Avital Gad-Cykman


          My mother and I like reading side by side on the couch in her living room. That Friday, however, I found it hard to concentrate. She kept reading my debut novel without saying a word or lifting her eyes from the book. Only when the sound of a dress brushing against the door and the clacking of high-heeled sandals broke the silence did she look up.
          “Hello?” she said.
          I was speechless.
          “You should have told me you’d invited someone,” she whispered. “There’s nothing in the house to eat!” Which was, of course, untrue.
          The woman stepped in. Her large green eyes, set in an oval face made beautiful by high cheekbones, took us in with ironic interest. Her Chanel suit seemed out of place in the relaxed, informal atmosphere of home.
          My mother got up, slow to straighten, as the woman stepped forward in an elegant, determined manner.
          “Mom, um, this is Mother, the narrator’s mother, from my novel.”
          “Really!” My mother wrapped her robe around her own slender body, tying it in a way that disguised her small, though undeniable, belly.
          “I’m Mother,” the woman confirmed, extending her hand.
          “Why does she speak with a French accent?” My mother whispered as if Mother couldn’t hear her.
          “Let’s sit,” I said.
          “I was born in France,” Mother explained, shaking hands with Mom.
          “Right,” I said.
          “You mean Austria,” my mother said, smiling and pulling her hand out of Mother’s firm grip. “Then we fled to England during the War.”
          “England; the queen’s land,” Mother confirmed.
          “I did try to take her back there,” my mother complained.
          They looked at me with two similar sets of eyes. Mother’s eyes were greener, actually. “It’s fiction,” I said.
          “Fiction! Right!” my mother snorted.
          They smiled at each other.
          “I didn’t mean to interrupt your, um, comfortable afternoon,” Mother said, surveying the place, her gaze condemning the chaos of books, pillows and sandals.
          “Are you a widow too?” my mother asked. “I didn’t get yet to her twelfth birthday in the book.”
          “It’s not an autobiography or even a fictionalized one,” I said.
          Mother shot a sharp glance by way of saying “I’m nobody’s fool,” but my mother seemed sad. “Are you so keen on looks you had to create for yourself a better-looking mother?” she asked.
          “You’re beautiful, Mom!” I said, close to tears.
          “Does she like reading at all?” my mother whispered to me.
          “Why don’t we all sit down?” I said.
          They kept standing, glaring at each other.
          “How can I not be interested in culture? Aren’t we the daughter of a literature professor and a ballerina?” Mother said.
          My mother couldn’t help but giggle. “Daddy and Mommy would have been very proud!” Her wit had sustained me through everything.
          “I wish she made Mom the professor,” Mother observed.
          “A feminist!” my mother cried out. “Who’d have thought? Now give me a kiss, Vitale.”
          Mother stepped backwards.
          “Have I disappointed you?” my mother asked.
          Mother crossed her arms around herself, confirming her own beauty.
          “Let’s sit,” I said.

Avital Gad-Cykman is the author of Light Reflection Over Blues (Ravenna Press, 2022) and of Life In, Life Out (Matter Press). She is the winner of Margaret Atwood Studies Magazine Prize and The Hawthorne Citation Short Story Contest, twice a finalist for the Iowa Fiction Award and a six-time nominee for the Pushcart. Her stories have appeared in The Dr. Eckleburg Review, Iron Horse, Prairie Schooner, Ambit, McSweeney’s Quarterly and Michigan Quarterly, and anthologized in W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International anthology, Best Short Fictions and elsewhere. Her PhD in English Literature focused on minorities, gender and trauma. She grew up in Israel and lives in Brazil.