I hear shuffling and a tentative knock on a paint-cracked bedroom door. I breathe impatiently.
“There is coffee.” My mom’s voice is tired today. She has finished her radiation treatment and all went as well as it could have. But she is always tired now.
“I’ll be down later.” I don’t want to get up. It is past noon but what is there to do before work but sit and smoke cigarettes with her? She will want to talk about things I don’t care about. I don’t want to talk at all.
I pull my hair up in careless bun, put on old slippers and trudge downstairs. Grandma is at the table, peeling crates of apples from the farm. She would prefer to still be out there, on her land, in her cabin with her books and gin. But after a tumble down the steps, her children decided she had to be watched more. So, mom watches her and I cook for her.
(I also give her gin when no one else will.)
“Do you have to work today?” Grandma asks hopefully. She would prefer I stay at home and talk with her. I would prefer that too, but I would also prefer to make enough money to move out. At 41 I am back where I started. Living with my mom.
Mom is already out back, smoking her menthols. I guess it is a little ironic that her cancer has nothing to do with 45 years of smoking. The doctor said if it makes her comfortable, then there is little reason to quit now. I just started a year ago. I am not even sure why I smoke. I don’t like it much. But something about doing a thing I know could kill me makes the devil in me grin.
I chat with grandma about politics. She finds Trump to be a “stinker”.
“This country is going down a terrible path. I am glad I won’t be around to see it, but I worry for the rest of you.” She is convinced that she will be dead by 90 and that will be in a couple months. Of course, she has been saying that she will be dead soon for at least 20 years. And now mom is sounding the same.
My old ladies. How did all three of us end up together in an aging house on the corner of an old Midwest street? We’re all divorced. Is that it? Grandpa was an alcoholic, my father was an alcoholic, and my ex-husband is an alcoholic. The ladies and I don’t miss them. I am trying to drink more myself.
I retire upstairs to get ready for work. Not a career, just a job. No glamour, low pay. Work.
Driving in I pass brown fields and forests of black branches. Here, a lump of a deer in the ditch and a rust red stain paints the road. I will have to drive slower on the way home since these murders happen at night.
At work, I collect the keys and bank from the front desk. Down the hall I open the little bar and shop. Turn on lights, fill the ice bin, and fill mismatched holders with electric candles. Candles that all flicker in unison like Nazi children. I settle into my computer work, both hoping no one comes in for dinner but also that I can make a few extra dollars for groceries on the way home.
At the end, I collect the candles and place them on their charging station. I count the money and turn it back into the safe. The glasses are polished, the lights off and I lock the door again. Not a thing I have done has changed the world today. No one would have noticed if the last six hours hadn’t occurred. I walk to my car at the back of the empty parking lot, scattering two raccoons foraging in the dumpsters.
Mom is on the front step when I get home. I sit down next to her.
“How was work?”
“Work.” I have no desire to communicate anymore. I have nothing to say and yet I know how much she wants to talk with me. I know that she waits for me to come home so that she can have a touch of the world. But I am an inadequate messenger. I bring no news, good or otherwise. I will smoke with her though. There is comfort in that.
“There is a full moon tonight. I had grandma come out to see it before she went to bed.” I look up and indeed, the moon is full and bright. How did I miss that on my drive home? Where is my mind anymore? How can hours go by and I don’t remember?
“Yah, it is full. The sky is clear and I can see Orion’s Belt. You see the middle star of the belt?” I point up. “Some people believe we come from there.” I don’t believe anything but I like to collect others’ beliefs like coins that I polish and place in books. Thoughts of others with prophetic souls and spiritual righteousness.
The leaves clack down the street like drunks in tap shoes. I take a last pull off my cigarette and drag it inside a hollow pumpkin, making small, orange fireworks. A cool night, but the stars so loud I can hear them.