Matter of Certain Gravity
|| Gray cumulous barges flanked
the sky, and a deep note sang out from the top of my bottle as I rescued
the remaining beer from it. The birds had taken refuge, their song
silent, making me wonder if maybe they knew something that I didn't.
It was getting to be about time anyway, so I didn't worry too much
about the weather.
"Another beer, Sage?" Dad offered.
"Jack," I reminded him. "No thanks." He had
the tendency to call me by one of my brothers' names; I think he had
too much fun in the ‘60s.
"Right. Um, Jack, would
you like to have a few last words with your mother? We've still got
a few minutes before Dr. Reynolds shows up."
I've got a few more things to say."
Mom was sitting on a tree stump, listening to her brother and two
sisters reminisce old happenings from the optimistic 1950s.
"...And then Bobby ran down the street with that tree branch
sticking out of his –oh hi, Jack. Well...let's go check out
that buffet, huh?" He looked back and forth between my aunts,
who seemed happy to escape to the food.
I sat down next to Mom. She said nothing, and looked at me with watery
red eyes. They'd been that way for quite some time; I could hardly
remember what she used to look like before the chemotherapy. I thought
about the packs and packs of cigarettes that had slowly stolen her
voice away over the years. She started smoking when she was 12, back
when cartoon characters and doctors peddled cigarettes.
This may sound like a corny question, but what was the best day of
your life? No fair saying the say you met dad, or the day I was born.
I want to know about a different day that made you glad to be alive,
one that I wouldn’t know about or suspect."
She stared down at the ground for a few seconds, then raised her head
"It was the day... the day that your
Grandfather and I... we went..." She started coughing, a succession
of barks that grew in intensity, and finally seceded with a phlegmatic
growl from somewhere deep within her cancer-ridden cells. She took
a deep breath, and continued:
"We went shopping for
Mother's Christmas present... I must have been nine or ten years old."
She took another breath. "We drove into downtown Seattle... to
the big Nordstrom's department store... oh Jack, it was so beautiful!"
She brightened up, for a moment. "The lights, the decorations,
the music. All the happy people." She stared ahead into space,
recalling every last detail.
"Your Grandfather and I
walked all over the store, trying to find the perfect gift for her.
We looked in the perfume department, house-wares, everywhere. Finally,
in the ladies’ department I saw it. It was a scarf, the most
beautiful one I'd ever seen. The colors were like a sunset over the
ocean captured on fabric. And then, after we bought it, your Grandfather
and I went out to lunch in this fancy restaurant – just he and
I, no brothers or sisters. I felt so special, Jack, like a princess.
And when Mother finally opened the scarf on Christmas day, I knew
that she truly liked it. I know because she would always wear it when
it was cold, for years to come." She coughed again. My youngest
brother, Reno, came over to have a few last words with Mom. I kissed
her on the forehead and walked back to the picnic.
I thought about Mom's story. It wasn't the hippy story that I had
expected; one involving LSD and the secret of the Universe, but I
was satisfied with it nonetheless.