I awake in semi-darkness. Rod’s side of the bed is empty, and I know he has taken off for his morning walk, leaving me here to sleep off a little of the stress he knows I feel. I rise and struggle to open the dusty blinds, only to discover that vines climbing the wall have covered the window, letting in very little light. The trees in the heavily wooded yard are tall and thick. They hang over the house like a shroud.
I feel my tears trying to reach the surface, but I push them back with a promise that when I have completed this mission and am back safely on the road home, I will let them flow, washing over me like a much-needed rain shower, clearing away a little more of the debris still left over from my shattered childhood.
I throw on my sandals and cross the hall to Mum’s room. I peek in and see Mum, lying so very, very still. I wait nervously by the door, and finally I see her chest rise and fall. Satisfied that she is still indeed with us, I creep down the darkened hallway, the wood floor creaking with every step. The hall is as dark as it was the night before, and the light from the windows in Mum’s room seems to stop at her doorway.
Even though he had help designing the layout of the house, Rod’s dad had had the last word, just as he always demanded. I’ve often wondered if he ever regretted his decisions, especially of the paneling in the living room, the hall, and in the bedroom where we were sleeping. That wood seemed to suck up any light that might have trickled in from the outside. Even at midday, the rooms were very dark, the hallway, like a tunnel. The first time we brought the little girls here to see their great-grandmother many years ago, they became frightened of all the darkness and were hesitant to enter the living room where she sat, waiting to greet them.
I cross the living room into the kitchen. The light is a little brighter in here, but not much. The plastic clock on the kitchen wall says 12:40. I take it from the wall and discover that the battery has corroded. Mum has never lived in this house alone. At one time or another, all her children, with the exception of Rod, have found refuge here for some reason after they became adults. Surely someone could have taken the time to change the battery, for God’s sake! Now they are all gone, and Mum is here alone. There is no one here to tell me I have no right to do it, so I ceremoniously dump the clock in the trash. It will never be missed.
I finally find the coffee and put on a pot. The few coffee mugs that are left each have at least one chip, and I find the one with the least damage. I pour myself a cup, and decide to sit on the back patio to clear my head of the odor of the cats that permeates any room in which there are rugs.
I pause at the sliding door, noting that there is the carcass of a headless chipmunk on the other side of the glass. I opt for the front porch instead, grabbing my cell phone in order to check the time. I am shocked to discover that it is already 10:30. I would never sleep as long as I had if we were home. There, the sunlight floods our room almost as soon as it rises over the highest peak of the Catalinas, its warm glow welcoming us into a new day.
Rod trudges up the steep driveway, his shirt soaked in sweat from the humidity and his hilly walk. “Is Mum still sleeping?” he asks.
“Yes,” I reply. “I’ve made coffee, but you’ll have to get some Equal out of the glove box. Oh, and while you’re at it, could you please remove the dead chipmunk at the patio door? And hose off the area? While you are completing that task, I’ll go check on Mum!”
He gives me a rather squeamish look and goes off to find the Equal, and a shovel.
Mum has begun to stir in the hospital bed that hospice has provided. She sees me and smiles. “I thought I had dreamed you were here!”
“We’re really here, Mum, and we are going to stay with you for a while!” I tell her and give her a big smile, and a kiss.
She reaches out her hands for me to take. They are icy cold, despite the fact that she has been sleeping under a mountain of blankets, in a winter gown and heavy socks. I begin to feel a great sorrow, remembering the way she was when we were children, with her beautiful black hair and brilliant blue eyes. Rod’s dad used to say that there was only one beautiful woman in Edmonton, and he married her. He had brought her to Atlanta to live when Rod was nine.
I help her with her robe and into the wheelchair for a trip to the bathroom. After her morning ablutions, I wheel her down the darkened hall and into the kitchen. She wants to have her breakfast on the patio. I check to be sure the chipmunk has been removed, and wheel her out, grateful to be out of doors.
“I just love it out here!” she announces, smiling her “Mum” smile at me. “Could you get me a blanket, dear? The one that you made for me? It’s so soft and warm! I use it every day!” She has mentioned that knitted lap robe every Sunday when we talk to her by phone, along with a litany of every single thing I have ever given her in the last 25 years. How she remembers all of that, I will never know. What she has given me in return, she will probably never know.
I make her favorite breakfast of peanut butter toast, slices of sharp cheddar, coffee with cream and honey, and some fruit. Rod, all showered, and dressed, joins us on the patio. We both begin encouraging Mum to eat. She is painfully thin, a far cry from her strong, sturdy self, a woman who once thought nothing of climbing two flights of stairs, carrying a large, old-style portable television set.
Almost thirty minutes later, she has eaten two bites of a quarter piece of toast, and is again asleep, in the patio lounge chair. Rod and I sit looking at each other, the weight of what we are doing here pushing down on us in equal measure.
-By Judie, of somewhere in the Southwest.
For more of Judy’s work, check out her blog, Rogue Artists. Check back soon for more chapters from The Road Home! (5) more to go.