Edgar got down on one knee to tie his mother’s shoe. The fire hoses had left wet patches in the carpet. He crinkled his nose to keep out the stench of standing water. “I don’t see why you can’t do this yourself, Ma,” he said.
His mother sighed and bowed her shoulders like Atlas. “I’m just so tired from all of the excitement yesterday,” she said.
Edgar walked into the kitchen to inspect the damage again. There was a black scar from where the fire had leapt to the wall, an inky trail that led to the ceiling. As he walked back into the room he picked up a frame that had been knocked from its place on the china cabinet. He turned it over, and saw that it was his junior high graduation photo. The glass had split into an intricate web. He put it back in its place.
“Well,” his mother said, “thank you for seeing to me dear. I know you have to get back to work, so—”
“Don’t start that,” Edgar said, “you know what’s going on here, Ma, so cut out the innocent act.”
Fine wrinkles enveloped his mother’s eyes as she frowned. She looked her son up and down. “You’re getting real pudgy in the middle—just like your father.”
“Real nice,” Edgar said. He pulled a wicker chair from the table and sat it directly in front of his mother. He sat down, twisting his wedding ring as he stared at the soaked carpet.
“Listen, Ma, the building Manager said he don’t want you here no more. He can’t have his building getting evacuated because you keep forgetting your Jiffy Pop on the damn stove.”
“Oh, heavens, these people. One little mistake and they run you out of town on a rail.”
“It ain’t ‘one little mistake’, Ma. You could have killed yourself, you could have killed someone else—they got kids livin’ here and all.”
“Well, then, I suppose I move in with you and Delia.”
“Actually, we had something different in mind … “
Edgar reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a glossy, folded pamphlet. He handed it to his mother. It read “Golden Acres Retirement Community” in pressed gold lettering. There were pictures of seniors riding bikes, playing badminton, and knitting in a brightly-lit day room.
“Look, Ma, we’d like to take you in, but you know how small our place is, even with just the two of us. And this place, it’s real nice. I been there myself, just a few weeks ago—”
“Weeks?” his mother shouted, aghast.
“We all knew this was coming, Ma,” Edgar said, “how about you don’t make it so difficult, like always?”
His mother started a mournful sob, but no tears came from her eyes.
“Jesus, enough with the crying now. We gotta get going. I can’t stay away from the shop all day. I know this is all happening quick, but we gotta get you over to this place tonight. It’s just a few miles down the road. We’ll get you set up there, then I can come back with Delia and pick through your stuff. We can even bring you back here to decide what you want to keep and what you want to throw away.”
“I want to keep it all, Edgar,” the old woman snarled. “I want to stay in my home.”
“Well, that’s not an option you left for yourself, is it? That building manager, he wants to sue you. Only way I talked him out of it was to tell him you’d be gone by tonight.”
The old woman nodded. She rose from her chair, slouched like a teenager. “Fine,” she said, “but I want to pack a few things first.”
“I’ll help you load a few things, but not too much right now, because we’re coming back later.”
Edgar grabbed a plastic trash bag from underneath the kitchen sink and walked through the apartment with his mother. Much of what she owned was black with soot or ruined by water. They placed the family bible and her grandmother’s pearls into the bag, and several framed pictures, including the graduation photo in the cracked frame.
“Hey, Ma,” Edgar said, “why don’t we leave that one behind? We’ll get a new frame for it later.”
“No,” his mother said, clutching the frame to her chest. “I want this one.”
“Jesus. Have it your own way, then. You ready to go?”
She took a final plaintive look around her apartment, and then nodded.
The ride was short but silent. Golden Acres was a mile from the center of town, down a small gravel road that led into the heart of a secluded wood. The building itself looked pretty much like it did in the photos on the brochure, a short one-story brick structure with floor-to ceiling glass doors. Beyond the home was a long, green pasture surrounded by a chain-link fence.
At the front desk they were greeted by a round, kind-faced woman in teddy bear scrubs who introduced herself as Evelyn.
“It’s lovely to finally meet you, Rosemarie,” she said. “We’ve heard so much about you from Edgar here.”
Evelyn walked them past a day room, packed with seniors watching TV and playing cards, to a long hallway. She stopped at the first room on the left.
“This here’s your room, Rosemarie. I’ll let you get settled in. If you need anything I’m just around the corner.”
Edgar and his mother stepped into the room. It was as big as his mother’s living room had been. The only furniture was a small plywood dresser and a hospital bed.
“Look,” Edgar said, “this isn’t so bad, huh? They even said we can bring your own TV in here.”
His mother sat on the foot of the bed and stared at the yellowing wallpaper with a scowl.
“Look, Ma, I gotta get going now,” Edgar began.
His mother cut him off in an acrid tone. “Sure, just dump me off here to rot and go back to your home.”
Edgar’s face turned red. He stormed over to the bed and towered over her.
“I told you I gotta get back to the shop—we’re doing bad business as it is, I don’t have time to sit here and listen to you whine, when all I been doing all day is trying to find a goddamn home for you. Every day of my life I gotta worry about what you’re gonna do, and I’m goddamn sick of it.”
His mother began to cry and tremble.
“Oh, here we go with the crocodile tears, it’s always about—”
But she was really crying this time. Edgar swore to himself and walked to the door. He stood in the doorway with his back to her as she bawled.
Her tears stopped after a few minutes. She dried her face, and walked over to the plastic bag. She found the cracked frame inside and placed it on the dresser. As Edgar watched, she unloaded the mementos of her old life. When she was done he realized how little they had taken. The room still felt empty and sterile.
“You gonna be okay here?” he asked softly.
“Yes, dear,” she answered.
“Look, we’ll be back later. I can take tomorrow off and we’ll take you back to your place and go through the rest of your things.”
“This weekend will be fine, dear.”
“Okay, Ma,” Edgar said, and walked away.
Rosemarie stood in the center of her room. It wasn’t much, but she had everything where she wanted it. She looked again at Edgar’s graduation photo. She’d forgotten how young he’d been the year his father died. She walked to the day room, where Evelyn sat playing spades with a few of the residents.
“Excuse me,” Rosemarie asked, “am I permitted to go outside?”
“Well, we usually only go out at regularly scheduled times, but since this is your first day here I would be glad to take you myself.”
Evelyn led Rosemarie to a set of glass doors. She unlocked and opened them for her. “I’ll be right here by the door, if you need me,” she said as she lit a cigarette.
Rosemarie stepped onto the fresh-cut lawn in tiny, hesitant steps. The pasture glittered in the late-afternoon sun. In the middle of the field lay a small pond surrounded by cement benches. Rosemarie walked toward them and sat down. She watched the light and wind play on the surface of the water and tried to picture her new life. She untied her shoes and slipped them off. The grass was co
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