July 16, 2006

Excerpt from 'A Drive with Mother'

I've been holding on to this for a while now (since late April) and I guess that since I haven't had the time to do any editing I might as well put some of it up here. This is from the short story that I composed at the writing retreat that Keleigh gifted to me. Thanks again, my dear.

"Here's a picture of George and I in the old Ford, we tipped the gas station attendant well, so he was happy to take the picture for us," Ruth turned the yellowed photo album towards her son. "We were on our way to the Grand Canyon." Martin smiled and looked at the picture again. He'd seen it hundreds of times, but he'd never seen it more often than in the time since his mother had moved in with his family. She was getting too old to care for herself, and Martin wanted to make sure that she didn't die simply because there was no one there to help her if she fell, or if she needed food and the driveway was too covered in snow for her to get out.
"That's a great picture of dad," Martin said, and pointed to the next picture in the sequence. He knew that's where she was headed next, he knew what she'd say, almost as if he'd written the script she was reading from. There'd be the bit about how he'd forgotten to check the coolant in the car, and that would lead her to talk about how she never liked that car in the first place, it was too showy. They'd survived the depression, and now that things had turned around...
"You know, that is a nice picture, I've always liked that picture, it's funny though, because he didn't look nearly as nice about an hour later. He forgot to check the water in the car, and it got too hot. It started steaming up, it was terrible. We had to stop and let it cool down. It took him that long to cool down too, he was so frustrated," she paused, and pushed her tongue into the slot her missing front teeth had opened up. "I never did like that car."
Martin let her keep talking, even as his mind wandered. He loved his mother, but this was making him crazy. The weekdays weren't as bad because he was away from her during the workday, but weekends seemed to last forever. He'd never done so much yard work in his life. His wife, who stayed home to care for their two young children, put up with his mother, and even seemed to enjoy some of their time together. It was hard for her, because she'd lost her mother when she was in her thirties, and to see Ruth now was difficult.
Ruth wasn't the complete person that she was even as recently as three years ago; she was a simplified copy of his mother. His mother had once defended his sister from an enraged raccoon after his sister had stumbled on the raccoon’s litter of pups. His mother managed to grab the momma raccoon by the neck and fling her up into a tree while she grabbed Sylvia, his sister, by the waist and started to run off. That hero, that dark haired matriarch, was afraid of dust bunnies now. She told the same stories over and over, and they weren't even the most interesting stories. Even after he told her about the raccoons, his mother didn't remember anything about it.
It was his turn to defend his mother now, now that she was too far gone to remember that the toilet seat had to be up for the toilet to be useful. After two days of ugly messes and frequent baths for his mom, he just duct taped the seat into position. His kids thought it was weird, the dog thought it was great, and it convinced him that he'd made the right decision in not letting her live on her own anymore.
Her cough tripped him out of his thoughts, "Oh dear. Excuse me," she said as she put her hand over her mouth. "I must have swallowed wrong," she giggled, a withered little laugh that was more raspy than jolly, and then smiled at Martin. "It was beautiful, Colorado. He always said he wanted to go there again."
Martin nodded, "Yeah Mom, I know." His father was buried in Colorado. His parents had moved there from their home outside of Chicago after his dad retired. She'd lived in Colorado for the past eighteen years before he moved her back to Chicago to live with his family, but she seemed to think that they'd never left the Chicago suburbs. "Dad liked it out there. Maybe we can take a trip out there this summer."


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