Lauren watched her father saw through the apple pie with a butter knife.
“Want a piece?” He scooped out a chunk, slid it into a cereal bowl. “Got eggs if you’d rather, but no bacon.” He poured coffee into a brown mug, dribbling on the counter. Lauren shook her head, glanced at the half open door to the canning room.
During Christmas they agreed that mother would be more comfortable on the first floor. So they converted the canning room into a bedroom and carried down her things—loose fitting clothes, toiletries, framed pictures of the family and relatives, watercolors from the community college art classes. Her father rolled in an oxygen tank, dragged in a small dresser from the garage. Lauren scooped up a handful of math and logic puzzles from the front closet.
Her father didn’t bother to set sponge up the coffee. He set his bowl and mug on the table, sat down hard.
Lauren frowned. Without her mother in the kitchen, the house didn’t feel like theirs anymore. It was as though someone else had moved in, rearranged the furniture, changed the lights, didn’t bother to pick up.
“Where’re the hospice people?”
“Got them on the phone yesterday. Seemed real nice.”
He set the spoon down, slid a tattered shoebox to the center of the table.
“They haven’t been here yet?”
He shook his head. “Now your Mother—”
Lauren’s eyes narrowed. “You just talked to them?” She opened and closed her fists. “Mom’s in pain, losing weight…”
“Got your Mother on a special diet. Florence—from the church—told us about it.”
“Oh, for God’s sake.”
He swept his arm overhead. “She didn’t want other women in her kitchen.”
“So, nothing’s been set up?”
He explained that they wanted to give the diet a chance. And, she was starting breathing exercises. They read about them in a health magazine that came in the mail. He jabbed the pie with his spoon.
“What about the pain?”
“All this addiction scares her.” He held up a spoonful, mostly crust. “Have a cup of coffee.”
“You were supposed to get hospice started.”
She walked to the counter, picked up the coffee pot. At Christmas she had downloaded the hospice information, stuck their telephone number on the refrigerator with a magnet shaped like a rabbit.
He looked up. “There’s no cream.”
“No matter.” She poured a cup, leaned back against the sink. His shoulders seemed more hunched; his face thinner than she remembered. She wanted to yell, what’s going on here? Instead she asked, “Why’d you call?”
She was almost asleep when he called, asked her to come home. She got up at four, drove the 200 miles in under three hours.
He slid the bowl to one side, flipped open the shoebox.
“It’s the pictures.”
He pulled out a fat envelope, legal-sized, rumpled and stained. He slid out a handful of pictures, began to snap them on the table like he was dealing cards.
“We couldn’t figure out these people.” He glanced at the door to the canning room, then back at Lauren. “It was at the reunion right after your 16th birthday.”
Pictures. A long line of pictures.
At Christmas they had talked on and on about hospice. On their first visit, Lauren would come back home to meet them. They’d discuss everything. As a family. Pain management. Comfort food. Her mother’s wishes. Lauren had told her parents about Dr. Kaminsky, one of her university profs that had just died. Dr. Kaminsky’s wife had said the hospice people were a blessing. A blessing to have them in their home while he weakened, when he passed.
She stared at the pictures, didn’t say anything for a long time. Then she touched one.
“This is Cousin Freda’s daughter. She lives in Arizona.”