“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
“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
“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,
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.