By Deanna Morris
It is leaning, this house, more a pile of bricks than mortar and frame, casting its crooked shadow over the acres of land that made up the estate. The gardens used to be maintained, the grounds manicured. Now, weeds wallow in the yard, and the fountain that filled its bowl with spring water, is cracked and empty.
The owner, Gwendolyn, is inside, in the drawing room where a grand piano sits scratched and silent, the fireplace mantel juts its jaw over the mostly empty room. The windows are draped in heavy, moth-eaten damask material, their maroon color faded and layered with cobwebs; the only lights in the room are the dots of sun coming through the holes in the fabric. On the walls, a slight shade of difference in the paint reveals where paintings had hung, their shadowy shapes evidence of devotion to beauty and art.
Gwendolyn has lived here her entire life. She was born in the nursery upstairs. She fingers the upholstery on the worn chair and wonders how so many years have gone by. Most of her belongings have been sold, but she sometimes forgets that and wonders where everything is. Acres of her land have already been auctioned off to real estate developers. This morning the rest of the estate was sold and Gwendolyn will enter Abbey Acres Retirement Home. Her son is coming today to take her there for a tour of the facility. She has on her pale blue, cashmere sweater that she saved for this very moment.
She walks to the foyer where a mirror still hangs and she checks her hair and the fit of her sweater. It is too big for her; she has lost twenty pounds in the last five months. She hopes it hides her frail frame. The color of the sweater brings out the blue in her eyes. Although the sweater has not faded, the color in her eyes has and she looks more alert wearing it. For a moment, she almost thinks she looks pretty, but she pats the wrinkles on her face and sighs.
“Where am I going today?” she asks herself. She tries to remember, her face pensive and uncertain.
Her son arrives and takes her by the arm, gently guiding her down the walk into his car. “Mom, you look beautiful,” he tells her. The trip to the retirement home takes only about ten minutes.
“See, Mom, remember. We talked all about this. Look, it’s close by.”
The building is plain looking, but there is a flowered wreath of ivy on the door and an umbrella stand in the corner of the front porch holding spare canes for the residents. Rocking chairs line the railing. A cheery, plump woman, the resident director, shows them around, telling them about the amenities and the family atmosphere. Gwendolyn’s smile fades as soon as her son and the resident director are not looking at her. She sits down on one of the overstuffed couches while her son finalizes the arrangements.
When they return to the estate, she stares at the sign “Sold.” “I guess that’s it,” her son says. “It’s for the best, Mom.” She smiles.
He will be back tomorrow to assist her with her move to the retirement home. She assures him she does not need help with packing the few things she will be taking with her. The day before he wrote post it notes for her and placed them in her suitcase to guide her packing.
After he leaves, she opens her dresser drawer to empty it. She packs beige underwear, a girdle, support hose and one pair of pajamas, not a flannel set, but the nightgown her husband gave her so many years ago. Folding it gently, she tucks it in her suitcase ignoring the post it notes. She hangs her favorite travel dress on the closet door to wear in the morning. She puts on a flannel pair of pajamas, her robe and slippers. Her arms ache as she slides them into the sleeves, her feet cramp as her toes enter the front of the slippers.
She begins to walk around the house. With each room, she closes the door behind her. The sound echoes in the bare surroundings. When she is satisfied that she has said her good-byes, she slips under the covers. She reaches under her pillow for the pile of cash and the ticket to France and she smiles.
Her alarm is set for 6:00 a.m., five hours before her son will be there giving her time to dress and have a few hours of travel behind her. She wants to say goodbye to her son, but she knows he’ll keep her from going to Europe. She takes out a paper and pen from the nightstand and writes, “Gone to France. I have plenty of money and my ticket. I won’t lose them. I am sleeping with them in my hand.”
“He is such a good boy,” she whispers as she drifts off to sleep.
The next morning when her son lets himself in, he calls to her, but there is no answer. Her suitcase stands by the bedroom door, her coat thrown over it and his mother lifeless on her bed. As he lifts her veined hand, he finds a stack of coupons and a worn mattress tag that reads DO NOT REMOVE.