The daughter breezes in, chattering, “Redeye…five hours…no sleep…rental car…Sacramento,” hugs me, says my name, gets it right this time. Sometimes we laugh in the lunchroom, say we should all call ourselves Pat, some unisex name; there are eleven of us, eight gals, three guys—thank God for their strong backs, though they don’t always do the extras, except for Jimmy who’ll read to the guests, help with crafts, paint the ladies’ toenails, and the men’s, too, if they want.
Daughter’s eyes, red-rimmed, tired-looking, are a pretty sea-green like her mother’s, also red-rimmed and tired-looking. These monthly visits are too short, but some guests never have visitors. You’d think these two would make the most of their time, instead of bickering.
Mother tells an old story; Daughter says it never happened. Mother wants to go back to her house in Springfield. “That was three houses ago, Mother,” Daughter says. “Probably not there any more.”
Mother gazes into the far distance. “I loved our lakeside summers—sun, sand, books, ice cream, watermelon.”
Daughter says, “Mother, we went once. For three days.”
Mother looks offended. “No, dear. Lots of times. You, your brother, your father, sometimes a friend.” Daughter says she didn’t have any friends.
Mother asks, “When’s Nicky coming?”
“Nicky’s gone, Mother. Father’s gone, too,” Daughter says. “It’s just you and me, kid.”
Daughter straightens paintings, rearranges photos on the dresser—Mother, Father, two serious children. Mother asks, “Where’s Nicky? He still have that sad little red car?”
Daughter says, “Nicky never learned to drive.” She sighs, closes the blinds against the midday sun.
I ask, “Shall we walk?” Mother can walk, usually chooses not to, but Jimmy can always cajole her into walking. “I’d like a ride,” she says.
Daughter pushes her into the sunroom; the air is heavy, dampish with warm green smells. I water the plants while they talk.
Mother says, “Remember when you were twelve and I was twelve and Nana was twelve, we hiked that steep trail up to Eagle’s Rest. Top of the world!”
Daughter shakes her head. “Eagle’s Rest. Nana.”
Mother says, “We had such fun in those days.” Daughter says nothing.
I bring cranberry juice and oatmeal cookies.
I excuse myself to tend to some other guests and come back a couple of hours later to check on them.
It’s mid-afternoon now, and Mother is sundowning, her stories getting stranger—one about a man who came into town pulling a kid’s wagon and dying on the playground. She talks about their pets, the old Lab, Heidi, and litters of kittens. Daughter says, “I had two goldfish, Mother. No dogs, no cats. Nicky always wanted a dog. Nana had dogs on the farm.”
Jimmy walks through, nods to Daughter, asks Mother, “So, who’s the president?”
Mother pauses, grins, and says, “Oh, you know. That big ol’ clown.”
Mother asks Daughter to spend the night and watch the sunrise. Daughter never spends the night. Mother loves the sunrise, the sunset; she loves the sun.
As Daughter leaves, she kisses her mother’s cheek, says softly, “Eagle’s Rest, yes. You, Nana, and me. Nana’s dogs, too, the three collies. We could see all the way to the ocean.” Daughter thanks me; she always thanks me.
Mother and I almost never miss a sunset. I take her to Springfield every night after supper, wheel her out the door and along the path, then circle the pond two or three times. Tonight the late-summer smells of heat and the dry grasses swaying around us. Mother points out farms and schoolhouses, grain elevators, so-and-so’s new barn, Mother’s old house—all floating somewhere in the peachy twilight. When we get to the copse of cottonwoods, I park her chair, tuck the afghan under her knees, and sit in the weeds.
“Ah, here we are,” she says. “Springfield. Home. Just look at that glorious sky!”
Judy Brackett was born in Nebraska, moved to California as a child, and lives in a small town in the northern Sierra Nevada foothills. She is a member of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley and has taught English composition, literature, and creative writing at Sierra College.
Her stories and poems have appeared in Epoch, The Maine Review, Catamaran, burntdistrict, Commonweal, Midwest Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Miramar, Subtropics, Crab Orchard Review, The Untidy Season: An Anthology of Nebraska Women Poets (Backwaters Press), and elsewhere. Her poetry chapbook, Flat Water: Nebraska Poems, was published by Finishing Line Press in February 2019.