Stories Born From Songs | Reading time approx. < 1 min.


Miriam de Hohenstein 20.01.2023

People say that the first person narrative comes with its own traps and shackles. From my point of view, we met at the day of her funeral. Some outsider may say she’s been with me in a way all my life. And she? Well, she may think we met once, briefly, before I was even me. But who is there to decide which of these stories is truest?

People say that the first person narrative comes with its own traps and shackles. From my point of view, we met at the day of her funeral. Some outsider may say she’s been with me in a way all my life. And she? Well, she may think we met once, briefly, before I was even me. But who is there to decide which of these stories is truest?

My mother believes it takes a village to raise a child. And in order to raise a female child, it needs a village of people born with vulvas - obviously. She thinks that way, in ways of archetypal inheritance, and as I was growing up with no actual representatives of her bloodline, it would require a whole cast of characters that could mould me into a well-formed person. She made sure I have a variety of role models to choose from: there was Susan, the ever-stoned head of our urban gardening project; there was the power-suit-wearing running-for-local-office lawyer-lady (her name is not Hillary, or Michelle, it’s Janaya); and Carlos, the white brazilian trans man, director of the local South America museum. I always thought him to be secretly racist. Once a week, we would gather for our so-called family dinners. All of us set up on the table that reached from our small kitchen until almost into the hallway. Squeezed together and slightly sweating, devouring hot food and candles burning. I remember our shared laughter and the way my mother would sometimes look down the table, stop at each face, savouring the love she held for each one. But still, there was something in her gaze, a little too much concentration maybe, as though she was searching for something, or maybe dreaming. Her absent gaze made me feel as though someone had slipped an ice cube into our warm cave. I would slip my hand into hers, squeeze, and she would come back, slowly.


I remember one night, cuddling with my mother in bed before I was to sleep. I asked her the same question I had so many times before. “Mum, please tell me about my grandparents?”

She sighed. Then she replied what she had always said. “Well, little wolf, there is no grandfather to talk about. He died a long time ago, before you were born.” When she would see my pressing eyes, unsatisfied, she would continue, “And no grandmother to speak of. That one decided to no longer be a mother.”

When I was younger and still believed in talking animals and caring trees, that had been enough. But I was growing fast, now literate and mastering multiplication tables. I didn’t want to be sold cheap anymore. I knew better. “Nooo mum, you cannot decide to no longer be a mother? When you have a child, you are a mother. Period.“

Her eyes turned hard. „There for sure are ways to do that“. It was a dead end, I knew. Out of fear that she would turn away, I tried smaller: „But then… why would she want that?”

“Because my actions did not fit with the story people wanted to believe about her.”

“What actions?”

She made a sound, half like a laugh, half like wounded game, and weighed her words before continuing. “Well, in her narrative, I have sinned. And because there was a living consequence, there was no way of redemption.”

“But in school we learned that Christians think there always is redemption. That God will always forgive.”

“Spiritually, maybe, yes. Maybe some God may forgive. But to the humans that believe in him, some things still cannot be redeemed.”

“Like what? ”

“Like the tales people tell about you.”

“Mum, you confuse me. Can you please just tell me what happened?”

There was a silence. Then she said in quick words: “I did something that she would not forgive me for. Because it changed what she wanted people to think about her.”

With that, she retreated into the snowy landscape I could not enter. I lay next to her, quiet, looking at the ceiling, then slowly reaching my fingers for hers, half expecting her to not reach for my hand or to slap it away. When she was out in the cold, sometimes a bit of the storm entered this world. But she took up my hand, laid fingertip onto fingertip and considered their shape. Rays of sun came poking out of her clouds.

„You know what’s funny. You have never met her. But still, the way you frown… and these nagging questions.” She laughed. “We also all have the same hands.”


The day of her funeral is mostly a blur and I cannot recall how my mother reacted to her death, even though I was already a teenager. The casket was open for people to say goodbye to. My mother and I came to see her before the service began, before my grandmother’s friends started arriving for the ceremony.That was the first time we met, when I had a face to add to the few squeezed out words. She did look like my mother. Or rather, my mother looked like her. Astonishingly so, as being cut from the same fabric. I reached for my mothers hands, that were mine and looked like the ones folded over the chest of the dead body. There was a snow storm trapped in that casket and in each of our chests.

My mother was the only descendant. And her prediction that, “that woman will give it all to charity, just to protect it from me,” did turn out to be incorrect. Still, my mother blamed it on her unexpected and early death, claiming she hadn’t sorted out her inheritance yet.

So, we were given keys to an estate in the far-off rural south. You could not reach it by train. My mother made jokes about spending half of the inherited money on the taxi drive from the last little train station to her village. The town was small, ducked half-timber houses and I could almost feel questioning gazes prickling on our skin, as we were walking the streets. Then, on the road leading out of the town, we reached the house my mother must have grown up in.

There was a garden, overgrown with vegetables after months of not being tended to, but you could tell that once it had been kept neat. The plants were planted in ruler straight lines and under the terrace roof, lined up like torture tools, was an array of tools to pick out weeds.

Inside, the air was stuffy. Lining the walls were tall shelves, filled with books. There were curtains made of expensive looking fabric and framed pieces of cloth, on which there were bible quotes stitched in old letters. „Be still and know that I am God“. My mother let out a deep sigh. She looked as though she wanted to run. I started rummaging around.

I found a wooden chest in which was filled with carved wooden animals. Artefacts from South America, as it seemed, probably bought for way too cheap. I knew them, Carlos had similar ones displayed on his shelves. My mother still wouldn’t join me.

„Mum?“ I remembered something from when I was a child and took up a big hat hanging on the banister. „Let’s be turnupstuffers.“, quoting Pipi Longstockings and inviting her to a treasure hunt. I was hoping to make it easier for her, turning this into a game.

My mother’s lips remained a single straight line. She kept looking around the room. When her gaze fell on me again, the straight line became a curve, turned down.

„Take that off.“ She lunged towards me and took the hat off my head. When she put it back on the banister, her fingers were shaking. Then she walked into the room, starting to examine everything.

Still struck by my mother’s reaction, I followed her, though carefully, not touching anything.

There was an old photograph of a happily smiling couple, freshly wed. It was the only picture I found. It made me think of that family tree project we did, back in primary school.

I had proudly pinned the picture of my mother, with her short hair and short dress. Then I had hung the face of my father next to hers, but a bit more distant from us, with his white hair, and his white-haired wife, and his two children double my size and age. I had asked him for pictures of his parents and of their parents and had added them accordingly, all beautiful portrait pictures of happily smiling families - like this one. But I wasn’t able to draw my mother‘s line. It ended with her.

This would have been the missing picture. The woman and man posing were so young, not much more than twenty years old.

I felt my mother behind me, laying a hand on my shoulder, silently asking for forgiveness. „That was the night she lost her virginity“, she explained. „Oh god, she was so proud of that.“

„And this is my grandfather?“

„Obviously. I think she never had another man in her live. After all, they were united in „holy matrimony“.“, she drew the air quotes very big. „and you know, Jesus once said: "a man will be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. They are no longer two but one…“. Or something like that. Can’t cut up your own body once you’re united, can you?“ I stared at my mother. I had never heard her quote Jesus before.

„Ah don’t look at me like that. I had to listen to that quote so many godforsaken times.“

I kept on wandering through the house. Behind the next door I found what must have been the office. There were posters everywhere, posters and posters of a woman, smiling almost aggressively at me. She looked like my mother. A different version of my mother out in nature, at a school, and in the company of a mother-father-and-two-children family. The banner of the conservative Christian party gleamed next to it. „Love, Peace, Protection of the Family“. „Re-elect our Mayor. For Six More Years of Value(s)!“. „Now Running for Regional Parliament: Our Force of Faith“. The line of posters ended sixteen years ago. It added up to almost make my age.

Taking a deep breath, I started to understand, finally. I looked at my mother and saw her eyes floating over the things that once made up this woman. She was far out, I could tell. For the first time, though, it appeared to me that the blankness in her gaze was not only icy. It was just blank space that I had not been able to fill with understanding. I started piecing the bits together: the garden, the wooden animal, the political campaigns. I reached for her cold fingers and she squeezed our shared hands.

People say that the first person narrative comes with its own traps and shackles. From my point of view, we met at the day of her funeral. Some outsider may say she’s been with me in a way all my life. And she? Well, if asked, she may have thought of a black and white picture, held in sweaty hands and presented with a cascade of tears. She may have thought of a hand held onto a thin stretched belly, a kick and her scolding tsss (was she even more disappointed when she felt me being alive under the palms of her hands?) - and decided that we had met once, briefly, before I was born, before I was even me.

That is the shackle of the first person narrative: We will never know what her narrative about all of this would have been. Maybe she had other reasons, that do not form a story with just this evidence, without her voice.

And the trap? Well, the trap is this: I lied to you. Now, as an adult, I see that I had known her before, her personality splintered into the different people my mother calls home.

She still hosts her infamous dinners. They all talk louder now, more slowly, greyed hair and glasses, but are laughing, still. Looking down the table, I start assembling some picture of the woman my mother has started telling me about.

This short story was written during the workshop Stories Born from Songs facilitated by the author Chimeka Garricks in October 2022.