What It Said
I texted my mother the night before that I’d be at the house not too late and not too early. Cut from the dark sky bled a pastel pink that seeped up and over the mountain around 6am, which was better than before we set the clocks back.
I lay there watching the light push through the blinds. The light moved as if mechanical, elevatoring itself up the white walls. She was blinking next to me in a soft spiral of blanket. The cat had kept quiet this morning and was elsewhere, probably beneath the box spring or curled inside it. A little before 8am I worked myself free of the bed.
I made the coffee as I normally did, ate a banana, shat. She fixed herself a bowl of oatmeal and raisins and stood chewing between the curtains. I moved down the sleepy street to the corner store where I bought the Sunday paper from a large and friendly man who had tattoos and a beard and who was very soft spoken and easy to speak to. I told him to have a good day. Later I’d see him replaced by a young woman who wore glasses and smoked cigarettes on the concrete steps in front of the store, leaves and litter scraping past.
At the table, a thick and finished mahogany, we sucked brown coffee from familiar mugs and read the paper. I read the front page and she read the comics. Perhaps she’ll outlive me, I thought. The odds were in her favor at this table in this room, this crease that pooled with good light and coffee.
In our sneakers we ran along the backsides of factories that didn’t always function as such, these largely large corridors with red brick facades pregnant with small businesses, residences, artists with tall windows facing eastward and west—bony mountainous ridge to the east, lacy treetops to the west.
We ran and her face and neck were damp and pink and we spoke and breathed and the air was raw and heavy. I felt okay, she felt okay, she told me so, her hips and knees in agreement, though later on the staircase there would be some discomfort.
We ran by an old mill pond, water black and sleek. Black silhouettes of birds cut through naked trees, trees and birds both gathering inward for winter. I focused forward, downward, mindful of my foot placement, where the balls of my feet struck the blacktop, the guts of my knees quivering little today.
We completed the two mile circle and walked the rest of the way home, the cat greeting our entrance with small cries. I peeled off our damp clothes and covered her with a towel, then pulled myself into blue pants and a black sweatshirt. I drove over the mountain to meet my parents at the house.
My uncle, my father’s brother, had recently suffered a stroke. Felt like he got smacked on the back of the head with a baseball bat, he’d told my father who then told me. Pop showed me where he fell, where he peeled up the floor tiles as he kicked and spun in a circle, body half dead and useless, trying to get to the phone though unable to speak or howl or scream. Thirty-six hours he laid there thinking he would end there. But not so. A call for a wellness check brought the police crashing through the front door.
A nosy neighbor who had been watching us move in and out of the house made himself known. The neighbor was not a young man, his nose red and blown out, an alcoholic’s nose. He asked small questions of Pop who answered with a gentle seriousness and I stepped back into the house, closer to Ma who with a small broom swept dirt and dust from the walls, this house once lovely and sedate, now in an accelerated state of disrepair.
My uncle’s wife died a decade or more before, halting their plans for Arizona and desert air. He buried her with dirt and himself with work, slept on the couch, let all else languish. A dog, loved though neglected, died here. The children—a stepdaughter indifferent and a blood son somewhere in the Midwest, estranged and also indifferent—rattled on at their own pace.
Before the stroke my uncle would visit Pop on Sundays, watch him work on small engines in the driveway, smoke cigarettes, talk to strangers wanting cheap deals and free deals and can you fix this for me for nothing I bought it from you a couple of years ago. Pop would sometimes oblige them, sometimes bark them from the driveway like an old mad dog if they pushed too hard. I worried about reprisal but he didn’t worry or didn’t show it. Ma would watch the driveway through the kitchen window or try to block it out with books on the other side of the house which faced a head-high curve of brightly yellowed forsythia.
At my uncle’s house there was much to do. We arranged and rearranged and cleaned. My father measured things out for a wheelchair, noted where walls should be cut. We plugged in a microwave and Ma microwaved three slices of leftover pizza. Pop twisted open the blinds and we sat in the light and ate the slices from napkins. We drank water from plastic bottles. Outside the wind scattered rusty leaves down the street. The daylight was short but powerful in its brevity: It meant what it said.
Later Ma and Pop would visit my uncle in the nursing home, they would bring him hamburgers, a single beer. In his wheelchair he would pull himself around with a strong right leg, a strong foot like a snail’s foot. His left arm would remain limp and silent in a sling. He would tell my father he could have the house.
We readied to leave, locked the door. At my car Pop pulled money from his pocket, began to move the bills. I waved no, don’t be silly.
Five minutes down the road reaching for gum I found twenty-five dollars in my jacket pocket. I thanked them later with a text message. I took the turnpike to the highway and climbed over the mountain behind an old but strong engine. I minded the brake on the descent, flirted with the idea of drinking the week away. At the bottom of the mountain before a modest ranch house I spotted a thick and green lawn. I pulled the car to the side and walked out to its center. I lay down and soon a man and a woman came out and studied me closely.
Why are you here? What are you doing?
I’m resting. I’m catching my breath.
After a low discussion dissipated between them they needlessly apologized and then joined me, their hands I sensed clasped on the grass above my head, the jagged mountain at our feet ruddy with fading sunlight.
Mel Bosworth is the author of the novel Freight, the poetry chapbook Every Laundromat in the World, and the short story collection Camouflage Country, co-authored with Ryan Ridge. Mel lives in Western Massachusetts.