10.11.2009

familiar sounds



The shift was not her worst ever, but it had its moments. She had been distracted more than once, but never where any procedure was in jeopardy of not being performed flawlessly. She was a professional and worked hard and stayed focused even when her mind occasionally wandered to the hours after the shift. She could hold two thoughts at the same time. Like today after lunch. She took Mrs. Hilder’s pulse, counting heartbeats in a quarter-minute, all the while she was wondering what she would find in her mother’s journals.

By five-thirty, she was deep in traffic, the workday’s worse, and she was staring into the sun. Her usual route was to drive against the sun in the afternoon. In the mornings she drove away from the beach with the dawn to her back. In late afternoons she drove east with the hot setting sun to her back. She never drove into the light. Except this afternoon as she inched along in heavy traffic toward her mother’s apartment, the apartment the two had shared for a lifetime.

She was not surprised to find a parking place in front of the building. It was considered her mother’s parking place until she stopped driving, and even then other longtime residents left it vacant out of respect. Parking in that spot was a familiar act. She had done it since high school. It was as familiar as the sound of the apartment key sliding into the lock, then the door’s creak just as it opened. She had heard those sounds for as long as she could remember.

The starkness of the empty apartment startled her a little. Even though she knew the rooms were empty, seeing it was just a little startling. She had not been there since she arranged to have the few remaining pieces of furniture given to charity and have the apartment cleaned. The walls were empty and washed and ready for the painters. The hardwood floor, just polished, lay like a cool wool blanket under the whole place, across the front room, down the hallway and into the bedrooms.

She closed the door behind her and took a few steps and stopped, turned slowly, quietly, looking at every space as if she were painting it then and there. The space was silent. The walls were a mosaic of faint rectangles where pictures had hung, some for many years, same photo, same place. She walked down the hallway glancing into her old bedroom, empty, and on into her mother’s bedroom at the end of the hall. In the center of the empty room was a old office files box packed with notebooks. The cleaning crew found the box in the closet and called her the day before.

The last of the day’s light streamed through the bedroom’s bare windows and fell across the floor and around the box. She knew the notebooks, knew what they were. She had seen them on her mother’s desk for as long as she could remember. She had seen her mother “catch-up” on a Saturday night, making sure all the previous week’s activities were noted. Who wrote and who called. Who was sick and who was better. The cost of groceries and if anything was on special. Where she and friends had eaten out and what they had. Who called for her daughter and who called upon her. When her daughter called her and what they talked about. Her life was there before her waiting to be relived.

She picked up the box, left the keys on the kitchen counter and pulled the door slowly shut behind her with its familiar click.

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