Written by Kloipy (Seth Dombach)
The warmth of the car had faded; but he sat with the keys in his hands; staring off to the grounds of the home. It had snowed during the day and a small layer covered everything, giving a fresh clean look to the world under the light posts. The cloud bank had broken up and he could see patches of stars between the dark gaps. Some of the trees had white lights strung along them, when he blinked they looked just like the stars, a distant twinkle. The parking lot was just about empty, but he had parked as far away as possible.
“Why the hell did I come here?” he said, his words coming out in a cloud of cold. He laid his head on the steering wheel and closed his eyes, building the courage to open the door and stand up.
He opened the door and a blast of bitter air slapped him in the face. Although his jacket was heavy he could feel the wind snake its way into each crevice in the fabric until it hit his chest, and finally soaking into his bones. He locked the car and started his way across the parking lot. His eyes started to tear up from the wind, making the world a blur of lights. He had to put his head down away from the wind and watched the rhythmic beat of his walk. He focused on the sound of heel to toe and failed to miss the patch of ice that had formed ahead of him. He went down hard on his back. He was 52 and a fall like this was going to keep him in pain for the next couple of weeks.
“God dammit” he mumbled under his breath. He looked around expecting someone to come help him up but he was alone. His back was already throbbing and it took him a minute to pull himself up. He looked back at his car, contemplating going home. But he knew his wife would give him a lecture and he didn’t need that on top of this pain.
He was more cautious on the way up to the door, calculating each step in order to save himself more trouble; or embarrassment. The glass on the doors was covered in old decorations of reindeer, snowmen, and Santa Claus. All of them with giant smiles which deceived what lay beyond these doors. He could hear a muted Bing Crosby inside, extolling the wonders of the happiest season of all. He sighed heavily and opened the door.
He stepped inside into the shimmering fluorescent light and Bing got clearer and much louder. The mixture of heat and the smell of the place hit him just as hard as the cold had. At least three separate television shows were blaring against the music making a mash-up of disjointed noise. As he was taking off his jacket he looked over at a woman in a wheelchair propped up against the wall. Her ventilator making its whooshing sound as it mechanically kept her alive. Her head was back and her eyes were wide, staring up to the lights. Her mouth was open and a dried up tongue vibrated with each breath. She didn?t look at him, and for that he was thankful. He started on his way to the main desk when he almost ran into by an old man when turning the corner.
“Where are the keys?” the old man asked him
“What?” he said sharply.
“My keys. I have to go to the store. And you have my keys. Give them to me. I want them.” The old man started to get louder.
“I don’t know what you are talking about. Excuse me” he tried to move out of the way but the old man persisted.
“I need to go; I have to go to the store. Give me my keys! I have to go! I have to go!”
A nurse came over quickly and placed a gentle arm on the elderly man. She spoke in a calm voice, like a mother signing a lullaby
“It’s ok Arthur; this man didn’t take your keys. Come over with me and we?ll go work on your puzzle again. Is that alright? Does that sound like a good idea?”
The man tried not to look but he had already seen that the old man had wet himself, a dark pool gathering on his brown corduroy pants. A grimace went across his face and he tried to duck away from the nurse before she could address him. He just wanted to get this over with.
“Sir, I apologize for Arthur, he just gets a little agitated sometimes.”
” ‘s ok” he spat out
“Is there anything I can help you with sir?” She asked him in the most polite voice
He looked down to the floor. “I’m looking for Laura Henderson, what room’s she in?”
“She’s right down the hall on your left, room 205. Visiting hours are almost through for the evening but if you want to stay for awhile we can let you. Don’t worry about it. Tis the season!”
“I’m not staying long.”
“I need to go!” Arthur said again
“Looks like you already did.” the man snapped at him. He knew he was wrong to say it but the words were forced out of him before he had a chance to grab them back. The nurse had a look of shock on her face and turned the old man away and started in the opposite direction.
He walked down the hall as quickly as he could, not wanting to go through that experience again. He watched the numbers slip by.230 to 220. 220 to 210. And finally down to 205. He knocked softly on the door and slowly opened it, peaking his head through the crack.
The room was lit by a tiny table lamp that cast enough light to cover only half the room. The bed was in pristine condition with a small quilt spread over the bottom. On the nightstand was a bowl of candy probably as old as his children were. A giant, leather bound bible sat beside a TV Guide from 2003. Smiling faces on the cover from a show that was cancelled years ago. A collection of stuffed animals sat on the dresser. And in a rocking chair sat the woman he had come to see. Her frail and tiny body going back and forth. She had her hands folded in her lap and she was singing along with the music very softly that he could barely hear it. She was smiling.
“Uh…hello.” he stammered and put a hand up to wave
Very calmly she turned to him and pleasantly said “Hello, it’s so good to see you!”
He was taken back for a moment. “It’s, it’s good to see you too.”
She smiled even brighter “Who are you?”
He felt like a fool. He felt he had let his hopes up and for no reason. “It’s me. Your son.”
“Oh. What’s your name again? I can’t seem to remember right now.”
“It’s Brian; mom.”
“Brian! When did you get so big? Where’s your father at, I haven’t seen him today?” she asked. Her face was puzzled but she still smiled.
“Mom, you know that dad passed away nine years ago.”
“Oh.” She continued to rock back and forth. “Come over here and sit down beside me, I have trouble seeing much past my nose these days!” she said with a laugh
He stepped over to the edge of the bed; cradling his jacket in his arm in case if he needed to escape in a seconds notice. She looked worse than the last time he had seen her. Her hair tumbled down the side of her head like a silver waterfall that broke beneath her shoulders. She had lost weight and he heard a low rasp with each breath she took. But she still smelled like his mother. Orange spice. He thought back to his childhood when he would sit on the floor beneath her while she got ready. She would splash a little on her wrists and rub it into her neck. He remembered the first whiff of citrus hitting him when she would wrap him in her arms. He thought that heaven would smell that way. Crisp and comforting. Nothing could ever go wrong in those days. He loved her and she loved him back. But now he didn’t want to recognize her, and the smell brought nothing but shame for him. He wouldn’t admit it to anyone but he was ashamed of her. Afraid to bring her home, afraid to see her. She wasn’t that angelic figure anymore. Someone had stolen her and what she had become; he detested. He hated himself for it but could feel nothing else.
She bent forward and put her hand out to him and he reluctantly took it. With his other hand he reached into his jacket pocket and pull out a card and showed it to her.
“Here you go mom, Merry Christmas.”
“Oh thank you!” she took the card and tried opening it. He fingers slipped around the edges and the card dropped to the floor. He picked it up and opened it for her. He had stopped at a gas station to buy the card on his way over to the home. It was a generic Christmas card with a typical Christmas tree with packages underneath. Inside was the standard greeting and underneath he had scrawled out ‘Love, Brain-Emily-Samantha-Erica’. He had placed a picture of his family, taken from his wallet, inside the card. The picture was three years old. He handed it back to her and watched her study the picture.
“There you are, so handsome! Who are they?” she said pointing
“That’s my wife Emily, and your granddaughters, remember?” he said with disdain
“I’m afraid I don’t. But they are beautiful. You are a lucky man! I’ve been so busy lately; I’m helping the church with their pageant again this year. They told me that I could help put up the decorations. I just love this time of year. It’s so festive! I remember when I was a little girl and I was so excited for this time of year. Most children couldn’t sleep on Christmas Eve, but I couldn’t sleep the whole month! But listen to me prattle on. Tell me what have you been doing with yourself these days?” she asked
“Well, I’m still working at the firm. Coming up on 20 years there now. Kids are both in college. Erica’s a sophomore; Samantha is going back for her PH.d. Em’s started painting again. I don’t even know why I’m telling you this. It’s not like I won’t have to tell it to you again. I could tell you I just got back from the moon and it wouldn’t make a difference. Emily is the only reason I’m here tonight. She told me I had to come see you again, but I don’t know what good it does either of us. Can you explain that to me?”
She went back to rocking again, back and forth. Finally she looked up at him, smiling again. “You’ll have to forgive me, but who are you? Do you know what time my husband coming to get me?”
He could feel the anger and the pain rising up in him. His hands balled up into fists and he clenched his teeth so hard he could feel the enamel scraping off. As if taunting him, a cheery rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’ started playing from above. And to his horror she started to sing along.
He jumped off the bed and stuck his finger in her face “How could you do this to me! You promised me that you would be there after dad died! Do you know how much it kills me to have to come here? I hate it and I hate you for this! You can remember every goddamn Christmas carol but you can’t even remember your own son? Look at me. Look at my face. I’m your son, mom! Do you think I like coming here; having to explain to you over and over again that I’m your child? It tears me up that I feel this way about you, mom because I love you so much. You’ve made me into something I never wanted to be. I don’t want to be this person but I can’t pretend that I’m happy. I can’t explain this to my wife or my family. Every time you ask me who I am, you cut away at another part of the person I used to be. I don’t have it left to give to you. I can’t keep coming here and doing this to myself. I wish you would just wake up and be who you were before but I know that’s not going to happen. I’m not going to force myself to watch you fade away!”
He stood above her as she rocked, his face puffy and red, every muscle in his body taut. She reached out to him and took his hands and slowly had him kneel on the floor in front of her. He went to the ground without knowing he was doing it. She turned his head and laid it on her lap. She ran her hands through his hair.
“Shhh. It’s alright now. Just close your eyes.” She continued to stroke his hair letting her motherly instinct take over “You know I have a son, he’s 10 years old and he’s starting to become a young man. He doesn’t spend as much time with me as he used to, as boys tend to. But sometimes, if he gets hurt or has a bad dream, he still sneaks up to my room and wants me to sing to him. I put his head on my lap just like this and I sing to him and he’s better again.”
With that she started to sing to him. The song he had heard hundreds of times up in her room late at night. But this was the time he would remember it for the rest of his life. His tears ran down his face and onto her dress as he took in each word as he knew it would be the last time. She was weak but her voice came through just as clear as it ever had. With his eyes closed he took in that familiar voice and smell. He saw her as he did as a boy. Her beautiful blond hair that always fell so perfectly, the way it made her look as if she was glowing. He saw her in the dresses she used to wear when his father would take her out dancing. Her elegance and her grace intact. He saw himself as a boy looking up at her again, how strong she had seemed to him then. And for the first time in years he felt unabated love for her again. The pain was gone for the moment and all that remained was the love for her.
When she finished, she picked his head up and smiled at him again. “Now, I don’t know if you have children of your own young man, but if you do, anytime they need you, just remember that song.”
“Thank you. I promise you I’ll never forget it.” He stood up and wiped his face off. “It was good to see you.”
“It was very nice to meet you as well! Take care of yourself.” She started to rock again, back and forth. He left the room, looking back at her for the last time. He left quietly.
It had started to snow again when he left. Large flakes fell to the ground; slowly building themselves higher. He looked upwards and let them fall on his face. It always looked like a different world when you look up while the snow falls down. The world becomes quiet when it snows at night. The stillness that makes you forget. He drove around in silence for a long time before finally coming home. When he pulled into the parking lot all the lights in the house were out. He stepped inside, trying not to make a sound. His daughters were home on break and he could just feel them in house. That wholeness, of his family, once again. He snuck into their rooms and kissed them both as they were sleeping. The same way he did when they were children. He got in bed with his wife and wrapped her in his arms and kissed her on the shoulder. It would be awhile until he fell asleep, but until he did he looked out the window. And watching the snow fall; he forgot himself as well.