At the facility, I walked her in on my arm like a guest arriving at a party
in her honor. Men and women in wheelchairs surrounded the doorway
and the reception desk beyond. The nurses looked up and smiled. Some
of the other guests were yelling at each other, and a large puddle of milk
spread across the floor.
“Did we have a nice outing?” one of the nurses said, using the we they
always used to suggest that everyone, residents and staff alike, were in it
together. My father remained by the elevator. I looked back at him. His
face conveyed sincere terror. He wouldn’t follow me down the hall.
“Thank you,” Mother said as I led her into her room and past her
roommate, then drew the curtain that separated their beds.
I leaned down to kiss her. Her books and photographs sat on the
mantel. The TV played the same show it had been playing when I’d left
her the first time, except now I could recognize how dispiriting was the
canned laughter from the rerun that played on the local cable affiliate.
Before, I had been so distraught that something about the laughing television had struck me as warm and reassuring. Now it seemed grotesque.
“You’ll be okay, Mom,” I said automatically. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
My father and I drove home in silence. We had agreed, without saying, that we would not address the predicament we found ourselves in,
and we didn’t need to, really. When we arrived home, Mother was there
again. She sat in her chair, and the yard looked in at her.
This time my father leaped toward her. He was furious. Ready, it
seemed, for a fight. But as he stood there in front of my mother, her face
gilded by the afternoon light, the distress and rage fell away from him
like pieces of armor. He knelt nakedly before her. I realized how tired
he looked, even his skin and his exhausted, unwashed hair. There was
nothing to say, and he put a hand on her cheek. She took off her glasses.
They looked like ancient paper statues of themselves, soft and crinkled.
“I need new ones,” she said. “It is hard to see with these.”
My father turned to the window, as if to confirm that the problem
wasn’t with the world in general. The sight of the trees and the innu-
merable swallows made me think of the careful arrangements we had
established over the last few months. No, she couldn’t stay here; that’s
what I saw when my father and I looked into the yard.
I wondered what she saw.
“Where are we going?” she said as we took her down to the car.