In the dark of the morning, I sit in the cold, listening to the faraway, echoing horn of a train. It’s 3:30 AM, my rising time—by habit and need.
My mother sleeps in my living room, slowly dying of self-neglect and petulance, and there’s nothing I can do. There’s nothing that her many doctors, visiting nurses, CNAs, and physical therapists can do. She makes her choices, refusing advice, urgings, instructions. She sticks to those choices. Rigorously. I’m just the maid. My voice doesn’t count, even if I am her only daughter…her only child. (She lost all eight others as fetuses, maybe by choice. I knew by the time I was four that she sure didn’t want me.)
Sipping coffee, waiting for the love of my life to phone home, I cast my mind inward, wondering at a woman who, my whole life, insisted that I “move.” And move I do, more than most, more than any of my contemporaries, except maybe Kathy. Three years ago, Mom moved, too. She was agile and fit. Then, due to her own choices of personal neglect, her ability to do so with ease and vigor vanished. At sixty-eight—did I tell you that I was a very late baby?—she became a maimed slave to a syncopated heartbeat—atrial fib. Now she lays on a bed, ordered to keep her legs up, and delivers me anger seasoned with pouts and, worse, self-pity.
My mother is, in her way, a prima donna—very vain. Yet, she is…or was…generous and caring, too. To and of others. (Never me; never my dad.) She cares for ‘her’ others a lot, especially her anthropomorphized dollies—thousands of dollies.
I keep thinking to myself—what will I do with all of those thousands of dollies, some worth ten thousand, each?
I know nothing of dollies, care nothing for dollies. I find them rather horrifying—porcelain, cloth, plaster, and plastic reincarnations of someone’s symbolically human ideal. (Are humans ideal? Even symbolically? …I wonder in doubt.) “You can tell the artist,” Mother will say, her delicate, model’s hands fondling a dress, a hand, a curl. She’ll line them up and point to the nuances of a particular artist on dolls that cost more, each one, than Dad made in a month. (After she bought them on time, he couldn’t afford the price of his heart pills.)
A friend suggests that I catalog them, then sell them on E-Bay. The very idea exhausts me. The research to price them would, alone, require a year of my time—time I don’t have with running a business and maintaining two households—never mind my writing, recording, and session work.
Then there’s Mom’s piles—decades’ worth of magazines and old newspaper articles, boxes of clothes bought at thrift stores and sales, yards of material waiting to be run up on one of her five pricey sewing machines. There are hundreds of books that she’s never read, toys still in boxes, foot lockers filled with embroideries. There’s hoards of too many dishes and vases and lamps; upstairs is that old wicker couch overflowing with teddy bears….
It’s a five bedroom house, filled to brimming with all of Mom’s treasures—old cradles and buggies, doll houses and miniature tea sets—and all of it’s covered in decades of dust. (She never cleaned house after Dad’s heart began failing—no reason, I guess.)
That’s just the inside. Outdoors, there’s the piles of old garbage, the broken down fences, the rotting car, truck, and trailer, this last a haphazard minefield inside containing a vast store of treacherous gardening tools. (I’d keep the gardening tools and fix up the fences.)
Another train’s passing, its horn dulled by the distance. My coffee is cold and so are my feet. It’s time to close the laptop and get myself started on chores, but I linger out here on the patio, outside in the cold and the snow.
My cell phone rings. I touch the headpiece I wear to hear hubs in my ear, his grumbling voice a relieving welcome.
He’s headed for Canada, a load full of giant, cumbersome coils. He asks after me, then requests some safe truck routes through cities in lower BC.
I oblige, ‘Googling’ the easiest routes. Then, to his question, assure him that, yes, the roof man will be here today to clear barn roofs of snow load.
Did I snowblow the driveway?
No, but I will.
Best do it before the temperature plunges to zero.
Did the dog’s blood work come back?
Not yet. It’s expected today.
I love you.
I love you, too.
In the dark of the morning, I sit in the cold, listening to emptiness. It’s 4:00 AM and time to get started on morning.
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