At first, we were not sure what to make of her. She was a capricious, freckled little girl with big, at times frightening, eyes, and she didn’t seem to belong in our home, swinging her legs and dangling her plush white slippers on the kitchen stools that were too tall for her, sticking her head out of the window with the fire escape, small fingers touching the leaves of the plants there. She talked about her mother a lot, and always called her that—mother, not mommy or mom or mama, but mother. Mother said to eat fruit for breakfast. Mother always slept until the afternoon on weekends. Mother hated pictures like that—she said, and pointed to the black and white photographs of the city we hung on our living room wall.
Her mother, Roxanne, was a thin and wild haired woman we were never close to, though shared a house with in college. She was the only last minute aquaintance we could find when our friend couldn’t sign the lease. At parties, she used to disappear for hours at a time, and then someone would discover her, crouched in some corner with a worn old book, rocking and reading aloud softly. She was strange, and her habits inexplicable, but she was beautiful and kind, and even in those days that offset a lot. We guessed about her, but most of the time we simply accepted that it was a part of her, part of being an artist. Some nights she used to stay up, frantic, painting beneath the weak light in the living room, face pale as a ghost when we passed. We lost touch after graduation, moved to new gleaming jobs in the city while she stayed upstate, still renting the same room with new housemates who were strangers.