by Sudha Balagopal
Gordon finds her in the backyard.
‘Mom?’ He places a gentle hand on her shoulder.
‘Where are they?’ she says, slapping his hand away.
‘Who?’ Moisture soaks his underarms.
‘Whoever made this mess.’
Leaves litter the ground, inches thick; twigs crunch underfoot; bits of paper swirl.
Mom’s in a dressing gown, the hems of her pajama bottoms filthy. Her slippers are so frayed, she must have abrasions on the bottoms of her feet.
‘Mom, into the car.’ He tries to sound authoritative; the words emerge like a plea.
‘I’ll give them a piece of my mind,’ she says, hands on hips.
‘There’s no one here.’
She plonks down in the grass, hands covering her face. ‘It’s shameful. This isn’t how we live.’
They’d warned him about abrupt mood shifts.
He holds his dress pants by the creases, prepares to sit in the dirt.
She rises, brushes off the mud on her dressing-gown. ‘I’m going into my beautiful home. You, young man, you go find them.’
A realty company’s lock-box hangs on the front door. She yells, ‘Gordon, enough with your pranks! Let me in. Now.’
He sighs, retrieves the key and opens the door.
Inside, Mom turns on a light, screams, ‘I’ve been robbed, everything’s gone! Call the police.’
She collapses into a bundle on the stairs. He makes a call, then sits with her on the dusty step.
In fifteen minutes, a woman enters. ‘Remember your lovely room where we arranged pictures, your quilt, your lamp?’ She keeps up a cheerful prattle, shows Mom the photos on her phone, coaxes her off the step.
Later, the director of the facility says, ‘She’s one determined lady. Our apologies.’
Gordon does what Mom would have: he gives them a piece of his mind with a picture of Mom’s 80-year-old feet, the bottoms bleeding after that two-mile walk along country roads.
‘Please understand, it takes time to adjust. It’s best you stay away from your mother. This won’t happen again.’
The director’s eyebrows are plucked too thin; they rise to the middle of her forehead.
Next evening, on the way back from work, he stops at the house. He finds Mom in the backyard; she’s singing a happy tune as she pulls weeds.
Sudha Balagopal’s short fiction appears in or is scheduled to appear in Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, formercactus, New Flash Fiction Review, and New World Writing among other journals. She is the author of a novel, A New Dawn. More at www.sudhabalagopal.com.