Established (Claire Hopple)

We’d received some information. Dr. Berardinelli had stopped believing in the practice of medicine, and as a result, she had run away from home. 

She is walking amok along the edge of our city somewhere, just like she pretended to do as a child (but without the bandana tied to the end of a stick). 

The only thing left to do is follow her.

Sure, we are her children and she technically ran away from us. But this is not about us. We are not spurned so much as willing to hold secret meetings undercover. We know exactly what we’re doing. We are prepared for situations that don’t even exist.

She’s in the mafia, undoubtedly. Or maybe she’s living a double life and prefers her other set of family members. We think it would behoove her to casually flee to the jungle where she could kill animals for sport.

Under the guise of pedestrians, we do some recon. We convene at a decommissioned corner phone booth, the one perched atop the main thoroughfares. 

Our findings indicate she has been picking various locks around town unaccompanied.

Her colleagues arrange an assortment of pamphlets in each of their waiting rooms and ruminate on how to lure all her former patients. They speculate on what she has to say about running away from home as a grown woman. That’s the medical community for you.

We get kicked out of the local deli right after we find our mother swabbing her becrumbed lips with a flimsy napkin. 

A stranger had stolen her regular table. As she approached him, her mouth made an indecipherable, embarrassing noise instead of the customary words and phrases. She carried her shame in the same way she’d seen patients do. We took it as a code to decipher.

We chide ourselves for not looking here first. Is there any other haven than a sandwich shop? 

This is what should’ve happened with our mother: She decides to marry the stranger who took her seat. She offers him a hug of reconciliation, which spooks him into the next county. She becomes a successful inventor behind our backs. She designs a wall that can talk so that wallflowers can be asked deep questions without having to disrupt their troubled inner workings.

This is what really happens: Our class hosts a pizza party to raise funds. They name a park after her despite her abandonment of them. She really does become a mobster just like we thought. She folds t-shirts at a store in the mall as a cover.

“I’m established now,” she says, feeling not quite established. “This is the life I’ve chosen.”

She moves back in with us. We help her fold shirts sometimes. We know our way around a food court. 

Our zeal for mysteries and deli sandwiches will never die, no matter how much we want it to. Nobody can stop us––not even ourselves. 

And in this new life, our mother can be as uncertain of her judgment as she needs to be.


Claire Hopple is the author of five books. Her fiction has appeared in Wigleaf, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Peach Mag, Forever Mag, and others. She grew up in the woods of Western PA and currently lives in Asheville, NC. 


image: Amateur photographer and author Andrea Damic (Sydney, Australia) has words published or forthcoming in 50-Word Stories, Paragraph Planet, The Dribble Drabble Review, 50 Give or Take (Vine Leaves Press) Anthology, Spillwords, The Centifictionist, The Piker Press and elsewhere with her art featuring or forthcoming in Rejection Letters, Door Is A Jar, Fusion Art’s Exhibitions, Welter at the University of Baltimore and elsewhere. You can find her on TW @DamicAndrea or