When we returned from my mother’s on Sunday afternoon there was a message from her on my phone. I had left my laptop at her house. I called her right away. She was apologetic, saying that she had given me too many things to take with me, that she’d made it impossible for me to be able to remember everything.
“It’s nothing,” I heard myself saying without hesitation. “I’ll just drive back down this week and get it.”
“Really?” my mother said. ‘You don’t need it right away?” She’d been ready to wrap it in yards of bubble wrap and send it Fed Ex. My mother who just went on food stamps.
I noted how easily I said I’d be back, the words coming out like they’d been waiting. “I’ll come after work on Wednesday,” the last day before my sister arrived.
“I’ll make us some supper,” my mother said.
And so three days after saying what I thought was my last good-bye and taking my last lingering look at the house, I am returning, alone this time, without husband or dog, just me.
My mother opened the door, diminutive now, she has shrunk so much, her back rounded with osteoporosis. But I notice her white, white hair and the childlike bob she has recently adopted. For a long time she wore her hair pinned up, but now it’s cut blunt and square to her ear lobes and it’s pretty.
I step into her small living room. It is more bare than it was on Sunday, closer to being empty. A small radio sits where the TV used to.
I feel tall and big in my mother’s living room. I start to take off my hiking boots as she turns towards the kitchen and then she turns back towards me. “Let me give you a hug!” she says.
I am surprised. She often bypasses hugs, or delivers them stiffly, but tonight she actually says the word and wants it.
It is still light out. I sit at the small wooden dining table that she and I bought from a thrift store in Narrowsberg about 13 years ago. It will be picked up by another second-hand store on Saturday.
I look out the back window, through the thin winter woods to the spread of lake that is a mass of brilliant sparkles, reflecting a sun that is going down. it is much more beautiful than a cheap acre of land in the most economically depressed county in the state has any right to be.
My mother and I talk of easy things. My mother talks. I listen and comment and ask a question here and there. I like the color she is wearing. Just a bulky woolen sweater and work pants, but they are a dark periwinkle/lavender, a color that flatters her. my mother, in her last decade or two, has started to wear colors very consciously and well and it fits with almost nothing else that I know about her.
She brings out a shallow bowl of cooked peppers – red and green – and onions, and the bowl is so pretty I wish I had my camera. It’s as if all the laws of symmetry are satisfied by this bowl and its contents. And again the gentleness of the bowl of food, its simple perfection surprises me. This is not where I expect to see such things.
“I looked up your town online,” I say. “It looks pretty nice!” I did look up the town and was pleased to see it has more heft than I’d imagined. But I can’t keep up this thread of conversation. It requires too much effort.
We eat. I make tea as I always do when visiting my mother, relieved tonight that our ritual is not over yet. But as soon as I drink it down I say I have to get going. My mind does not want to slow down too far. If I slow down I will start to say things that keep creeping into my mind like how she won’t see her daffodils bloom, or the lilac – grown so tall now from those stumps we planted.
“If you need help with the house or the renter, let me know,” I hear myself saying, me who has been so aloof.
She is surprised. “Oh,” she says, “that would be great. Thank you.”
We have things to put in my car – the flowering plant, the laptop, some candles. “And I’ll get a few logs from the woods,” I say.
My mother’s face brightens. “I’ll come with you!” she says, and I know we are both looking forward to those few moments – the short walk down to the pile of logs, picking up a few, putting them in my trunk. Something outdoors.
As I walk back up to my car, logs in hand, I feel the pull of this small piece of land – the two houses, nothing separating them, the one that used to be mine, for a short-but-long six months. I feel the land holding me, wanting me.
I put the logs in the trunk, my mother puts in hers. “Let’s go get more,” she says.
“No,” I say, “that’s enough.”
“That’s not enough,” she argues.
But it is. There is room for more, but something in me says no.
“Come check that you haven’t left anything,” my mother says.
I know I haven’t. I know she wants me to come back in just to keep me a few more moments.
And I’m happy to go through those motions. I glance around the bare room.
I hug my mother. “I’ll come see you real soon,” I say. I cannot linger. I just can’t. “Bye, Mum,” I say as if I were coming back in 30 minutes. I can’t bear to have it any other way.