Last Thursday she gave away her parrot, on Saturday her mother’s Bible. When I walk in for my regular visit, I find her on her knees, scrubbing the kitchen floor. I take off my jacket and kneel next to her, cover her hand with mine, share a little of my body heat, apply pressure on the brush. After a few more strokes, she leans into me and says, “Help me get up.” She weighs as much as I do, cookies and ice cream and beer, lots of beer. Her husband used to place two gingersnaps on a dessert plate next to her herbal tea; she waited till after he snored to have her beer.
“He came again last night, you know,” she says. “Griping about his teeth not fitting right, hard time chewing his steak. I say, Have porridge, then you can take your teeth out. But why should he start listening now? Wants to take up conducting, he says. Never could carry a tune, and now he wants to be Karajan.” She drifts off.
The echoes in the house deepen every week. Her carpets are taken away, her framed Gauguin and Degas posters given to a thrift store, the bookshelves emptied of the Great Books set and Penguin paperbacks.
Ma taught me to waltz when I was seven, before she remarried. As a young woman she’d won dancing competitions, was highly sought after as a dance instructor. I was startled to discover I had light feet and could glide, too. Glinda and I spent some of our happiest moments doing cheek-to-cheek, one of the few attributes Ma approved of in my bride. She told me not to marry the hussy, in spite of her dancing prowess. When I reported, years later, that she’d left me, Ma said, “I won’t tell you I told you so.”
School has let out, the neighborhood kids are playing tag, I listen to her rasping breath in sleep. She opens her eyes and squints. “Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, still can’t decide.”
“You can have half the evening with one, and the other half…” We laugh.
“Bring me chicken noodle soup,” she says. “I suppose we are out of borscht.”
Her hands shake as she slurps and noodles drop on her nightie. “Beer, garçon,” she says. “Make it two.” She drinks a bottle down and her eyes close.
“Waltzing With Ma” first appeared in Del Sol Review, 2019.
FEATURED IMAGE: Scott Bergey “Old Memories” (2014), 12 x 9 inches, mixed media on paper
scottbergey.etsy.com Instagram: scottbergeyart