I come home and there in my kitchen is my mother’s blood clot.
The state I’m in, it’s a state of having not foreseen this and having foreseen this.
So I say, “I think one of us is dreaming.”
“Come in here,” says my mother’s blood clot. And it wags its head toward the dining room, which, in my house, is right off the kitchen.
I look in there. But I can’t see much.
“I don’t want to go in there,” I say.
“Hey,” says my mother’s blood clot. “It’s okay.” Its voice is soft, kind. I can tell it’s really concerned about me.
“Don’t lie to me,” I say. My voice is really sharp. Giving no quarter. Because, wrong move.
And my mother’s blood clot nods. Like, “You’re right. I should know better.”
Someone’s got to say something and it’s not going to be me.
So my mother’s blood clot says, “Well you can’t stand there all night.”
It’s got me there.
I let out a big breath I’ve been holding.
“All right,” I say. “I’ll be in in a second.”
And my mother’s blood clot goes into the dining room. I hear a dining-room chair slide across the dining-room floor. I hear the creak of the dining-room floorboards. Then the dining-room chair going back in. Scoot scoot scoot.
I take off my gloves like a concert pianist getting ready for a command performance. Tugging each finger. Then comes my scarf. Then my coat. These go on the hooks that are right in my kitchen stairwell. I don’t like that about my house, that I have to come in through the kitchen. Whose bright idea was that? It makes me feel like I’m using my house wrong, coming in through the kitchen. Someday, my kitchen will not be a foyer. These hooks will be somewhere else. Somewhere more appropriate.
So I go into the dining room. And my mother’s blood clot is at my dining-room table.
And surprise! Also at the table? My partner and my mother and my best friend.
I look at my partner.
“You’re in on this?” I say.
She’s been crying. Ordinarily I hate to see her cry. I hate it so much I take great pains to avoid it. I get her a donut from Donut Delite every day. I do the dishes while dinner’s going.
And I do hate it now, seeing her cry. But I hate it in a different way.
“Who do you think you are, crying to me?” I think.
“Sit down, baby,” she says. Her voice is thick, full of goop.
I turn to my mother.
“I don’t even know what to say to you,” I say. “Sandbagging me like this.”
“I know this is a lot,” she says.
She’s got her leg, the one they had to amputate, back when they thought it might help, on her lap. She’s holding it gently, affectionately, as if to give it a little comfort.
To my best friend, I say, “How did you even get here? All the flights are grounded.” Because of the big terrorist scare.
“I drove,” she says.
“Sit down, David,” says my mother’s blood clot.
Because I haven’t yet. I’m still standing, my hand on the chair back. The chair that’s at the head of the table. And now I see they’ve put the leaves out on the dining-room table, dragged in every other chair from every other room.
“I don’t want to,” I say.
“We know you don’t, baby.” My partner. “But you have to. No other way.”
I can tell it kills her to say this.
And I know there’s no other way. I’m not a fool. Even in the very worst times, I keep my wits.
But through my mind dashes the damndest thought. A thought about some guy from the olden days. And he’s being put in the guillotine. And I’m up there on the scaffold. I’m one of the guys putting this guy in the guillotine. We’re trying to get him down on his knees, trying to put his head in the groove so we can clamp him down, get on with it. And all of us are trying to be as nice as we can be. But you can be only so nice.
And I’m saying to this guy whatever I can think to say, A, to get him into the guillotine so we can all get this over with, and B, to give him a little comfort. Because I don’t think I could live with myself if I didn’t.
And all I can think to say is, “It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay.”
That and, “Shhh.”
And the guy is saying, “One second, one second.”
And I’m saying, “Shhh. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay. Shhh.”
And I hate myself for it. But also, I get it. Because what else can I do? Tell the guy tough shit?
“Baby,” says my partner.
She’s nearer now. Her voice is real soft. I feel her breath on my cheek. She’s so good. The things we’ve been through. She’s such a good one.
“One second,” I say.
Because from the scaffold, something’s caught my eye, and I can’t tell what it is, and I want to know. I need to know. Out over the tar-shingle roofs, something bright, bright blue soars upward, fast, but not too fast. I track it as it flies into the sky, and then I lose it, because it’s such a nice day, and the sky is bright blue, too.