Mel Bosworth

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.