returned home from two months at Mom’s bedside, helpless to keep her alive. And now my starter and I are weepy globs, a shadow of our bubbly selves, oozing the strong smell of alcohol.
I’ll save you, I whispered, letting the wet rye suck me under like quicksand.
In the Anna Rae Conan slideshow that orbits my head, she made sourdough bread when I was little, but it’s hard to be sure. She cooked, sewed, fixed, crafted, and grew everything. Papier-mâché. Ceramics. Candles. Decoupage ashtrays. Nude drawings and etchings. Macramé sculptures. Wire figures. Paintings in oil, acrylic, pastel, and watercolor. Barbie clothes that matched our outfits, down to pearl buttons and velvet trim. Ski pants for the whole family. Two fancy dresses for my Junior Miss farce. She hung wallpaper, laid flooring, tiled bathrooms, antiqued old furniture, and grew plumeria, cantaloupes, string beans, and broccoli. Her cornflake-crusted baked chicken was so crisp that as you chewed you could hear crackling behind your eardrums.
My heart says to simply feed the starter; I wait for a reply from Mom, that voice.
Only gardening and cooking — OK, and an underutilized knack for papier-mâché — rubbed off on me. I can do anything, though; A.R. taught me that. She was a teacher all right. Thousands of kids passed through her junior high classrooms during their peach fuzz years. Thinking of the influence she had on all these lives — people who don’t know she’s gone yet carry a piece of her with them — sparks another round of tears. Where would I carry my nugget of her?
Less water is what the starter needs to rebound, or so is the consensus among the online and collegial sources rallied for consultation. Beyond that, the only other agreement is frequent feedings during triage. But I can’t muster visitation that often; my raw grief is penance enough.