Leaves of red maple shoot up in flames, against a towering white picket fence. My mother looks out on them with wistfulness. She begs of me, Come here. Look. She points assertively at the trees. And that blue, blue sky. We marvel together for a moment. Then she begins to count, One, two, three. Three, she says again with pride, as she turns to me.
So, I think, let me take her out sometime. Drive her through woods or down my home street. Show her more leaves. Leaves she made my father pile and bag. She never handled a rake. I can’t imagine her long slender fingers, which tightly rolled nuthorns and other delights, have ever wrapped a rake. But certainly, she jumped in mounds of oak and maple, when they were piled high.
I arrive one Saturday, ready for our drive. I have supplies in my car, in case of incidents I used to expect with toddlers, and now plan for with my mother. I have a few hours space on my schedule. We have all day, I tell her, when I find her.
She is in Jerry’s room, seated in his rocker chair, watching an old Lawrence Welk show. There is no cable – someone must have pushed a button on a video player.
I get her to rise. She follows, but that only lasts for several steps. She wants to turn away from the main door. I let her lead for sometime, and she pulls me over to the bulletin board. Arden Courts News Center, she draws out. See, I told you.
And when she reads, I am supposed to answer, Yes. She is waiting expectantly, a pupil awaiting approval from her teacher. I am anything but. I miss my clue this time. She yanks at my arm again. Rereads the headline. Pushes my arm away. Walks down her corridor away from the exit. We are not going for a drive today.
Halfway to her room, she stops and stares, I don’t know what to do. I am lost for a minute, and then I comprehend. She has had an accident. They are happening with more frequency. Recent medications are speeding up her digestion. Or is it the disease? In this I always wonder, am I witnessing the end? Will I know it, when she is in it?
We toddle to her room. I struggle to remove her clothes, clean her body. This does not come without pain and heartache. For she often slaps me when she is in pain or shame. When our task is complete, and she feels comfort, my mother reaches out to touch my cheek, and says, I love you, honey.
My name is not at the tip of her tongue. Most names are not. But honey suffices. After accidents, embarrassment and exhaustion, she often wants Sinatra and sleep.
I help her to bed. She never sleeps beneath her sheets, as if preparing to rise at a moment’s note.
I’ve got you, Frank starts out. And Mom replies, Under my skin.
I’ve got you, he says again, Mom answers, Deep in the heart of me.
The call and respond endures.
I’d sacrifice anything come what might.
For the sake of having you near.
As if she could finish any sentence Old Blue Eyes ever began.
I pull the green afghan up to her chin. Her arms circle around me, and mine, her. I look deeply into her puffy eyes as she sings herself to sleep. Her childlike face, beaming. Not at me. Not even at Frank. But at Autumn’s musical of leaves changing colors. Her lit face a reflection of God’s show.