“Ma,” my sister said, “we’re taking you to an appointment. We have to be there at ten o’clock. Do you understand, ma?”
Maria, the oldest of my cousins, had come along for support. My mother trusted her. She smiled at Maria; her eyes looked bluer than usual that day, eyes that had always set her apart in a brown-eyed family. She smiled at me and squeezed my hand.
“Look,” she said, “the children are playing.”
She stared at the empty floor of her kitchen and pointed. The only thing I saw was the burn mark on the linoleum. The contractors had painted, replaced the stove and the cupboards, but for some reason had not touched the linoleum.
Maybe it was an insurance thing. A hint of char and burnt espresso still lingered.
“I can’t go anywhere today,” my mother said. “People are coming over.”
“Who’s coming, ma?” asked my sister. “Tell us who’s coming?”
She had to think about it for a second.
“Rosina said she was coming for coffee, and where’s my sister? What’s wrong with her? Why are you keeping her from me?”
“Zia,” Maria said, “it’s okay. You have to go for a check up. Your sister’s fine, promise. We can go see her after the appointment.”
“What have you people done with her?”
“Ma,” I said, squeezing her hand. “Celestina’s fine. Want me to call her?”
“Yes,” my mother said, pulling her hand away from mine and holding it to her chest. “Call her, I want to hear her voice.”
My sister got Aunt Celestina on my mother’s landline. She spoke quietly to her then passed the receiver to my mother.
“Che,” my mother said. “You’re okay? I have to go to an appointment. That’s right, an appointment. If you’re coming I won’t go. I’ll tell these people I won’t go.”
My mother listened with her clear blue eyes staring into space and her head nodding. She laughed under her breath and with a shaking hand gave my sister the receiver. My sister conferred again briefly with Aunt Celestina and rang off.
I sat in the backseat of my sister’s Accord with my mother. She stared out her window as we drove. My sister and Maria chatted quietly. I wasn’t paying attention to them. I watched my mother as she gazed out the window with a little smile on her face.
At one point she turned and looked at me. Only it wasn’t the confused and frightened woman she’d become. It was my old mother.
“Sammy,” she said, “do you remember the day after your father died?”
“Sure,” I said, but it was all a blur to me. I was only twelve.
“You were playing across the street with your friends like nothing happened. Laughing and carrying on. Aunt Celestina called you to come home. We had the funeral arrangements. You crossed the street, you weren’t paying attention. Remember how that car almost hit you?”
It all came back to me. She was right. I was playing across the street with Patty Sullivan and Yogi Baker. My father’s death probably hadn’t sunk in. What I recalled with sudden clarity was what happened after I almost got hit by a car crossing the street — a red Parisienne had come within inches of flattening me.
I recalled the driver’s pale face and how his hands were shaking. I recalled my mother’s blue-eyed rage as I came up the porch steps, and getting slapped by her so hard across the face I almost fainted.
“So you remember?” she said.
“I just wanted to say — I’m sorry, Sammy. I’m sorry for that. I was out of my head. I’d just lost my husband. You and your sister were all I had left.”
We had pulled up to a red light. My sister turned her head. Her eyes were filled with tears. Maria patted her knee and whispered consolingly. My mother’s gaze returned to her window. She said nothing else for the rest of the way.
Seniors milled about the foyer, some with walkers or in wheelchairs, some in worse shape than others, none great. Many mumbled to themselves. Many lacked affect.
A hint of urine tingled in my nostrils. The administrator, a strapping Asian woman, greeted us in the foyer. She gently shook my mother’s hand and introduced herself.
“Hi Carmela, my name is Janice, and if you have any questions or problems, don’t hesitate to talk to me. I am always available.”
After the introductions, Janice passed us on to a staff member in floral scrubs to process all the paperwork and settle my mother.
“Hi, Carmela,” she said in a cheerful voice. “Look at those pretty blue eyes! What a beauty you are! My name is Roberta and I’m going to be taking care of you today.”
“It’s going to be okay,” Maria said, rubbing my mother’s shoulder.
But uncertainty had crept into her face. I could see it in her eyes, darting back and forth. Her lips trembled..
“It’s probably best you leave now,” Roberta said to us.
“I thought — ” my sister said, but her voice trailed off.
Maria looked at me as if to suggest this had to be done now if it was to happen at all. We all had to bite the bullet and just do it. There was no easy way. Maria and my sister hugged my mother. I waited till the last second before kissing her cheeks and whispering in her ear that I loved her.
“I love you, too” she said, clearly afraid now.
My sister and Maria walked out without looking back. I turned my head once and caught my mother staring at me.
Artist: Julia Geiser
Sal Difalco splits time between Toronto and Sicily