Monday, January 15, 1996

"Behold Thy Mother" (a short story)

"Richard " her voice echoed down the hall, loud enough that he could hear her, but low enough that the children's sleep would not be disturbed. " Richard, I need to talk to you for a minute."

Richard Whitney smiled to himself, there in the hall, knowing their talk would probably last for several times her estimate. "I'll be there in one second, Susan," he called, not noticing that it took him several seconds more than one to pull his bathrobe over his partially unbuttoned dress shirt.

Then he strode into the living room and sat down on the couch beside her. "What's up?" he asked.

"Well, there are two things I need to talk with you about," she said. "The first is Kyle."

"What's wrong with Kyle?" he inquired. "Is he sick?"

"No, nothing like that. But he's been pretty sassy to me lately. I ask him to do something and he refuses."

"That's not good," Dick frowned. "If he acts this way when he's ten, it'll be hell when he hits thirteen."

"Exactly," his wife sighed. "Dick, what can we do?"

"Right now," Richard replied slowly, "The only thing I know to do is pray. Maybe God will show us."

Susan stood up and walked into the kitchen, returning with a mug of coffee for each of them.

"So what's number two?" her husband asked. "Cindy?"

"No, Cindy has been behaving herself quite well for an eight-year-old," Susan smiled. "But it's time we decide about my mother."

"You mean, decide whether we should invite her to live in our house or move her to a nursing home."


"Well, I don't have any problem with her coming here," Richard said. "So long as you'll take care of her."

"I don't know," his wife replied. "I don't want to be selfish, but I think she'd be better off in a nursing home. I'm far too busy to take proper care of her. I have the ladies' Bible study on Tuesdays, the Chamber of Commerce meeting on Thursday night, and I work at the school on Mondays and Fridays."

"I know, dear," Richard said, "But do you know how much it costs to stay in a nursing home? Thousands of dollars a month! She's already almost broke, and you know we could never afford that."

"Doesn't the government pay for most of it?" his wife asked. "Besides, there are other reasons. She would have to move into our bedroom it's the only one on the first story, you know and we'd have to move into the spare room upstairs. I doubt that our bed would even fit in that room!"

Richard grinned at her exaggeration, but she continued without noticing. "And it would be hard on the kids. She can't take much noise, from what I understand; the kids would go crazy trying to stay quiet in the house."

"You're probably right, Susan," Richard decided. "I'll call the nursing home in your mom's town tomorrow to see how much the government will pay."

Susan finished her coffee. "Good." She stood again and took the empty mugs into the kitchen.

Richard glanced at his watch. "She only took thirteen minutes this time," he mused. "Not bad."

"Richard " his wife's voice interrupted. " Richard, I just thought of a third thing." He smiled.

Both Richard and Susan Whitney were exhausted when they finally went to bed at ten. While Richard fell into a deep and noisy sleep, Susan dreamt for most of the night. She remembered the last dream for the rest of her life.

She was walking down the hall of a nursing home. The hall was curved and she lost all sense of direction, which is rather hard to keep in a dream anyway. The numbers on the doors grew higher and higher, but she never reached the end of the hall. She came to a nurses' station occasionally, and a few wheelchairs with wrinkled occupants were scattered here and there. But no one paid attention to her, and no one asked where she was going, which was a good thing because she didn't know herself.

As she drew near to room 1004, a frail, high voice called out into the hall, loud enough that she could hear it, but quiet enough that it did not disturb the aged bodies in the other rooms. "Cindy?"

More from instinct than from mercy she turned into the room, and found on the bed nearest the door a shriveled, white-haired woman. She had an IV attached to her right arm, and oxygen tubes running to her nose. "Cindy?" the woman asked again, when she saw Susan.

"No, I'm not Cindy," Susan said gently. "Are you expecting someone named Cindy?"

"She's my daughter," the invalid wheezed. "No, I don't expect her. She never comes."

"Never?" Susan was startled.

"Well, she came once to tell me that my son died," the woman answered. "That is all." She stared at Susan.

The silence was uncomfortable. "I've got a daughter named Cindy, too," Susan smiled, as the idea hit her. "Would you like me to tell you about her?"

The invalid nodded.

Susan told the woman all about Cindy, and Cindy's rabbit, and the fun those two had together. After what seemed a long time it's hard to measure time in dreams, you know she decided she'd talked enough. "Well, I'd better be going now," she said.

The woman blinked. "Already? Will you come back?"

"All right," Susan agreed.

"You won't forget me?"

"Of course not!"

"You can find my room again?"

"One thousand and four," Susan remembered.

"But what if they move me to another room?" the invalid fretted.

"Just give me your name, and I'll ask at the nurses' station which room you're in."

"Oh, thank you!" the woman smiled.

"Your name?" Susan asked.

"Susan Whitney," the invalid answered.

Susan awoke instantly in a cold sweat, and sat up. Her first feeling was one of relief: it was just a dream. Or was it? She looked at the clock; it was five.

"Richard!" she exclaimed, unable to contain herself. The sawmill on the neighboring pillow ground to a stop. "Richard! Wake up!"

Her husband sat bolt upright in bed, his hair skewed in seventy directions. "What's the matter?"

"Richard, forget what I said last night! Mother must come to live with us!"


"It'll work out trust me! I'll quit my job and we'll get a smaller bed so we can use the spare room."

"What?" her husband asked again, squinting at the clock. "Why did you change your mind?"

"Be quiet for a minute and I'll tell you!" she exclaimed.

Richard smiled to himself, knowing that this talk would definitely be several times longer than her estimate.

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