by Thaddeus Rutkowski
MY MOTHER SAID, ‘Don’t come. You don’t have to visit. It’s too much trouble.’
And I thought, maybe I should listen. Maybe I should not go. My presence might be stressful. She might wonder what to do for me, what to do with me. But I said, ‘I want to visit. I’m coming to visit.’
‘I don’t cook anymore,’ she said. ‘My meals are delivered. The delivery man used to be a musician in the local symphony orchestra.’
‘I’ll get my own food,’ I said.
‘OK, you can visit,’ she said, and I wondered if she was really looking forward to seeing me, or if she was just trying to end our conversation. Talking on the phone was hard for her, because, in those minutes, her ability to hear would fade and she would find herself speaking without hearing a reply. ‘I’m hanging up now!’ I yelled into the receiver.
I went to the car rental agency and got my standard tiny car from an attendant who was my friend. In fact, we called one another “my friend.” I drove through a maze of half-finished ramps and clover leafs on the west side of the Holland Tunnel to take a “shortcut” to my main interstate route. On the highway, I went without stopping until I left New Jersey.
I was a little wound up from the drive, experiencing perhaps the beginnings of white-line fever. When I stopped for coffee, I spilled my hot drink on the counter next to the cash register. I was embarrassed and apologetic, thinking I had some sort of tremor disorder, but the people in the store didn’t seem to hold my dementia against me.
A few hours later, as I approached my mother’s house or, rather, her building—my parents had converted a social hall into a living space—I stopped to pick up some food. When I walked in, my mother was waiting for me, and she seemed genuinely happy to see me. I felt the same about her. I took out my food for myself, and gave her a present—two large mangos from a fancy-food store in New York.
‘I’ll go out for breakfast in the morning,’ I said.
‘You don’t have to,’ my mother said. ‘I have coffee, juice, bread, and eggs. But you’ll have to make them yourself.’
I could handle that. I knew I could. It would be a better breakfast than I usually had.
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of seven books, most recently Tricks of Light, a poetry collection. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.