One day it just wasn’t there anymore. Mommy no longer had just a bad day or two. For a while, Mommy took the bus to work, but when her bad days far outnumbered her good days, catching the bus and working became too much for her. The whisperings began again, and on her bad days she didn’t just listen, instead she whispered back, constantly, wringing her hands or waving them before her as if warding someone off. Since the loss of her job, we were dependent on Daddy’s social security survivor’s benefits. We began using candles and kerosene lanterns. I played in the melted wax, cooling it on my fingertips and forming small balls and shapes. It was fun. It never occurred to me that we couldn’t afford the electricity to switch on the lights.
David and I did the best we could to take care of the house. We had always done chores, now we did more, but we couldn’t keep up, mainly because Mother created odd rules for us to follow. There were two stoves sitting in our kitchen, the one we cooked in came with the house, the second one was Mommy’s and it against the wall, unhooked and never used. Mother started storing paper bags in it.
The freezer had a thick layer of frost covering it and neither David nor I knew how to defrost it. When Mommy’s sadness abated a bit, she decided to clean it. She boiled water on the stove and placed the steaming pots in the freezer to melt the ice. Getting impatient she began chunking at the ice with a knife. I grabbed a knife as well. The knife stabbed through the thick frost, making a quick job of it, but after the freezer was completely defrosted we discovered the refrigerator no longer worked: there was a knife hole in the silver freezer unit. From that day on our groceries were kept in a cooler filled with ice that sat on the kitchen table. During the summer, David or I walked to 7-Eleven daily to buy bags of ice to keep our food cold. The loss of the refrigerator seemed like an irritation, not a life-changing event, and yet our lives changed so slowly there in that house on Gertrude Street. So slowly.
Mommy’s brisk step, gleaming eyes, and neat bun transformed by degrees. It was small things at first, barely noticeable. The wig gathered dust on the Styrofoam wig stand, a ghostly apparition that spooked me on particularly rough nights with Mother. The lipstick that had brushed Mommy’s lips and cheekbones was forgotten, leaving her face barren, white, a clear slate her pain was etched upon. Her gloriously, long, shining hair, the pride of her Pentecostal beliefs, always brushed a hundred strokes and then wrapped into a bun, was allowed to wander from its up-do, until, finally, completely disheveled, it no longer resembled a bun at all. Soon after, the bun was ignored, and Mother’s hair hung, lank and unwashed, down her back. Her brisk walk slowed, then slowed again, becoming the slump-shouldered shuffle of the old and infirm. She looked as if she needed the support of a cane. Her eyes lost their sparkle and then their focus, leaving behind fear, pain, hurt, and sorrow. She then lost sight of me and of the world around her. I caught her staring often into that other world that I could not see. In the beginning I checked, turning to wherever her eyes were directed, but there was never anything there except empty space and blank walls.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish