I see her in my rearview mirror while idling at a stoplight. She sits in the driver’s seat of the black SUV behind me—cropped blonde hair, 40ish, hands at ten and two. The mother. Next to her sits a twelve or thirteen-year-old girl. Same blonde hair, though longer and it hangs across her brow and over one eye. The daughter.
How do I know one of them is the mother, the other the daughter? I know because of the look on the woman’s face. And I know because of the way the girl cocks her head to the right—a signature move that generally accompanies an eye roll, which I’m sure the daughter gave though I can’t see it from this distance. After the cock of the head, and while we are still sitting at the stoplight, the mother throws both hands in the air, and while looking out her window instead of at her daughter, she begins to speak, shaking her hands, bobbing her head, making her point. There is another eye roll from the daughter, and the mother drops her hands back to the steering wheel, bows her head for a moment, during which time I’m sure she takes a deep breath, and when she looks up, the light just turning green, neither mother nor daughter speaks again.
Pulling away from the light, I smile, not because I’m laughing at the two of them, but because I know exactly what is happening in that car. I don’t know if the woman works outside the home or stays home with her daughter. I don’t know if they live in the area or are tourists here for the holiday. I don’t know if her daughter is good student or struggles or if she takes gymnastics or plays on a soccer team. But I do know how that mother feels because whatever argument she and her daughter are having, every other mother has it had it with every other daughter. The frustration, the exhaustion, the guilt, the doubt, the hope, the pride. This is what I think great writers capture in their great work. They find those emotions and experiences that are universal regardless of our differences. And when that is unearthed, we readers enjoy great fiction.