By Coriel Gaffney
It’s a biting mid-December Saturday when I show up on your doorstep in a knee-length down coat and cheap pharmacy gloves, the threads worn through at the fingertips. Even from behind the closed door, I can hear the sink running in the kitchen and your dogs crashing into each other as they leap at your feet. I push the door open and you turn toward the sound, hair uncombed, shirt stained with coffee, to greet me with your usual gasp and kiss. My clockwork presence in your home every weekend does not diminish your surprise. I notice you are careful not to say my name.
In your arms is a bouquet of all the things you forgot to fill, replace and adorn, an homage to your morning, which falls to the hardwood floor in the excitement: a remote, the sink drain, a sweater, a leash. I pick them up and set them aside, filling your hands with the gifts I brought instead—mixed greens and DVDs. You examine each quizzically until the little dog yelps, startling us both.
I suggest we do yoga in the living room and you are game. But a few minutes in, you get stuck switching from cross-legged to all fours, and I have to wrack my brain for ways out: Come to Cat. Roll over your shins. Extend your legs. Lie back.
Once you are untangled, I grab our coats and we retreat to the front yard to shovel the walk. As I toss heaping mounds of snow backwards and overhead, stomaching spasms of effort, you follow me with a broom, sprinkling powder where I’ve just cleared a path. In my peripheral vision a neighbor saunters past; too curious, too slow.
The sun sinks in the blinding white sky and our busy shadows lengthen side by side. I watch the relentless clouding and dissolution of our labored breath and track the hour through traffic sounds: a school bus chugging up East Grand; a mufferless motorcycle tearing downhill. When it’s too cold to feel our toes, we head back to the house by way of the breadcrumb trail of snowdust you left behind.
In the bedroom I lift the sheet so you can slide underneath, still in your corduroys, wet at the ankle hems, and bring you a handful of pills. Aware that I’ve exhausted you and guilty that I wanted to, I hum you to sleep. But when a searing orange fills the windows, I squeeze my eyes and forget my song.
Once darkness descends, you are snoring and a new layer of snowfall starts covering the paths I cleared. Suddenly, it no longer matters which half-brain or full-brain picked which tool to occupy the minutes between storms.
Can’t this all be less painful? Less singular? Just part of a normal trajectory— we fade in, we fade out? Can’t they even be beautiful, these shortening days? Can’t it feel like abundance to watch your mother dance in her sleep, her legs cycling through a dream, her dogs turning in circles before plopping beside the scoop of her neck?
I write to document this catalogue of our time, which otherwise remains only with me. Continue Reading…