by Dan Korgan
I sleep head to toe with Charla, between us hangs a bleached white curtain. It’s hard in here. I mean the tile floor and the beige walls. When the aides bang on the metal door, ‘Mrs. Codr, Mrs. Carter,’ they barge right on through. I taught my children better manners than that.
I get on with Charla okay. Charla is nearly ninety. Oh, she’s real sharp, the nurses say. And she still has this privilege to drive. She takes a group driving now and then, but when they ask me to join them, I usually decline. ‘Maybe if one of you were a strapping twenty-five year old, that might make a difference,’ I say. Well, they laugh. And I tell them I believe in diversity, nothing so wrong with that.
Last fall my grandson brought me kolaches he made. He asked me if old people still have sex. He didn’t say much more and looked out my window into the parking lot. My daughter must have shown him my recipe. They were pretty good, but I think he forgot the salt.
I part the window curtain. This time of year, the parking lot is covered with a foot of snow. You might picture the parking lot as a never-ending white valley meadow, and cars as rolling hummocks. In the center stands the Madrone tree. It is an old tree, its scaly red bark peeling. Evergreen leaves. ‘Tell you what,’ I say to Charla, ‘when my daughter arrives, I’ll have my gear ready. I’m going to stand outside and wait for her.’
First, we’ll meet eyes. Not for very long, though, before I chase her past the Madrone tree. Her mittens dangle from the strings at her sleeves. We may lie on our backs and scissor angels into the snow. Soon we push off and glide cross-country into the pines and bare grass, up and over the hills racing with a gust of wind at our backs.
The snow has erased the driveways, the square front yards, sidewalks, and intersections. The endless sheet of white is the place where we begin to imagine a simple little town. The endless sheet of white is a meditation that leaves us exhausted and weary with yesterday’s dealings still on our minds.
We kick the snow off our boots and lean our skis next to the lodge. My daughter signs in at the front desk as she is supposed to. In my room, she’ll inspect my Christmas decorations and take them down from the sheet-rocked walls. She’ll kneel on the linoleum floor to all fours, look under my bed, her head canted sideways, and find my stray wet wool socks.
‘I’m going to take these home and give them a washing,’ she says.
‘Thank you,’ I reply.
When she digs inside the top drawer of my nightstand, she’ll find my soiled tissues and she’ll find my animal crackers wrapped inside blue dinner napkins.
‘Mother,’ she says, ‘Are you stashing food away again? Don’t you know the war is over? I’m going to take these. Okay, Ma?’
‘If you must,’ I say.
After she leaves, she’ll keep in mind my habit of repeating the same thought over again, how I wrap and unwrap the same gift over and over. How I made her kneel in the corner over a bed of dried corncobs. How I chased her across the kitchen and under the table and slapped her bottom with a wooden spoon.
I don’t know if she remembers, but her daddy loved his highballs. Many nights he forgot to latch the sow’s gate and left those expensive animals to roam the highway. And there were the farm hands we told to burn our crops. That was supposed to help our economy.
I part the window curtain and watch her red hair swing at her shoulders. She has Santa’s stocking under her arm. Tissues and crackers in her pockets. I’ll look across the white, white meadow and watch her leather boots melt deep tracks into the snow.
‘We’re going driving,’ Charla says. ‘Did you hear me?’ She kicks her feet at our partition.
‘I can hear just fine,’ I say and I wait for my daughter to glance. I wait for her to wave back before she unlocks her car door and drives away.
Copyright © 2016 by Dan Korgan