Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 23.1 (2002) 152-153
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Marjorie Carlson Davis
Crumbs, dirt, a bit of grass litter the kitchen floor where a woman is sweeping. In her mid-sixties, hair tinged with gray, she moves like someone much older, stiff and slow. Even this simple task requires great concentration. Her eyes focus on the broom, back and forth, back and forth, pushing dirt into a small pile.
Pick it up. Something to pick it up.
She knows what she wants. It is metal, fan-shaped, and her daughter stands by the closet where it is kept.
"Fan," the woman says.
"Are you warm, Mother? Do you want me to put the fan on?" her daughter asks.
No, not fan. Dirt. Broom. Dirt fan.
She shakes her head, the words gone again. She feels a wetness on her face and stands motionless, staring at her daughter.
Linda. I know her. Name.
"What's wrong, Mom? You're crying."
The woman looks down at the dirt and points.
"You want the dustpan. I'll get it," Linda says. "Here, let me hold it for you."
The woman moves the broom again, swishing dirt into the dustpan.
Weep the dirt up. No, sweep the dirt up. Into the pan. Dustpan. I am sweeping.
She stops to touch her face. Weeping too.
She looks down at Linda, who squats at her feet. Linda always helped her hold the dustpan when she was a little girl. She liked to help her mother. The woman reaches out one shaking hand, touches her daughter's hair.
Linda. My baby.
Linda stands and rests her hand on the woman's shoulder. "Mom, why don't you rest? I'll finish this up. Why not go outside and sit in the sun?"
The woman moves through the opened door and seats herself on the wood [End Page 152] bench on the back porch. Sunlight touches her face, warms her skin. Wind rustles leaves on the maple tree and brings the odor of newly cut grass and the smell of something else, something sweet. Splashes of red, yellow, and purple brighten the yard.
These things. These sweet smelling things. These pretty things. What are they? Her fingers remember digging down into dirt. Her nose remembers the smell of earth. Her eyes remember the colors.
She wriggles her fingers, the knuckles swollen. On sunny spring days she turned over earth, kneeling on the edge of the grass, planting these . . . things, leaves, something like impatient. Impatiens?
Frustrated, she waves her hands, watches them tremble like the words trembling in her mind. After winter, what season? She can see it: a mud-caked trowel; green sprouts in the dirt; birds darting from tree to tree, their beaks trailing straw and dried grass. She rises and starts toward the yard.
Doing something. Out there in the farden. No. Garden. It's spring. Supposed to be doing something.
A ringing sounds from inside the house. She stops and turns back toward the window. She hears Linda pick up the phone and begin to speak.
"Well, we're getting along; we're coping. She has her good days and bad days. Today? Oh, so-so, I guess."
Linda's voice stops and lowers, but the woman can hear her still. "She's lost quite a bit. She can't do the things she used to."
The woman notices a change in her daughter's voice; it grows higher and shakier. She knows Linda is crying, and tears wet her own face again.
"Yes, it is getting worse. Sometimes she can't say anything. She just stands there and cries."
Sunlight fades behind the trees, blurring leaves into a dark mass that looms over the porch. Wind breathes through the branches. Growing shade chills the air, and the woman draws her sweater close to her body.
She hears Linda hang up, hears her sniffing, hears the swish, swish of the broom. She moves to the door.
My daughter is sweeping. And weeping.
Marjorie Carlson Davis teaches writing at Western Illinois University. Her fiction and nonfiction...