Once a meticulous housekeeper, my mother no longer sees the dust that has settled everywhere in thick layers. Some of her nice glass things ó decanters, tea sets, wine glasses, vases ó are far beyond dusting and need to be washed. I have managed to dust most of the pictures and some of the larger pieces of furniture without her noticing, but there is no way I can tackle a project at the sink without her becoming upset or offended. The beautiful old dining table she gave her parents long ago when she first started working is buried in dust. So is the small round antique table not far away by the window. And all of her treasured things on the tables.

Instead, she notices things that arenít there. To her, the dark flecks in the carpet look like bugs. When I tell her they arenít bugs, she smiles as if Iím crazy and must be humored. The bugs move. She kills several each day, never thinking that if there really were that many it would mean she had a serious infestation, and that I would have hired an exterminator by now. If the flecks on the carpet were alive, why would I be willing to walk on them with my bare feet after taking a shower? The thought never occurs to her.

Slowly and carefully, she descends the steps into the garage, where she notices the same old stains on the concrete floor, the same old cracks and blemishes, and tiny pieces of windblown debris. She notices these and tries to sweep them away, but she doesnít notice how the dust has dimmed her belongings inside the house. She doesnít notice the tacky feel of them in her hands, or the fingerprints she leaves behind after she puts them down.

My mother sees, but not always what is there. Sometimes, the tiny patches of light that show through the bushes by her front window and move in the breeze are butterflies. There are butterflies by the score.

She feels, but her feelings go unresolved.

She remembers through layers of dust, through the dust that is settling on and around her.

June 26, 2006

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