We gently pushed the glider back and forth with our feet, mine in sandals, hers in Velcro sneakers. Crickets began chirping as the light faded. Out of fierce sunlight, the Shasta Daisies and Hyperion Daylilies my mother had dug from her garden and given to me years ago seemed to glow from within.
Mosquitoes would soon find us, but I found it difficult to get up from the porch and face the drive back to the nursing home. I’d had to feed my mom her dinner, but she was happily spooning ice cream into her mouth all by herself. A pile of napkins waited on my lap like the ones she once carried around in her purse to spit on when needed.
“Doesn’t the garden look beautiful?” I asked.
She stopped with the spoon halfway to her face.
“You’re a nice woman,” she said. “What are you to me?”
“I’m your daughter, ma. You’re my mother.” I remembered her singing to me when I was sad, rubbing Vicks on my chest when I was sick, cheering for my tiniest victories. “You were a wonderful mother.”
“Your mother?” Her face became a cartoon of surprise. “How could I be your mother?”
“You had a baby. Patti. Do you remember Patti? Patti grew up. I’m Patti.”
“You’re my mother?”
Lightning bugs flashed over the garden. My flowers leaned this way and that, some of the little ones hidden under robust growers. My mother’s garden was always meticulously staked, in perfect size-place. When I’d returned home from California in an Indian print dress and ratty fur coat, she’d called me a disgrace to the family.
I patted her knee. “Isn’t your ice cream good? You should finish it.”
She put down her spoon and bowl.
“I want to go back. My husband will be worried about me.”
“It’s okay, ma. He knows where you are.”
“How does he know?”
“I told him.”
“You know him?”
“Yeah, ma. He’s my father.”
“How long have you known him?”
“All my life.”
I stood up and switched on the porch light, wiped her face. I didn’t spit on the napkin.
“Come on. It’s getting late. I’ll help you go to the bathroom.”
“I want to see my husband.”
“I know, but he went fishing. He’s on a fishing trip.”
“He went fishing?”
“Yeah. He won’t be back tonight.”
“I miss him.”
“I miss him, too.”
I walked my mom to the bathroom and helped her pull down her briefs and pants and sit on the toilet. I told her what to do with the toilet paper. I helped her stand and as I pulled up her clothes she asked, “Where is my husband?”
“He went fishing.”
“He went fishing?” She stared at me in the unforgiving florescent light. “You don’t look right. Is there something you’re not telling me?”
I held both her hands and looked down in her eyes. We used to be the same height. I’d brought her to the hospital to see her husband of sixty two years. When I told her the next day, she sobbed, saying, “I finally found a good man, and now he’s gone,” and I tried not to laugh. We didn’t bring her with us the day my father’s ashes spread over the surface of his favorite creek and floated away like a ghost.
“Ma, Dad got really sick. He got old and really sick.”
“Did he die?”
She looked so sad. I sighed. I nodded.
“Yeah, he died.” I watched her face start to crumple. “But he was really old and he had a good life and you loved each other till the end.” I squeezed her hands.
“He was really old?”
I nodded again, like it made all the difference. “He was really old.”
She didn’t cry. I put my arm around her shoulder. “Come on, I’ll take you home.”
It was hard to see outside of the porch light. I held on to my mother as we slowly made our way to the car. I buckled her seat belt and got in the driver’s side and we sat in the dark. The garden had receded into grey.
“Where are we going?”
“I’m taking you back to Haven Hill. Where you live.”
“I want to see my husband.”
“Will he be there?”
“Not tonight. He’s on a fishing trip. He won’t be coming home tonight.”
“I miss him,” she said.
“I miss him too,” I said.
I started the car and turned on the headlights. I took my mother’s hand, as if that could keep her from slipping farther away. Under the sound of the engine I barely whispered, “I miss you, too.”
Jeanne Holtzman is an aging hippie, writer and health care practitioner, not necessarily in that order. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Night Train, The Los Angeles Review, Every Day Fiction, Annalemma, elimae, Blip Magazine, JMWW and others. You may reach Jeanne at J.firstname.lastname@example.org.