She pushes a tub across the threshold to keep the baby in the bedroom. The tub is loaded with books: classics, dictionaries, and an anthology of Shakespeare add weight, impossible for the screaming child to push it away. The house is old, the ceilings are cracked. The furniture is out of style, worthless to anyone except the old lady who lives alone. This home is in sharp contrast to the airy and clean little apartment home the baby was used to living in. The familiar faces that visited him everyday are suddenly absent. He feels frightened and nervous. "How long have we been here?" his mother mused, "Maybe two weeks, maybe longer." But somehow time seemed unimportant as the old air conditioner droned on and the child continued to cry. Exhausted, leaning her back against the wall, she flinched at the jingle. Is it her mother's bell, or the phone? The bell was a plain old souvenir from a dairy, with a cow painted on its handle. "How cheap and miserable death is." Suddenly it rang again, and she realized it was the phone. Grabbing it with anger, she listened in silence. Her sister and nephew were driving over tonight. Wonderful...after their work, spouses, and leisure activities, they were going to squeeze in a night to help. She left the crying baby holding himself up on the tub full of books, and she ran down the hall to the sunroom to share this news with her mother.
White hair framed an innocent and a helpless face bent over a television tray. Cracked dry lips asked gently, "Well, was it them?" Thoughtfully, she answered her mother, "Yes, I guess they are coming over tonight." "Well it is about time they decided to show up." With panic in her heart, the daughter felt a change in her mother. A sense of letting go floated in the air like a feather. It floated softly back and forth, until it drifted to the floor at her own feet. Horrified, she stood in front of her mother and sensed a parting of paths, a final goodbye. She reached out and touched her mother's arm, and irrational anger seized her, " Mom, I feel like you are just throwing me to the wolves, you really can't be leaving me here!"
In despair, she thought about the routine they had established together. Even though no one was sleeping well at night, still they got up each morning to a pleasant breakfast of coffee and eggs. While the child played, they visited back and forth like nothing was happening. Later, the hospice nurse would visit, and the home health aide would show up to give a blessed sponge bath. The women's jokes and lovely manners were filled with compassion, professional but sweet. Occasionally blood flowed from her mother's coughing, and trips to the potty were made in great haste, or sometimes not at all. The bell rang to signal a new misery, or simple need. Food remained on the plate, and pills became almost impossible to swallow. Sometimes her mother suffered what the hospice team called a "pain crisis." But the routine continued, and the daughter was beginning to believe it was all something she could endure forever, as long as her mother wouldn't leave this way. A life would soon be over; a child would lose its grandparent, a daughter would be left to wrangle with relatives who had never bothered to treat her with decency. "Well Mom, I guess we can prepare for the arrival of royalty." The old woman's face was forlorn, and her expression regretful. "Yes, honey, I guess we can."
Cologna and Hayseed arrived that evening. He carried a sack full of junk food: snack cakes, crackers and cheese wrapped in plastic, microwavable spaghetti, and inexplicably, a can of dried nuts. "How pitiful," the daughter said to her baby, "A can of peanuts for a woman who can no longer even swallow her pills." The hospice nurse came to teach the "family" how to treat the pain with a suppository, and suddenly, Cologna decided it was no longer feasible for the old lady to die at home. Hayseed kept himself busy shifting from foot to foot, trying to appear sympathetic. He couldn't have been more removed from what was going on since he had never experienced an independent thought in his life. Controlling and bossy, Cologna decided they should spend the night in the house, the daughter went to bed with her baby.
Mother died the next morning with Hayseed and Cologna looking on. The daughter gripped her knees in the sun room, not believing the morning routine of coffee and breakfast was gone. The room was gloomy and summer drizzle cooled the warm atmosphere. The funeral director came to take the body away, and he herded the 'family' into the sunroom so no one could see the body being wheeled away in a rubber bag. As soon as the hearse, the hospice chaplain, and the nurse departed, Cologna grabbed the tub. She dumped the books out with disdain. Then briefly she inspected them for possible dollar worth. Together, she and Hayseed roamed the house taking whatever they wanted. The old costume jewelry, ornaments, glass, and flatware filled the large plastic tub. When it was full, they found an empty box. Several pieces of old furniture piled into the pickup. Eventually the door slammed and the pair departed with a warning that they would be back.
The little baby stretched his arms up to his mother and tears ran down his sweet little face. He had been through an ordeal, and he knew it. She hugged him close and realized that even though the day was getting on, it still was her birthday. She stepped out into the cool rain conscious of a new beginning not supported by her 'family's' miserable history. The sense of lightly letting go stretched her heart and the feather floated in the misty rain, back and forth, landing gently at her feet. Lovely, tiny, little hands reached out to feel the rain. Together they would attend a funeral with Hayseed and Cologna in tow. But the daughter knew many other family members and friends would want to visit the house after the ceremony. She whirled the baby around and faced the house. "We have a lot of work to do to get ourselves and this house ready." When she closed the door behind them, the house felt like home. Maybe it still does.