On the day my father is scheduled to die, my mother drives him to the hospital.
I wait at home, in the basement. Geraldine, from Shangri-La, down the road, lets herself in. She surveys my mess, picks up scattered bows and wrapping paper, tape, scissors,wrenches, hammers, puts them in piles.
I stop her, saying, "You can’t do this without supervision! You don’t know where things go!"
Geraldine shakes her hands in helpless agitation.
"We can’t clean now," I say, "my mother is due home from my father’s death."
Geraldine stands at the dryer folding laundry, as if it were any other day. But aching inertia puddles in my bones, making my hands, feet, belly and heart too heavy to budge.
A blue car turns into the driveway. "Here's my mother now," I say, and coming unstuck, I walk out through racks of photo-developing equipment. Geraldine follows. My father, on the night before his death, must have stayed up late preparing these. "These are for me," I tell Geraldine smugly. She looks puzzled. Worried.
I hurry to meet my mother, who comes in through the basement. My father comes in behind her. I inhale sharply, surprised. I study his profile and his flared nostrils, recognize him from the way he would look in his casket: dark, pockmarked, emaciated.
He frowns at Geraldine, hisses in the cracked voice of my estranged husband, she’s smelly, obese, retarded. Because I thought my father and his judgements would be gone by now, I don’t make Geraldine leave. But I'm afraid to defend her, he looks so fierce.
The photo equipment is not for me, but for my father, who is starting a new hobby. He packs his supplies and accessories. I accompany him, swarthy and silent, to catch a bus headed for the city. The bus is made of couches on wheels tied together, each jammed with people. I climb onto a trundle seat that comes out from under my father's seat to the side like a motorcycle sidecar.
Geraldine waves and waves as we drive off, still waving until she's a speck on the far horizon. A huge emptiness swallows her up. When we get to the city, my father gets off, walks away, and doesn't look back. I try to take his seat, but my hips are too wide to fit between the passengers.
They scowl, grumble and shove over to make room for me.
(Mary Stebbins Taitt---------- 080301)