- One or Several Mothers
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[End Page 106]
After installing my mother at the facility, we drove home in shock. My father sat in the passenger seat scratching his unshaven chin and spoke about the threat of rain in the cadence of a hypnotized weatherman. Our shock doubled or, I suppose, quadrupled when we found her at home in her white chair, looking out the picture window as if nothing unusual had happened. The weather had turned. The sky was as blue as her good eye. [End Page 107]
“Mama,” I said, “how did you get here? What are you doing?”
She had the same pale skin and auburn hair. Her blue pants and pink sweatshirt were identical to those she’d been wearing when we’d left her in her room only minutes before. And on her finger sparkled the same gaudy ring my father had given her forty years ago. Beside me in the doorway, my father grunted and nodded his head in a way that seemed involuntary, as if he were having an attack. I crossed the carpet and knelt, taking my mother’s hand. She remained turned toward the window.
“It’s the time of year,” she said, “that I like to watch the swallows.”
After a moment, she added, “Which is true.”
As though I would think she was lying.
It had always been her habit to watch the swallows. They lived inside old woodpecker holes in the dead oak that stood at the center of the yard. Every day they came in huge numbers, flocks of musical notes fluttering in the air. Inside the tree, Mother thought, there must have been an enormous cavity where the birds lived together. The other trees, all living, interested her less than the dead oak. She liked to sit in her chair and watch as it filled up like an office tower with its contingent of daily birds.
“But Mallory,” my father said, rushing to stand beside her chair, “we can’t have this, you can’t be here—we have to—or you have to—we just, you can’t—”
He couldn’t do it. Not with hours of practice could he have spoken again one of the many speeches he had used to convince Mother that for her own well-being, she had to move out and live in the facility rather than here in her house. His face constricted with the pain of it. It was not to be thought of, so he said nothing and stared out the window.
“Mama, I don’t know how you got here, but we have to go.”
She looked up at me with searching eyes. I touched her elbow, and, as if by magic, she rose from her seat and allowed me to guide her out the door and into the car. It felt like theater. We had done this same trip the previous hour. My father stood in the yard again and watched with sad eyes as I put her in the front seat and gestured for him to sit in the back. He wanted to object, but there was nothing to say. He had forgotten all his lines. Mother just sat there: she needed to be taken to the facility.
That’s where we had taken her things, I thought feebly. She belonged with her things. [End Page 108]
At the facility, I walked her in on my arm like a guest arriving at a party in her honor. Men and women in wheelchairs surrounded the doorway and the reception desk beyond. The nurses looked up and smiled. Some of the other guests were yelling at each other, and a large puddle of milk spread across the floor.
“Did we have a nice outing?” one of the nurses said, using the we they always used to suggest that everyone, residents and staff alike, were in it together. My father remained by the elevator. I looked back at him. His face conveyed sincere terror. He wouldn’t follow me down the hall.
“Thank you,” Mother said as I led her into her...