Thursday, December 10, 2009
End of the Line - #fridayflash
Eyes twitching from the wipers smearing snowflakes on the windshield, I leaned forward, following the head beams piercing a path through the dusk. At last I saw the mailbox marking our property. My economy rental turned up the gravel drive toward the antique farmhouse, pale against the mountain’s shadow.
Mrs. Snyder stood silhouetted at the front storm door. I imagined her arms draped across her ample girth, foot tapping on the pine-planked floor at my late arrival.
My boots crunched over ice-glossed snow covering the unshoveled walk. She creaked open the glass door, lips downturned. After months of her services I still forgot her first name. She looked like an Edith.
“He’s napping, Phoebe,” she said. Coat already on, she wound her neck with a fluff of purple acrylic. “I fed him an hour ago – meatloaf, baked potato, fruit cup. Notes are on the kitchen counter. See you Sunday. At four.”
Without waiting for a response, she lifted her roll-away and never-ending bag of yarn and bolted into the same snow-squalling dark in which I’d arrived. My thank you evaporated in the air.
I locked the heavy oak door behind her, then leaned against it. God, give me strength, I murmured. Help me get through this weekend.
The house smelled sour, like mothballs intermingled with sweat. The ponderous ticking of the grandfather clock trailed me down the photograph-lined hall leading to the den. I paused, as I always did, to view my life: pictures of me with Mom before she died: in the kitchen up to our elbows in flour, in the garden picking flowers, on her lap at Christmas. And the photos afterwards, the ones of me draped in baby-blue satin prom dresses, in mortarboards and gowns clutching sheepskins, me with Ben, disheveled but ecstatic after hiking the Presidential Range. I touched the smudged glass where our hands locked, then sighed.
The wood stove crackled and hissed. Daddy dozed in his easy chair, a fuzzy gold afghan covering his knees, one of Mrs. Snyder’s projects. He looked younger than his 64 years, at peace, not so tormented. Newspapers littered the floor around his chair, one folded back to the crossword puzzle, only a few answers penciled in. He used to be so good with words.
I collapsed on the couch and flipped through an old Yankee Magazine. The Great Ice Storm, Yankee Swopper, Cranberry Recipes, Soothe Your Colicky Baby. I stared at the pink-tinted cheeks of the plump infant who seemed to be smiling right at me. Oh God, babies everywhere, even here. I dropped the magazine to the floor.
Even though I knew it was only thirty year-old hormones fueling my baby obsession, the knowledge didn’t make the pain any easier. Trips to the grocery store tortured me; it seemed every woman had a child in tow. Even at work, parents pushing babies in strollers filled the hospital halls. But for now, Daddy was my infant, overgrown, needy and querulous. Weekends, when I returned home, I did as any mother did -- ate when he ate and slept when he slept. Thank God I didn’t have to diaper him, although that was only a matter of time; the course of his disease was relentlessly certain.
My stomach gurgled. I should eat, review Mrs. Snyder’s notes, haul my bags upstairs and unpack before he woke. I should call Kevin, let him know I’d arrived safely. Then again, I’d probably end up harping at him over his huge screw-up this morning in the OR, and I didn’t have the energy. I should do many things, but I was so blasted tired. I pulled the corduroy pillow under my head and stretched along the plaid sofa. For just a few minutes.
The baby from the magazine floated in my mind, reminding me of my dream, the one where I stand before an open door, infant in my arms, calico cat swirling around my ankles, green smudged against a band of purple rising on the horizon. In the dream, the sun always shines on us, a single focused beam, like a spotlight in a play. I often wondered: what was I looking at? Who was I waiting for? I grasped at clues – the cat, the mountains, the sunny open door – hoping they were portents of my future because I always felt so calm when I awoke.
The memory of the dream trailed me into half-sleep, projecting itself onto the hallway gallery documenting me and my past, my Mom, my… there were no pictures of Daddy. Not a single one. Because he was always the person who took the pictures.
The grief erupted hard and without warning. I crammed my face into the pillow to muffle my crying. After Daddy stopped being Daddy, there were no tangible reminders of his existence. I was the end of our line.
And I could not bear that thought.
Excerpted from PURE, a novel under construction.