They lived together. Just the two of them. The others had grown up and moved away. Father/husband had made a new family. Never looked back.
She was getting older now but was still able to get around enough to take care of him. Work had fallen away as retirement set in. Her other children called now and again – on her birthday and holidays – to report on the grandchildren, their jobs, their spouses. She would say something about him. The conversation would quickly end. She learned to listen and say little. They didn’t come to visit.
He never seemed to change. He stayed in his room most of the time. Played video games, read the occasional book, ate sandwiches, chicken fingers and cookie dough ice cream. It was a simple life.
They had become comfortable in their routines. She rose early in the morning – old habits die hard – even though she no longer needed to complete early morning tasks before her drive to work. She still checked her email and social media for the latest pictures of her other darlings. The little ones were no longer little and had their own pages to which she hadn’t been invited. Teenage secrets. She understood. She drank a few cups of coffee – still sweet and light even though she knew she should drink it black or not at all. She watched the morning news as she puttered around doing laundry and dishes. Perhaps “watch” isn’t the right verb. But the TV played in the background of her life.
He slept the morning away. His video game friends were with him at night so the daytime was for sleeping.
Eventually, she would hear a rustle upstairs. He was stirring. Sometimes it was just a stirring – going to the bathroom, she assumed. At other times, or eventually (later in the day), she would hear him call to her. “Mom. I’m hungry. Please bring me a sandwich. Please….” She had tried for years to encourage him to come down to eat, to make his own food, to get out and about. But that time had come and gone. She had sold his car. He didn’t come down.
So she would hobble into the kitchen. Her knees had needed to be fixed long ago, but she abhorred doctors and just lived with the pain. Untwisting the tie around the sleeve of white bread, she would remove two slices and pop them into the toaster. Then she would pull out a plate and go to the refrigerator for the turkey, ham, cheese and mayonnaise. Two slices of each in a pile, microwave for 45 seconds. Then as the toast popped and the microwave beeped, she would assemble the sandwich, slathering mayo on the top piece of toast before piling it together and slicing the sandwich diagonally. Some chips on the side, and it was ready to go. Pink lemonade over crushed ice was his drink of choice.
Climbing the steep stairway with plate and cup in hand provided a challenge. She needed the bannister to pull herself up. It was a delicate balancing act. She would slide the food inside of the doorway and hear a grunt of, “Thanks,” before she descended, one step at a time.
The day continued in much the same way as it began. There was some TV “watching,” some chores and crafts and reading done. She would hear another call for food. “Please bring me a bowl of ice cream. Please…. I’m hungry.” And she would provide. She would make something simple for herself to eat as well.
As night fell, she grew weary. She tried to tidy up, but projects were left undone and sometimes she didn’t move the clothes from the washer to the dryer. She could do it in the morning, she’d say to herself. She would mount the stairs for the last time, having extinguished the lights and TV. She would often hear the video game playing in his room. She would murmur, “Good night,” but not too loudly in case in doing so it would ignite another food request. She didn’t want to make more food and climb more stairs. She was tired.
So the days rolled out along the length of their simple lives. Day after day, few changes or interruptions. The routine wrapped her in a blanket of comfort.
Until the days were no more. She had grown old and frail. And then could go on no longer.
The other children came to remember her and clean out the house.
They sobbed and regretted.
In his room, they found the cups filled with melted ice and old lemonade. Moldy sandwiches and soggy chips uneaten. Bowls of melted ice cream teeming with ants. Slowly and painfully, they emptied the room.
On the dresser stood a picture of them together. She was looking up at him with adoration and joy. He was young and handsome, beaming with pride and love. It was a picture taken at his high school graduation. Taken just weeks before his death. Twenty-three years ago. When he wasn’t just a figment of her imagination. When he was her real live boy.