I don’t know where to begin exactly. Aren’t endings supposed to come with their own beginnings? Doors and windows closing and opening…that kind of thing…
When my mum (we called her Phyllis although her name was Elizabeth) died on Friday, a door slammed shut. Well… it closed anyway, firmly and forever. And then I got up and closed all the windows. And despite what I’ve been doing since: arrangements, calls, notes, wandering, staring, I’ve been doing it in this unfamiliar and increasingly airless room. The metaphor feels right and comfortable; no need for oxygen when you’re holding your breath.
But today, not quite a week later, I notice the sun is shining. It shows up the dust that’s accumulated from the ongoing basement reno, which, ironically, we began so that we’d have a place for Phyllis after her stroke. When I told her we wanted her to live with us she smiled, was grateful but said she hoped she’d die first, that she didn’t want to be a bother, that we might not get along. I worried about that too but I thought there might be enough that was good to make it work—and anyway, she’d be useful, she knew things I kept forgetting: how to prune the blackberries, make pumpkin compote, remove burned on stains from pots, cure sore throats and earaches with herbs from the garden—the original nature girl, raised on a farm, she used to milk cows, make butter, spin wool, grow flax, weave her own linen with it for god’s sake. She carried sacks of grain on her head to have them milled into flour. She had no idea any of this was interesting. I had to pry the stories out of her.
I open a window. There’s a breeze. Kite weather.
Not only is there dust everywhere, the house is in disarray, debris all over the kitchen table, a puddle of stationery that would take two seconds to stack, sling an elastic band around, but it’s more time than I care to give. And I’d have to walk to the kitchen drawer for the elastic.
The very idea exhausts me.
So I leave them spread out and messy instead, along with a box of Sifto from the nursing home where the eggs were always bland she said. What am I supposed to do with a box of Sifto? I prefer sea salt. Should I throw it out? I don’t know. I don’t know… I’ll think about it later. And anyway it’s not hurting anything standing there next to a pair of green gloves from my coat pocket (it’s May, I don’t need gloves; where do they go?) and a new dust mop cover—pale blue, soft like a baby’s washcloth; I may use it soon. Or not. There’s a crossword, a tea stained mug, a basket of seeds, a few pens, a notebook, the Saturday comics with a Pardon My Planet that shows an old woman in her casket and beside her a man—husband? son?—telling the priest he’d like a few minutes alone with her while her mouth is shut. I’m not sure if I should find this funny or not but I leave it there next to the salt and the gloves and a stone from the beach that meant something once, I don’t remember what, and a bill from one of her caregivers and a letter I’d been writing to a friend before all this happened. Should I still send it? The old news is relevant though overshadowed by recent events…
I have no idea how to tidy this mess. The best I can do is ignore it, walk past it a dozen times a day, watch new things appear: sunglasses, lip balm, sixteen dollars and sixty two cents.
It’s the salt that finally gets to me.
I open a 1963 Pocket Book edition of Hints from Heloise—Phyllis thought Heloise was a genius for solving modern day problems such as getting gum out of shag rugs but the only use she offers for salt is to reduce suds from a dishwasher or washing machine. I do a google search. There are, apparently, 44 other things to do with salt. #18 for instance: “Remove old stains from teacups by rubbing with salt and a bit of water.”