In a Big
Carlos AmanteaHow should we approach her, the late afternoon sun bending through the window, turning all yellow, her face, her hands, the papers before her lined and yellow. She is stiff, her fingers, her neck, even her face, has turned stiff. I remember her from before, there was a stiffness then, her back was straight, she would straighten it and turn slightly when she was angry with the man who was, she will always say, the gentlest man in the world. He was, too, as were the rest of us, an orphan child in a cold, wintry house, he was --- I believe --- unable to teach her to unbend, never able to teach her about the twists of love, the hot and somewhat disorderly magic swirls of love. There was no time nor inclination for such, I think: there was too much to be done, even then, accounts to be kept, silences to keep.
He was bad too, this man-child in a house of winter's children. She wouldn't talk to him because he, too, had been naughty. Sometimes there were whole weeks in which no words were exchanged, gulphs of silence, great gulphs into which all our hopes would fall. It was very quiet at times in the great seventeen-room house, until one day my father turned silent too, gave her the ultimate silent treatment, where he betook his presence, (which had never been there anyway) elsewhere, went dead silent, left her with nothing but six children, and a stack of heavy papers --- with pictures. My dad left her in the company of pictures of figures in helmets and staff, standing on words like "1,000 shares" and "debenture" and "security" and "common stock" and "sinking fund" --- her own sinking fund of faith in self that grew out of his surprise departure, the husband of thirty years, bound, silently, for another bourse. "He never taught me about stocks, and money," she says. "I had to teach myself everything. I did. It took awhile, but I did it. You have to be a bulldog."
She wants no pity, my mother. If you reach out to her to help her with the weight of her years she will tell you that she doesn't need help, thank you. She can do very well on her own, thank you. The eyes? They're getting better now. The hip? That too is much better now. No, she needs no assistance at all getting up from her chair. And there are always the maids. Doris comes in the morning, Lily during the afternoon. At night --- she can take care of herself perfectly well. Isn't that what all people do when they are ninety something, in their darkening prison of bars and silences? The memories, trailing her to her bed, where she sits, undresses slowly, turns, pulls her legs in after her, groans, moves the pillows about, and after awhile, falls into a vague sleep which is really no sleep at all, she wrapped in dreams (faint dreams) of the great white house in which she grew up, a great white house on Riverside Avenue; the white house with panelled rooms, dark wooden halls, bright hallways and porches upstairs, stairs with curving banisters, the large white house where, so many ages ago, she grew up (she was always dressed in white) and lived so in the heart of her father, nee "Daddy."
Mother's Daddy was a man so omnipotent that he was not only father, but brother, confidante, good fairy, travelling companion, joke-
teller, man- to- be- scolded, dear friend, a dear dear man in a large house where for the first and last time she was happy, wed as she was to this man in a linen suit who gave non-stop love for his lone, hungry child.
"Daddy always told me..." she says, when one asks about her being young. For her, being a child was always being with Daddy, who always told her things. "Daddy always told me never to go into debt," she says. "Daddy always told me never to buy bonds." "Daddy always told me never to be afraid." A Daddy who told her always --- always sit at the head of the table. Always have candles with dinner. Always have a Daddy Our Daddy which art is in heaven. Never leave me, Daddy said, and she promised never to leave him and when this other man came to the white house and said he wanted to marry her, she said, "Yes, I will marry you. But you must come and live with me and Daddy." And he did. And she and this man slept next door to Daddy's room for the first ten years of their marriage.
Now they are gone from the great white house where they all lived together. Daddy lay down and died one day and he left her bereft. She missed, still misses --- a half-a-century after his departure --- our Daddy of the white moustache and white linen suits and white shoes, now gone, dark shoes now, dark suit somewhere in the ground, dark in the ground now, gone from the house leaving her bereft, with only a husband. And soon enough, not even a husband but the ghostly girls who come to her to laugh and play, who hide in the corner of her bedroom and giggle to each other as she is trying to fall asleep, giggle so much that she has to call out to them, tell them to hush so she can sleep.
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Sometimes I wonder what makes her tick, this mother of mine --- dios mío. Did I make her up whole cloth? What planet did she come from? Did I, as the Buddhists say, pick her out specifically in order to rework the many wrongs I committed in my many past lives?
I have one last dream of her, as vivid as the one of her crossing the street to be with her love. I dream that I am visiting her house --- this same house I grew up in. She is sitting upright in a frilly, silk-lined casket --- mounted on carpenter's horses in the big hallway. She chats, asks questions, is lively, watches me with bright-eyed attention. She wants to know who I am. I try, but I can't seem to get the word out of my mouth. The word my name is stuck like some gum stuck in my mouth, one I can't pull from my mouth, although I try again and again.--- From The Blob That Ate Oaxaca