I was raised in a house with a shipping label. I slept on foam peanuts. Every time I moved, my atmosphere rustled. There’s a reason I don’t visit Mom, and Mom is it.
Mom is alive, I think, but it wouldn’t be different if she were dead. For either of us. She is like a bear, hibernating within a cave of cardboard. Nobody goes to her house, except the fire department, when neighbors complain about excess combustibles. Five years, I think, since I saw Mom. She never calls, so I never call, so she never calls. I can’t recall who was last not to call.
I’m just like her—grossly indifferent. Once, six months either way from my birthday, she sent me a box of salmon filets. I let it sit on the porch too long. It opened itself onto the feet of the person who tried to steal it.
Mom lives in Montana. Becky and I lived there, too, until the boxes pushed us out. Mom has a thing for things. She used to be a home shopper. Since the Internet, she is an online shopper. Same thing. Since Dad died in a boxalanche and she redoubled her ordering and began to specialize in unrelenting surliness, she has lived alone. The woman has chin whiskers, but tells other people they should quit sucking their teeth, as if she’s Miss Dental Hygiene.
She smokes. Cigarettes, I mean, although we wonder if she herself smokes, like the lower levels of a landfill. Becky thinks she is decomposing and will turn to oil and make us rich. Steam and stench surface from her bathrobe. It’s sad.
It’s a fine spring morning when Becky calls to ask if I’ve heard. Nope. You? Nope. I tell her it’s my turn, since she went ten years ago. I fly up to Great Falls and drive two hours east. As I pull into her street, a UPS truck is leaving. I park in the drive. The front door is hidden behind a pile of shipping boxes. They spill out into the yard, sloping upward to a peak somewhere above what I guess to be the roof. All are unopened. I can’t tell if there’s a house here.
I call to Mom. No answer. I pull the boxes aside, find the door, and knock. No answer. So I turn the knob. It opens. Inside is worse. Boxes line every hallway, fill every room floor to ceiling. I find her in the back, surrounded by boxes. She leans into her laptop, pecking one finger at a time.
She looks up.
“Hi, Ed, when did you get here?”
My name is Bill. I tell her we were worried. She goes back to her screen. I ask what she’s doing. She’s ordering. What? A few things she needs.
I open a box. It contains dental pics and baking soda.
I open another. It contains birthday candles and underwear.
I open another. It contains condoms and caulk. The shipping label says it arrived eight years earlier. Shortly after Dad died.
“How are you?”
“Ordering.” Dad left her enough for her needs. The woman has needs. They teeter, shoved against the ceiling, leaning into the room from the walls, lifted higher by new arrivals.
“What are you ordering?”
“A moving truck.”
“Oh? Where are you moving?”
“Into the country. I need more land. This place is too small. I can order anything I want anywhere I want any time I want. Why not the country?”
A noise outside tells me the moving truck is here. It backs up, and the driver pulls a cable from the truck and attaches a hook to the foundation. He tightens the cable and starts to pull and oh so slowly the house begins to move, the foundation plowing through the ground until, after a loud crash, it slides across the lawn and into the street.
Mom is inside her box, ordering. I wave as the truck turns the corner with Mom and a pile of boxes behind it. It was a good visit.
I get back in my car and drive back to Great Falls and my flight home. As we soar over the prairie, I look down. I see a small hill, smoke rising. It erupts. Boxes spiral upward, diverting our plane. Bye, Mom. She doesn’t notice. She orders something.