She meant her mother's grave—my Noni, toughest broad I'd ever known, the one who loved me most fiercely. I lived near Noni's cemetery in New Jersey, but Mom had moved 2700 miles across the land. In spring, she wanted me to plant fresh annuals on Noni's resting place; in December, to lay a plastic holiday wreath; at Easter, to pound a palm cross into the ground; in fall to put potted purple mums in front of the stone where it said Josephine Marco.
Some days, some years, I did those things, stopping first at the nursery or supermarket with my two sweet and curious boys, then parking along the narrow-edged cemetery lane. There, I'd unload the older boy along with his bright green shovel, my hammer, a pink water can, and bundle the smaller boy into his stroller.
Some days, some years, we snapped pictures—me, hair astray, wearing a dirt-smudged too-tight top, and two smiley boys, not at all bewildered to be posing in that quiet, verdant place, next to a granite marker.
When my boys were nearly men, I found those photos in my dead mother's nightstand, and was sickened with a sharp stab of guilt.
Although I always said, "Yes, I took care of it," when Mom asked if I did the grave, what she never knew is often, I didn't. I hadn’t. Instead, the twenties went toward a toddler's eyeglasses, my therapist bill, ingredients for ice box cake—the bananas-graham crackers-pudding dessert Noni fed her grandchildren every Sunday.
I never confessed because it didn't feel like cheating, then. It felt like a kind of fierce love. Today, Mom is buried nearby, and I'm not so sure.