Growing Pains

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2013 Barrett Winner

4th Place Emily Day

I awake to the slow creak of the house, like a branch swaying in the breeze. If I close my eyes, it’s almost as if I’m on a ship, and the waves are caressing me to shore.

But I’m not on a ship, and I’m not floating away on holiday to pristine waters and sandy isles.

I hear the scrape of a chair across the kitchen floor.

There is something not right. The house is unsteady, uneasy. So am I.

The reality of the darkness enveloping me becomes clear. I cough into my hand and rub my eyes so that I can faintly make out the blaring red “3:42am” reading on the clock. I slip on my worn red fleece robe.

The house is old, and I’m growing older with it.

I feel my joints ache, almost familiar companions of night-time journeys.

The hardwood floor is cold, and solid. It isn’t enough to make me feel grounded. I am floating, and I don’t remember which hallway I was in just seconds ago.

I slow by the kitchen table and push the chair back into place. For a second, I pause and lean on it for support.

We don’t have much in this house. The china is chipped and dusty. The chair is worn and almost splintering. The floor is bare and worn down from so many different people, such a large family. Sometimes I fear it won’t support me when I walk upon it. I couldn’t bear to replace it, though. It was older than I was, and I had no right. It was here first.

The soft rain is pattering on the roof of my old farmhouse. The bright light outside is dancing in the drops on the windows, majestic.

Continuing on my journey, I push open the heavy screen door. I ensure that it closes silently behind me.

The smell of the early morning’s rain is full of dirt, worms, and growing grass. The mist feels cool and gentle on my face. The slow drum of the gutter is an anthem to the spring.

My mother is barefoot in her nightgown on the gravel driveway. Spinning slowly, and looking at the sky, I can’t imagine how much the rocks must hurt her underfoot. There is water streaming down her silk-white hair from the rain. Her night gown is askew from the heavy water tugging it down. I shudder.

She’s getting worse.

It started by forgetting little things. The date it was, the month it was, the year.

Her purse, her medicine, her address.

An acquaintance, a friend. Me.

I knew that once my husband found out, this would be the last straw. She would have to go. She would miss out on the smells of an early morning spring rain. She would not walk on her old hardwood floors. She would be put out of the house she had made into a home. All these years.

My mother looks at me with her light confused eyes, and calls me another name. I step down off the porch and kiss her softly on the head. Her eyes flitter – she seems for a moment to become lucid.

“Please don’t tell John,” she whispers softly. A veiny pearl palm encloses the top of my hand that rests on her shoulder. The woman so brave, a pioneer in her days, now so frail and afraid.

“I won’t,” I respond, and lead her by arm into the home. The home where I was born and raised, and the home she will grow old in and die.