My mother, Grandma Helen, was the one that started me on writing poetry when I was very small. Thanks, Mom!
Locking the Door on May 1, 2008
I called you and you didn’t answer, as usual,
Then I let myself into your house with my key.
When I saw the back of your head
Tucked into a pillow over the arm of your sofa
It was the same as every other time you had fallen asleep waiting for me.
Seeing the little black curls in your now-thin hair
Your TV was on as always
“Loud enough to wake the dead.”
I called out.
Walked around the end of the sofa
“Oh, I guess you’re not asleep.”
I touched your throat at the pulse point
Knowing that there was no reason.
Your skin was cold
But you were lying in the same pose as always
One hand tucked over your stomach
Mouth open and eyes closed
Feet tucked up
The other hand on the thigh whose knee pointed away from the rest of you.
How many years had you snoozed on the sofa like that?
But this was the last time.
After I made the phone calls with you lying right there
I couldn’t leave you
But I couldn’t stay right by you.
I needed to think you were just asleep.
I went into the kitchen
And saw your supper dishes
Rinsed and in the drainer
And your leftovers in the fridge.
The gravy carefully saved from your “treat”,
From your Salisbury steak TV dinner that you loved so much
And a small bite of mashed potatoes.
You had eaten all the carrots.
An half slice of cheesecake
In a dessert bowl so that your shaky hands wouldn’t betray it to the floor.
An half cup of milky tea,
Saved for a midnight snack
Always eaten at 2am.
An handful of grapes in another bowl,
Rinsed and ready for morning
Set in a soup bowl next to your hard-boiled breakfast egg
And the yogurt cup you had been working on for several days
With a carefully washed and saved lid that must have come from
Store-bought potato salad.
I shut the fridge door and the tears came.
I clung to the handle and cried…
For all the things that we wouldn’t do.
For all the drives to the grocery, necessary no longer,
Where you would sit in the car and, grinning, wave to all and sundry.
For all the trips to watch the ocean and the spouting horns and mountains that we wouldn’t take
For never hearing this spring your cries of “Pinkies!”
As we drove past the blooming wild rhododendrons.
You missed them by only a couple of days, but I guess you couldn’t wait.
“Mom!” I cried out.
I sat at the dining room table.
I talked to you.
Hoping that you could still hear me.
I told you all the things that you didn’t want to hear.
How I loved you even when you drove me crazy because you couldn’t remember.
How you insisted that I buy you a new packet or 6 of sunflower seeds every summer, but you never planted them.
How I loved you even when you were as whiny as a 4-year-old who has missed a nap.
How you were re-reading Harry Potter and the book was on the cluttered coffee table and the rest of the set on the floor on the other side where you couldn’t see them along with everything else that you had shoved off the pile because you couldn’t see it.
How glad I was that you were able to be at home when…
I remembered your pitiful cry when you were in the hospital a year before.
“I don’t want to die here! You promised! You promised!”
And you came home
Puttering with plants that died when you forgot to water them.
Making new starts of your favorite violets in saved containers from grocery salads and sandwich spread.
From your chive cream cheese that you ate on bread since crackers made your gums hurt
And most of those starts died, too.
But some were flourishing in strange places.
On top of the stack of magazines in Dad’s empty chair.
On the bathroom counter behind rinsed bottles and folded up product boxes.
One shut into the cupboard where you kept your box of curlers. Why?
On chairs tucked under the dining room table.
Sitting by the withered unused potatoes in their bin.
In the middle of the shelf where you were saving the throwaway clamshell boxes from croissants and muffins.
How did that stack get that high?
How many times had I tossed those containers only to have you fish them out of the trash and scold me for “wasting them”?
Vase after vase of dried, withered flowers that you didn’t want to throw out,
Pile after pile of catalogues,
Stack after stack after toppled stack of books,
I put those back on the shelves.
I walked around,
picking things up
Weeping when I dragged in a large trash can and started putting all that carefully saved trash into it.
Hoping that you would scold and insist on putting them back where they belonged.
And then I would sit and talk to you and get back up and go back to putting things away and sorting out the junk
Finally they came to take your body away.
I didn’t watch.
And then I locked the door behind them,
And went back to my house
©2009+2021 M. Bartlett