• Gail Sulmers

"Amber's Mother"


Damn these stupid shoes! Kristin Webster stumbled and nearly fell as a three-inch heel sank into a crack in the sidewalk. She looked down in disgust. If she’d been thinking better, she’d at least have taken a moment to change before leaving in such a hurry. And not just because of comfort. She must look absurd, she thought, nearly running down the street, dressed in a pencil skirt and high heels.

She’d just met with a new client, and her boss insisted she dress this way for such meetings. The idiot didn’t even seem embarrassed, that he’d almost let his tax extension expire. He seemed confident that she could sort through his sloppy bookkeeping in the eight short days that he had left. And on top of that, he had liked the skirt a little too much. The meeting ran long, so she got home just in time to leave in a rush, to go pick her daughter up from school.

Thursdays were the only days that she had to be home on time to do this, so her parents could go to their bridge club. She hoped Amber would be ready to go. She wanted to get home quickly, to start work on this new project. The school was only a few blocks away from the home Kristin shared with her parents, so one of them always walked Amber home.

She heard a flop and a swish as a woman dashed past her, moving easily in sandals. The sound contrasted sharply with the crisp tap tapping of Kristin’s own footwear. This woman’s legs were tattooed with symbols and delicate calligraphy. Her tattoos were blue and simple, but they reminded Kristin of the swirls and abstract blotches of color that once decorated that other woman’s legs, six years ago. Kristin would remember those tattoos forever, after the marathon days that changed her life.

She paused outside the school to take a yoga-style breath. To think clearly. To be in the present. Amber would have lots of stories to tell. Last night she talked about two new girls who she hoped to be friends with. What were their names? She said her new teacher had two cats. Kristin herself once attended this school. She willed herself to stop, and to see the world the way she did when she was a child. Instead, in a flash, she found herself back in that long ago sweat lodge, as happened so often, recently.

In the dim light cast by glowing coals, back then, Shepherd Ziggy stood tall in the doorway, dressed in leather with amulets and feathers. He thrust a staff hard into the ground with a clicking, swishing sound. At his feet, people bobbed and swayed, repeating the sounds he made in a musical language, running up and down a scale, accompanied by a drum.

Towards the back of the tent, Phoenix intoned the chant. She sat cross-legged and barefoot, wearing shorts and a tee shirt. She too was reaching deep. Searching for a larger truth.

The hypnotic rhythm didn’t change as Ziggy stepped past a bearded man in a loincloth and a blond woman in a sari, to add more water to the firestones in the pit. Phoenix’s peace was startled when she inhaled a wave of steam. She opened her eyes and quickly closed them again against the sharpness of too much sage and mint.

She tried to embrace the burning in her lungs, sinking back into the rhythm of the chant. She struggled to clear her mind and then she felt an excitement, as though something important was happening.

And it was.

To her right she heard gulps and gasps for air. Phoenix’s spiritual glow was interrupted by an animal odor of pain and just-right-next-to-her fear, until she couldn’t resist its pull. She opened her eyes.

Sitting next to her, a very young woman, a teenager, was struggling to breathe. Her bare legs were nearly covered in brightly colored tattoos and she wore a loosely woven tunic that couldn’t hide the bulge of a baby, soon to be born. This was none of her business. Phoenix didn’t even know the woman. It was not her place to intrude, but something had gone horribly wrong. Ziggy continued pounding the ground, the chanting rolled on, but so be it. Phoenix reached over and touched the girl’s arm. When she turned, the girl’s green eyes were wild, and Phoenix felt as though a cold wind had trespassed the heat of the lodge.

“Are you all right?”

The drum paused for just one moment and then Ziggy pounded his staff hard, with authority. The steady beat resumed, but Phoenix stood and lead the girl out of the tent, into the cool, clean air of the Catskill Mountains. The girl collapsed, shaking and sobbing.

That all happened a long time ago.

Outside of that long-ago sweat lodge, the only name the girl gave was Soldier, but she clung to Phoenix like a drowning cat clings to a branch, screaming, as her contractions grew stronger. A midwife was called, who knew chants and songs that were supposed to guide the baby’s spirit. The contractions became stronger, again and again, and the sounds never reached the girl’s ears.

By the second day, the ferocity of Soldier’s grip weakened, and Phoenix insisted they had to get help. Shepherd Ziggy was opposed, and everyone had a story of the abuses imposed at hospitals, but the girl’s hands had become cold as ice. When no one else would help her, it was Phoenix alone who put her in the back of her car and drove fifty miles to the nearest hospital. The doctors told her she was just in time. The girl was desperately in need of fluids, that they gave her through a tube into her arm. They said Kristin had saved the girl’s life. And the baby’s too.

Phoenix stayed with Soldier through the whole process. No one would believe they were strangers because after every contraction the girl’s first action was to look for Phoenix, and then to clutch on with all of her strength. When the delivery was finally over, and they wanted Soldier to nurse her baby, she would only tell them to give her to Phoenix. She refused to touch the baby, but she was clear. Almost defiant.

“Give her to Phoenix!”

After they took the baby, Phoenix finally collapsed into a sleep that was barely broken by dreams. When she awoke, Soldier was gone. She had left a note, with careful handwriting that said “I want to give my baby to Phoenix. I want to make this letter a legal document. I want Phoenix to be my baby’s legal mother.”

When the girl disappeared, the social workers went crazy. They called the police, and no one would believe that Phoenix had no idea who the girl was. Phoenix showed them the ad on Craigslist that had attracted her to the sweat lodge in the first place. “Join me for a weekend of cleansing meditation,” it said. The phone number listed was a prepaid cellphone. The police took her back to the sweat lodge, but it was abandoned. All that was left was the fire pit and a few stakes in the ground that had once supported the tent. Phoenix couldn’t help them find Shepherd Ziggy, or Soldier.

Soldier remained a mystery, and the baby became a ward of the state.

Phoenix was still wearing borrowed hospital scrubs, and she hadn’t showered in days. When she told the social worker that she wanted to adopt the baby, the woman looked her over and didn’t try to hide her annoyance. She recited rules mechanically, regarding financial statements and home visits, until Phoenix finally stopped her.

Phoenix had not been born to a vagabond lifestyle. She came from a good family and she had once had a stable career. But then her not-so-nice husband had yet another affair. His gambling wrecked their credit, before he left. The rent went up. The dog died. And one morning she knew it was time for a change. She called in sick for a few days, and then she quit.

She began looking for a new calling. Looking for a purpose. Looking for a sign. She read books on meditation and new age religion and she gave away all but the most basic of her possessions. She renamed herself Phoenix, and began travelling, chanting Om Shanti Om: her prayer for peace. She lived with friends and later, as she embraced her new lifestyle, sometimes she slept in a tent for days. At first it was fresh, restorative and liberating. With time, the thrill of freedom got old. For a year, she’d been looking for a sign, and now she knew she’d found it.

She sat up straighter, and she assumed the air of authority that had worked so well in her old life.

“Mrs. Kingsland, I know how I must look to you. Like some irresponsible hippie who has no idea how to raise a child. But you’re wrong if you think that. My real name is Kristin Webster, and I have a master’s degree in accounting. I had a very responsible job, before I took a break.” For the first time, the woman seemed to be listening, and so Kristin continued. “Is there any way that you can help me? I’ll be grateful to you for the rest of my life. And I promise, I’ll do everything I can to be the best mother this child could possibly have.”

The woman sighed. It was complicated. But Kristin’s parents came through when she needed them. They arrived the next morning and they all took the baby home. At first Doris and George Webster were the foster parents of record, but soon Kristin found a job and was deemed respectable. Amber’s adoption was accomplished.

Six years later, Kristin Webster still lived in the house she grew up in. She had a good job, as an accountant, commuting on the train or sometimes working from home. She shaved her legs, wore business suits and applied make-up every morning. There were moments when she saw someone like the tattooed woman in her tie-dyed skirt, and she remembered suddenly that she once looked like that. But it was like watching a movie: detached. She’d become a mother, and now Amber was her life.

Kristin had a moment of panic when she saw that Amber wasn’t with the other kids. The teacher monitoring them waved to her. “Hi, Ms. Webster. Nothing’s wrong, but the principal, Mr. Fielding, asked if you could please stop by his office. I don’t know what it’s about, but Amber’s there.”

When Kristin opened the door, Amber was not there. She froze like a statue when she who was. Soldier had grown up. Her matted hair was gone, cut shorter and replaced by striking auburn curls that looked all too familiar to Kristin. She was wearing a yellow peasant blouse atop a swirly skirt with tiers of flowers and birds. The skirt almost reached the floor, but her distinct tattoos were still visible above her sandals. Soldier was offering her hand, but Kristin couldn’t move. She was staring at a face that looked exactly like Amber’s.

Mr. Fielding walked in. “Ms. Webster, I see you’ve met Linda. I am so sorry about this awkward situation.”

“What situation? Tell me what’s going on?”

“Oh dear. Let me see. Didn’t Linda explain?” Kristin shook her head.

Kristin had met Mr. Fielding before, and she always thought he looked bored and impatient. He had an animation that day that was new. He stood taller as he told her proudly, “Linda Lewis is the new media technician I wrote about in the newsletter.” Linda stared at her feet. “She’ll also be revamping the webpage and coordinating the school’s communications. We’re very excited about the changes!”

He didn’t seem to see the horror on Kristin’s face.

“When Amber started school Monday, Linda noticed how much they look alike!” He was bouncing on his toes now, glowing with excitement. “And they do look remarkably similar!”

His gaze shifted to Linda and it oozed sympathy. “I could see that she was upset, and at first she didn’t want to tell me why.”

Then Mr. Fielding revealed his surprise. “Six years ago, when she was very young, Linda had to put her newborn baby girl up for adoption. She checked Amber’s birthday, and it’s the same one! It seems that Amber may be that child!”

Linda continued to study her toenails.

The man offered the two women chairs. Linda sat down in one, and then he pulled his chair very close to hers. He leaned forward, ready for a long, comfortable chat. “I must say, it’s a remarkable story!”

Kristin remained standing and just managed not to scream: “Where is Amber? We need to leave right now!”

Mr. Fielding sprang back up. “Ms. Webster,” he sputtered, “I realize how awkward this must be for you... I didn’t mean to upset you… But can you just please tell me the circumstances of Amber’s adoption?”

Kristin stared at the man and she didn’t hide her anger. “How do you know she’s adopted?”

Mr. Fielding looks confused. “I think it’s in her school records… yes, I’m sure it must be... I just think it would be prudent to consider whether this could jeopardize your relationship with…” But Kristin wasn’t listening any more.

“Where is my daughter? I am here to take her home and that is all I’m here for! Give me my daughter right now!”

“Why, she’s in her classroom with Mrs. Hollinger. I’ll get her now…” But Kristin was already gone, running to the classroom where she found the child happily doing puzzles with her teacher. Amber’s face fell when she saw the fear in her mother’s eyes.

“Let’s go baby. Say goodbye to Mrs. Hollinger.” She grabbed Amber’s hand, and they left.

Hours later, when Amber was tucked safely into her bed, Kristin sat at the kitchen table with her parents. This was the same kitchen table she sat at six years before, explaining why she just had to adopt this one specific baby. It wasn’t easy, back then, to make them understand. She explained that it was her destiny. She told them about the poor lost teenage mother who chose her, alone, to care for her child. She told them it was a sacred trust.

The old clock on the wall was loud as the needle circled round and round, pinging each second as it passed. She’d been meaning to replace the noisy thing for years and it jangled her nerves as she searched for the right words. Her parents waited silently, as was their way. Kristin’s hands were shaking, and she took a calming breath. All she’d told them so far was that Amber’s birth mother had just appeared out of nowhere and was working at the school.

“The Principal introduced her like she was the Messiah, here to solve the school’s technology issues. Or maybe like he has a crush on her. Either way, he’s not about to fire the girl just because the two of us have a conflict of interests.”

Doris reached for her husband’s hand and Kristin could feel him squeeze it to reassure her. She felt alone, like the odd-man-out in this trio of adults raising her daughter.

“Are you sure it’s her?”

“Yes Mom, it’s no mistake.”

Her father spoke for the first time. “What sort of person is she Kristin? All you told us about her before was that she was young and frightened.”

Kristin worked hard to sound calm. “How do I know? When I met her, she was in a sweat lodge, going into labor!” Silently she added, and then she abandoned her own baby! “This woman is going to be seeing Amber every single day! How could she help but want her back? Six years ago, she disappeared into thin air. What if she decides to do it again, only this time she takes Amber with her?”

Kristin rarely cried. She believed in logic and setting goals that she could accomplish. She had few friends, she worked long hours and she devoted the rest of her time to raising her daughter. But now she dissolved into great sobs and moans that wracked her body and choked her brain. Her parents moved quickly to surround her. She felt her father on one side and her mother on the other as the three embraced. Her father promised, “I won’t let that happen. We’ll figure this out.”

Her father mentioned a lawyer who he knew. “I’ll call him tomorrow. He’ll know what to do.”

Kristin nodded. Of course they’d call him. But that wasn’t nearly enough. “I can’t take Amber back to that school until I know she’s safe.”

“Then we’ll just keep her at home for a few days, while we figure it out.”

That night, when Kristin finally fell asleep, she dreamed she was back at the sweat lodge. Soldier was there, holding a red-headed baby, in a swirl of steam. The child looked dead and when Kristin tried to reach her, she was stopped by a wall of swaying zombies droning a death chant. Shepherd Ziggy was as tall as a building and he stood in the middle of the group pounding his staff. Then they were at the hospital, or Ziggy was there again, or the social worker gave the baby to another woman. In the morning Kristin’s head throbbed and her stomach was in a knot. She called in sick and told her boss to find someone else to handle the new account.

Amber wasn’t happy the next morning. Her grandmother wanted to take her to a science museum, and she would have to miss school.

“But I’ll miss the special reader! Beverly’s mother is coming to read today!”

“This museum is really special too, and I want you to see it.”

While they were gone, Kristin and George met with a lawyer. He assured them that Linda had no legal claim to the child. The letter she left at the hospital established that she relinquished her rights. However, he told them, so long as she didn’t harass Amber or the family, she had broken no law, and they had no legal right to ask her to stop working at the school.

Saturday, Amber went to a birthday party and Kristin stayed in the car, until it was over. All the other mothers left to go home. Amber was not happy. Then on Monday, Doris suggested they go to the zoo and Amber, who was usually well behaved, almost refused to go.

Kristin called in sick again, to spend the day searching for clues about Linda’s background. All she found on the internet was the newsletter, put out by the school. Linda had graduated two years before, with a degree in journalism, and last year she worked at a P.R. firm. Kristin found no criminal record. She was sure there ought to be more, so she called a detective, who said he would research it further.

Then Mrs. Schlesinger, the school counselor, called.

Mrs. Schlesinger said she understood that there was a family issue. Could Kristin, and maybe one of her parents, come see her, the next morning? Would nine o’clock work? Kristin hung up and told her parents about the appointment, regretting not having asked more questions. They were all frightened. How much did the psychologist know? Would Linda be there too?

It was September, and the next day was rainy and cold. The darkness of fall was in the air. As Kristin and George walked the short distance to the school, they were shivering under separate umbrellas. They spoke in whispers. Mostly, they were silent.

Kristin was remembering her life before she became a mother. She had no job to report to. No school principal held power over her. But she felt empty. It was a bleak time in her life, and it all changed, when she got Amber. She remembered how tiny and helpless Amber was and she would never forget her baby-smile, when she first saw her mother each morning. She acted as though Kristin was the sun and the moon. It was she, Kristin, who was there for Amber, and not Linda, who had just reappeared.

When Kristin and her father spoke, they said they are worried that they were in trouble for keeping Amber out of school. Would social services be called? What if Linda had told her version of the story first?

Mrs. Schlesinger was the same school counselor who was there when Kristin was a child. Once, when Kristin was in fourth grade, she and a friend were caught smoking a cigarette. This same Mrs. Schlesinger called a meeting with her parents. Kristin felt small again, as she entered the office.

Mrs. Schlesinger was old now, and looked far more kindly than Kristin remembered. There were pictures everywhere of smiling children, some obviously dating back over many years. The couch was worn and covered by a hand knitted afghan. Kristin saw books on the shelf with titles like How to Talk Turkey to a Ten Year Old, and Two Daddies and Me. There was a china tea set on the table with four cups.

After the chill outside, Kristin kept her coat on. Mrs. Schlesinger showed them a class picture she’d found, including Kristin, taken when she graduated after sixth grade. She was smiling happily at the camera. They chatted about old times, while Kristin eyed the tea set.

Then Mrs. Schlesinger said, “We’ve missed seeing Amber. She’s a delightful child. I think I understand the nature of your family emergency, but please tell me what’s going on.”

“It’s difficult.”

Mrs. Schlesinger nodded. “I know, and I’ve set aside the whole morning to hear the story. Please tell me why you’ve taken Amber out of school.”

With her encouragement, Kristin told the whole story. Her father held her hand. She began with the sweat lodge and ended with the meeting in the principal’s office. Whenever she stopped, the counselor waited until she was ready to go on. When she finished, Mrs. Schlesinger nodded.

“Well you’re certainly right. It’s a difficult situation. I can imagine how confusing it would be to suddenly meet Ms. Lewis again now. But it doesn’t quite explain why you’ve taken Amber out of school. Are you afraid she will reveal herself as the birth mother, and upset Amber?”

Kristin looked to her father, but he was no help. “Linda Lewis once disappeared without a trace, and she was gone for six years. What if she does it again? If anything happened to Amber, I don’t know how I could live with myself. I’m terrified! Can’t you understand that?”

“Yes, I do understand that. But Amber can’t stay out of school indefinitely. Yesterday, Linda Lewis told me essentially the same story you just told. So, I think it’s time that you met her.” Ms. Schlesinger picked up the phone and made a short call. Then she switched on a tea kettle, that was near her desk. “She’ll be here in a few minutes.”

Kristin didn’t have time to think because the door opened, and there she was. The two women stared at each other as Linda stepped into the room. She continued to grip the door handle as though she too, was ready to flee.

There was a long silence, and then Linda spoke first.

“Hello Phoenix. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for everything you’ve done for me and my daughter. She’s beautiful. Thank you.” The hand that she offered was trembling.

Kristin looked at her hand, but didn’t move. Her father stepped forward, also staring, and took her hand in both of his own. “Hello Linda. I’m Kristin’s father, and see what Kristin meant. You look just like Amber. It’s, well, it’s remarkable!”

This was too much for Kristin. Her voice was harsh. “How did you find us? What do you want?”

Linda hesitated, but she didn’t lower her gaze. “I’ve always known where you were. I read your driver’s license, in your purse at the hospital. You were easy to find.”

Kristin jumped up, as though ready to run, but Linda continued.

“I’ve frightened you. I’m sorry. I’m really grateful Phoenix, or Kristin if you prefer. I was in no shape to care for my daughter, and you’ve done it so well.”

“She is not your daughter! Not anymore! You gave her away six years ago. I’m the one who raised her and she’s my daughter now!”

Linda stepped back, as though slapped. She nodded quickly. “Yes, of course! She’s your daughter. I gave her up, fair and square. I’m not trying to take her back!”

“Then what do you want? Why are you here?

Now it was Linda’s turn to dumbly search for words. Mrs. Schlesinger rescued her. “Please sit down. Both of you. And please have some tea. It’s chamomile, my favorite. It will help calm all of our nerves.” She poured tea and they all sat down. Linda sipped hers slowly, before she answered. “I’m not sure why I came. But I’m not here to hurt Amber. I just needed to check and see that she’s OK. And I’ve seen that.”

Kristin didn’t hide her frustration. “Why can’t I find out anything about you? Where did you come from?”Linda looked at the floor. “It’s a complicated story. And it’s not pretty.”

Kristin voice started to rise, “Well how do you expect me to trust you? You appeared out of thin air and then disappeared. How do I know you won’t try to steal my daughter?”

Her father tried to quiet her, but Kristin wasn’t ready.

“What kind of a mother would I be if I just said sure, I believe you. You say she’s safe with you, so I don’t need to know any more than that?”

Mrs. Schlesinger was the one who answered. “You’re exactly right, Kristin. Linda has her reasons, but you deserve to know them and she’s ready to explain.” At the counselor’s encouragement, Linda told her story.

Her history wasn’t unique. It was about abuse and rape and a struggle to survive. Linda’s life had been a hard one, and she brought proof. She showed pictures of a frightened little girl who looked exactly like Amber, with bruises and a cast on her arm. There were legal documents showing foster homes. If it was anyone else, the story would have broken Kristin’s heart. But it was not someone else. It was Linda Lewis. And Kristin’s only thought was to protect her own child.

“I’m sorry to hear about your childhood. It wasn’t your fault, that you weren’t in a position to care for a baby. But that doesn’t convince me that having you in her life is good for my daughter.”

Linda had tears in her eyes. “I needed to see that Amber was OK. And she is. She’s in a great family and she doesn’t need me. If you want me to leave, I’ll go find a job somewhere else. I promise, I’ll never interfere in your life.”

Kristin almost told the woman to do just that. To go away, and to never come back. But she shook her head, and then she stood up and left. Amber returned to school.

Months passed. Kristin saw a therapist and took pills to calm her nerves, but she still had nightmares almost every night. Sometimes she lay awake for hours, afraid to fall asleep, and then she found herself back at the sweat lodge, anyway.

One night in December, snowflakes fell quietly past streetlights, transforming the schoolyard into a moonscape of snowdrifts. Spooky white shapes marked the places where there used to be cars. The yard was pristine, until the doors of the school’s auditorium opened, and a crowd of happy children and their families emerged. At the sight of the new snow, students rushed everywhere, eager to make their marks. Squealing and giggling children stomped and rolled in the white stuff while clusters of families and friends milled about enjoying the evening. The school’s Winter Festival has just let out, marking the beginning of Winter Break.

Kristin emerged, gripping Amber’s hand as the child tried to wiggle free. Her friends called to her, but her mother hung on tight.

“Let me go! I want to play with my friends! Why can’t you let me go!”

“It’s late honey. It’s time to go home.”

“Nobody else is going home yet! Why are you being so mean?”

Kristin held on, pulling her angry daughter away from the crowd and in the direction of home. As they turned a corner, Linda Lewis was in their path, wiping the snow off of her car. Kristin stopped short, but Amber waved and pulled her mother towards the woman. “Ms. Lewis! Ms. Lewis! Mommy, this is Ms. Lewis. She’s my computer teacher. Everybody says I look like her! She made that movie they showed, with Mr. Fielding dressed up like the Grinch! Hey Ms. Lewis! Merry Christmas!”

“Hello Amber. Merry Christmas yourself. And hello Ms. Webster. It’s so nice to see you.”

Kristin stood still, staring at the woman, and then she mumbled a greeting before she practically dragged Amber past.

“Stop it Mommy! What are you doing? You’re hurting me!”

“It’s late, baby. We have to get home.”

Linda was near enough that she must have heard Amber’s plea; “Why are you so mean to me Mommy?”

It was almost midnight that night before the house was finally quiet. Amber refused to get ready for bed, insisting that everyone else was still at school. She screamed that her mother treated her like a baby and for the first time ever, she said she hated her mother. She said she wished she’d go away and never come back. After Amber finally fell into an exhausted heap, Kristin rocked her limp body and changed her into pajamas.

Her parents couldn’t help but hear it all, so she went back to the kitchen, where her mother had made tea. It was Doris’s sign that she wanted to talk.

Kristin sipped her tea. “At the school tonight, her teacher told me that there was only one other person in the whole wide world whose hair was as red as Amber’s, and it was Linda Lewis! This is scaring the daylights out of me. Maybe it’s time to move. Maybe I’ll take Amber to visit her cousins, and I’ll think about moving to Florida.”

The next morning, Amber wouldn’t come out of the bathroom. She was crying, and she told her mother to go away. When she finally opened the door, beautiful red curls were scattered everywhere.

“What happened? Why did you do this? I don’t understand!”

“It was because of my hair! Now my hair’s gone. I cut my hair off. Now you won’t make me go away.”

Kristin didn’t understand.

“You said I had to go to Florida because of my hair. I heard you talking to Grandma. You said my hair scared you. I don’t want to go to Florida. I want to stay here with you!”

Kristin sank to the ground and reached for her daughter. She stroked the stubble left by scissors as she searched her memory. Then she realized what Amber must have heard.

“Honey, you got it all wrong! I love your hair. And I would never make you go away, no matter what your hair looked like.”

“Then why do you act so mean all the time?” Kristin stared at her daughter in horror. Her childish face was distorted with pain. “Why don’t you love me anymore?”

Kristin gasped for air and then pulled her daughter closer, rocking her as she searched for words. “Baby, I love you more than anything else in the world! Mommy has some grown up things she’s worried about. But I guess I have been acting crazy. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to act mean.”

Much later, they both stopped crying. Doris found a pretty hat for Amber and she made an appointment with her own hairstylist. At the salon, Kristin did her best to compliment the new look, but she was going to miss all those curls. With her new boy-style cut, Amber looked edgy. Not like a baby any more.

On the way home, they stopped for ice cream.

“Amber, honey, you know Ms. Lewis at your school? You know how everyone says she looks like you?”

Amber nodded. Her mother was talking slowly. Like she was saying something important.

“Well, there’s a reason for that. You know how when people are adopted, they look like their birth parents? That’s why Wendy looks like she’s Chinese, even though her parents aren’t Chinese?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Well you have a birth mother too, and it turns out that you look a lot like her. Linda Lewis was your mother when you were first born.”

Amber frowned for a moment, thinking. Then she looked relieved. “Really? Everybody says she’s pretty. So, I can look like her and I won’t be ugly?”

“Honey, you could never be ugly! Both of you are beautiful. And yes, you do look a lot like her!” She hugged her daughter, and said the words she knew she had to say. “Would you like to get to know Ms. Lewis? She really wants to meet you, when you’re not in school.”

Amber nodded. She was busy looking at her hair in a mirror on the wall, near their table. “I look like that girl in the Princess Diaries. Do I look like a boy? I don’t think I’m gonna like short hair.”

“OK then. I’ll call her.”

Amber put her hat back on, and turned back to look at her mother. “You know what Mommy? Ms. Lewis has a cat too. She showed us pictures. Everybody I know has a cat except for me. Don’t you think it would be nice to get a kitten?”

“OK honey. If that’s what you really want.”

The child stared at her mother. “Really? I can get a kitten? Really?” She hugged her mother, wiggling her joy. “Oh, thank you Mommy. Thank you!”

Kristin hugged her back. It had been a long time since Amber looked so happy. “Would you like to go to look at kittens now? I think the animal shelter might still be open.”

Amber already had her coat back on, and she was pulling her mother towards the door.

“Mrs. Hollinger’s cats are both called tabby cats, and they’re black and white with lots of little stripes. I saw a picture of a tabby cat with hair the same color as mine. I want an orange tabby kitten, and I’m going to name her Ginger.”

She’d forgotten all about Linda Lewis. She had something important on her mind.

“We can put a cat bed next to my bed. Sarah has a really cute cat bed that her mother made for her, but she says her cat always sleeps with her in her real bed anyway, because cats like to do that. Her cat purrs really loud and you can feel it when you hold him close. Wanda’s cat purrs too, but you can’t feel it so much as with Sarah’s cat. I hope my kitten’s real loud. I’m gonna take such good care of this kitten Mommy. You’ll be so proud of me.”

Gail Sulmers is a mother, a grandmother and an ob-gyn physician. Raised in New York, she’s spent the last few decades in a medical practice in Atlanta, Georgia, caring for the deeply personal needs of women. Most of her writing is about the evolving world of families and elders.

Gail counts herself a lifelong “travel junkie,” and her life experiences range from a youth spent hitchhiking through Europe and attending the original Woodstock Festival, to later attending and flying in aerobatic fly-ins, traveling in places that require armed guards and sometimes cruising in luxury. She has visited more than eighty countries while raising three wonderful daughters.

Gail is multiracial, a blessing that has allowed her access to more cultures than anyone else that she knows. She began to study writing late in life and aspires to become a published novelist. She has completed a novel, The Mandala Tattoo, about a woman in her sixties who struggles to break free from convention while remaining true to the children who she loves. This novel is looking for a home, and any assistance would be more than welcome. Contact sulmerswrtings@gmail.com


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