Juanita eases the old woman into the rocker, its tiny nails tightly securing the branches and twigs that form its construction. The slats of the chairback shape the old woman’s spine, sitting her as straight as she’d been, so many year ago, while nursing her beautiful Bobbie. In this very chair she had nursed him, often at three in the morning, while husband Charlie smiled from within his dreams of other women. Her little Bobbie’s eyes and hers connected then, not as seeing, really, more as a coupling, son to mother, alone together and inseparable. Had she ever been happy, even for a minute, before those nights? Before Bobbie’s eyes paired with hers? Had she ever been as happy afterwards?
Juanita is saying, “Did you eat good this morning?” The room is sparse; a twin bed, an armoire for unworn dresses and shoes, a faded pine bureau supporting a framed photo of a young man. One small window, opened a crack from above, that overlooks a large parking lot.
The woman doesn’t hear Juanita’s words. She would see her Bobbie today. He would walk through her door, tall and smiling, a white polo shirt tight to his chest above pressed khakis and polished black shoes. “Hello, Mum.” His voice is deep and gentle, his unblinking eyes, as of so long ago, still loving. He leans far over now to kiss her cheek. “I love you, Mum.” She inhales his cologne of sweet cinnamon. It was Charlie’s favorite before he went away, leaving Bobbie as hers alone. A blessed desertion, she’d come early to believe, and so it was.
She and Bobbie talk, hands holding tightly. As if by magic, an impermeable barrier has formed around them, excluding all but the two of them, as they had been during those earliest of mornings. “How are you, Mum? Do you have everything you need?”
“Yes,” is what she answers, not understanding why it isn’t true.
Sure, there is nothing of today for them to discuss, nor of tomorrow. Both of these segments of time have long been tightly encased, as if in unquarried granite. But of yesterday? There is an overflowing of possibility, carefully cleansed treasures to select, examine and polish, each gaining in softer detail through its reviving. Each of these is a home, a place of safety to wander within, stopping on occasion for a closer look, washed clean of the slightest smear of pain.
Bobbie is saying, “I was riding yesterday with that little grandson of yours. Gosh, does he love his little red tricycle. He dashes around, so happy he keeps screeching. How did you know the size? It’s perfect.”
These words retrieve for the woman a crisp fall morning in which she detaches her Bobbie’s training wheels and walks the liberated bicycle to the hard grass fields beside his school. She urges him on as he sets off alone, more swiftly now, to travel by the engine of his own spirit. In today’s telling, Bobbie cries out, “I can’t, I can’t.” She nudges him, inflates his courage, “You can do anything. You’re my son. You’re Bobbie.” He calls out again, “You won’t leave me? You’ll stay?” She says, “Always and forever, I will be with you.” She runs alongside, her breath failing, then shouts at his back, “You’re flying, Bobbie, you’re free.”
So much to recover, safe places in which she can allow herself to feel that soft love that loosens her tears; Bobbie swimming, running bases, calling for her in the night. Bobbie home from college, buried in books. Bobbie kneeling with his bride at an altar. Some of these she retrieves on this day with Bobbie, others she puts aside for some tomorrow. In one, she encounters Bobbie, striking in his uniform, cropped hair, mirrored shoes and gleaming silver bars pinned to his shoulders. A man so straight. She watches him from beyond the others who gather around him. That once-boy now someone else. She wonders what to think of that. Could he still be who he once was? Yes, he is Bobbie and will be so always. He will never change.
Flashes, micro-seconds of sharp light that carry a deeply blurred horror. What are they about? What story have they to tell? Where, in this specter, is Bobbie? Airplanes like any others roll to a stop, but now with huge rear doors, opened like the mouths of gasping fish. And long, polished boxes, gleaming, reflecting the sun, nailed shut in permanence, and flags, so many flags. A thought passes through the old woman, “Always and forever, I will…” It’s gone now. A question, “Where was I then? I should… I could have…” Gone as well, just as well.
As if from a disturbed dream, the old woman says, “Who’s that talking?”
“Just me, dear, just Juanita.”
Juanita says, “You didn’t touch your lunch again. Why don’t you—”
“Bobbie was here. There was no time.”
John Mullen lives and writes in the fishing city of Gloucester, Massachusetts. His novel, “The Woman Who Hated Philosophers” was published by Swallow Tail Press, 2017. His stories appear in various places, several now extinct, and include, “The Coprological Visions of Judy Dallas”, “In Father’s Eyes”, “Police Business” and “Disarticulated Parts.” He is the author of “Kierkegaard’s philosophy: Self-Deception and Cowardice on the Present Age” New American Library/Mentor (1981) and University Press of America (1995).
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