A Listening Thing
A Novel by William Michaelian

Chapter 24

After showering, I went into the kitchen. No one was there. On the ledge by the window over the sink, there was a small vase. In the vase were three fresh zinnias — one red, one yellow, one white. The water in the vase sparkled, and dozens of tiny air bubbles were lined up along the stems.

A place was set at the table. The Sunday paper was nearby. It was folded in half and still together, and looked like it hadn’t been read. There was a fresh pot of coffee on. I poured myself a cup and had a sip while looking out the window.

The house was quiet. I checked each of the rooms to see if anyone was inside. My bed was still covered with pictures, and Bob’s was still piled high with sewing. No one was in my mother’s room. On her dresser in front of the mirror, there was a nicely framed picture I’d taken of her and my father. Both were smiling. Dad’s arm was around Mom’s waist, and they were standing by the front door on the porch. In her left hand, my mother was holding an apple. I picked up the picture. Taken not long before we found out Dad had cancer, it was an ordinary shot of two ordinary people living very ordinary lives. What made it extraordinary, though, was my parents’ obvious happiness. On that particular day, Mary and Matt and I had come for a visit. We’d brought the apple from home, and Matt had given it to my mother. When I took the picture, he and Mary were behind me on the front lawn.

I put the picture back in its place. The dresser had been recently dusted, as well as the odds and ends on top of it that Mom has collected over the years. I looked around the room. The bed was neatly made. Since Dad’s death, the bed has seemed larger each time I’ve seen it. His side is empty and undisturbed, like a fallow patch of ground. This sight alone seemed almost enough to explain my mother’s behavior.

Going over the previous day in my mind, I remembered what Mary had said about how our being together was something Mom wanted. At the time of our divorce, Mom was extremely upset. She insisted that what we were doing was a mistake, and that we should stay together and work things out. She wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say on the subject. My lack of conviction didn’t help. If I had been a wife beater, or if Mary had been fooling around, she might have gone along with the idea. But it was obvious to her how I felt, and how Mary felt. I should say that Mary has always been special to my mother — special in her own right, because of the kind of person Mary is, and special as her daughter-in-law. In Mom’s eyes, our marriage was made in heaven. She compared it to hers, which was a high compliment. Like me, she viewed our divorce as something strictly legal, with no real meaning.

The thing is, Mom tried logic. She begged us to reconsider. She appealed to us on Matt’s behalf. She tried leaving us alone. None of it worked. She was rewarded with disappointment. On top of losing her dear husband to cancer, she was forced to stand by and watch while we made a mess of things.

I say we, but I mean me. I’ll say it again. Everything is my fault. I’m an idiot. But I’m learning. I think. I hope. Time will tell. Mary will tell.

As for my mother’s mental health, I just don’t know. She’s fine. She’s as fine as she needs to be. She did what she did because she had to. Because she cares. Because she knows Mary and I care for each other. Because she wants us to be happy. Because she is old enough now to get away with it. Because time passes too quickly to waste it being reasonable and proud.

Personally, I think the whole thing was planned. It was planned by my mother, it was planned by Matt, it was planned by Mary, it was planned by me. It was planned by my friend, Ernie Taylor, who is ready to rediscover love, or perhaps to discover it for the first time. It was planned by good old Walt, sitting at his table in the park, playing cards. It was planned by everyone who ever lived.

I found Mom and Mary in the backyard, talking. Mom was holding a broom and Mary had a weed in her hand. They both looked pleased and relaxed. When Mary saw me, she smiled and said, “About time you got out of bed.”

“What’re you talking about?” I said. “I’ve been up for hours.”

Mom laughed. “I was going to call Page’s,” she said.

“All right, all right,” I said. “It’s not that late.”

We went back inside.

“You must be starving,” Mom said. “What can I fix you?”

I glanced at Mary. “How about pancakes,” I said.

Mom smiled. “Is that what you’d like?” she said.

“He’ll eat whatever you put in front of him,” Mary said.

I sat down at the table. “Really, it doesn’t matter,” I said. “Whatever is easy. I can have a bowl of cereal. I’ve been eating too much anyway.”

“I can make pancakes,” Mom said. “It won’t take long.”

My mother took a cantaloupe out of the refrigerator. She asked Mary to cut it up while she made the pancake batter. Then she took out two eggs and a quart of buttermilk. Mary put the melon on the counter. She opened the drawer on the right side of the sink and handed Mom the eggbeater. After putting her biggest frying pan on the stove, Mom found an old bowl to her liking. She broke the eggs into it and beat them until they were foamy, then added some milk and a little oil. Without measuring, she put in some salt, baking powder, and flour, then began to mix the ingredients together. Mary, meanwhile, washed the cantaloupe, cut it open, and scooped out the seeds.

While I was eating, Mary sat at the table with me and had a cup of coffee. Mom, though, wouldn’t sit down. In a familiar pose I remembered from childhood, she stood by the stove, talking, with spatula in hand. Framed by the window behind her, she looked beautiful in the morning light. Her white hair and sloping shoulders, the wrinkles on her face and weathered hands, the uneven sound of her voice — all bore testimony to the passage of time. But they didn’t tell the whole story. The miracle was in her presence. It was in her preoccupation with my happiness, and Mary’s. It was in the light shining in her eyes.

I had seven big pancakes smothered with butter and honey, at least half of the melon, and two more cups of coffee. When I finally pushed my plate away, all Mary could do was shake her head. “I don’t know where you put it,” she said. “I get fat just watching you.”

Mom was delighted. She cleared the table and rinsed things off in the sink. She dried her hands, then announced that there were plenty of leftovers for lunch.

Title Page & Copyright      Post Your Comments      View Comments      Top of Page      Previous Chapter

Also by William Michaelian: Winter Poems and Another Song I Know

Cosmopsis Books ~ San Francisco

Site Guide & FAQ