The Sounds My Mother Made

I can’t remember exactly what I was doing when the doorbell rang. Probably watching TV, as if reality didn’t quite suit my fancy. I still had a dress on, that I remember because it was terribly uncomfortable and I never liked dressing that way if I could help it; and then, as Debbie Treybaum’s face beamed at me from behind the glass front door, I thought at the very least I would not have to endure the judgmental glances of a wannabe South Ithica mother. Dresses for sucesses, I thought as I opened the door. Kill me now.

“Mrs. Treybaum! Hi!” I answered, a plastic smile plastered on my face.

“Luanne, darling. Hi there! Is your mom around?” she said.

“No. She just went to the store.”

“Oh really?” she said, her face twisting from sugary sweet into consternation. We stood there staring at each other for a moment. I waited for her to explain herself, but she just stood there, her eyes fixed one inch above my right shoulder. I shifted from one foot to the other, awkwardly picking at my hemline for something to do.

“Um…she should be back soon,” I said when I realized she wasn’t going away. “Do you want to come in?”

“Why sure!” she sounded relieved that she didn’t have to invite herself in. She barged past me and into the living room, perching herself delicately on the edge of an arm chair. I couldn’t help but wonder how such a rotund woman knew how to do anything delicately. I would have felt clumsy with all those rounded parts. Of course, my mom always said the same thing about all my long, gawky limbs.

“So…would you like something to drink?” I offered to break the silence.

“Oh no! That’s ok. Thank you!” she replied.

We stared around in silence. The hairs on the back of my neck tingled. She clasped and unclasped her hands, smoothed her tweed skirt, checked her watch.

“Did she say when she would be back?”

“No, ma’am.”

A few minutes ticked by. I wanted to ask her to leave, to tell her I’d have my mom call her or drop by later. After all, she did live behind us. No skin off her back. What was I doing that seemed so important? Probably making a sandwich. I did that sometimes. On Sundays. Maybe.

The garage door opened and Mrs. Treybaum jumped to attention, a rabbit about to flee. For a split second I saw fear, then dignity smoothed the folds of her face, and the kind of emotional strength only adults can muster on demand. My emotions controlled me, not the other way around.

Mom walked in, large Jackie-o sunglasses covering half her face. She looked trapped in a world all her own, some place where bad men chased you and trees offered no hiding places. That look stirred my heart, and suddenly I was the one afraid. I had seen that look before, when we all gathered 2 years ago to discuss a new word, “divorce”. My mother’s stare haunted my dreams and the secret silences between waking and sleeping when memories flooded my mind.

Mrs. Treybaum herded us both to sit. I suddenly despised those couches and all of the family “talks” that lived in them. I thought of walking away, of refusing to sit down, but my body moved outside of my own will, compliant to the lost gaze of my mother a million miles away. But I’m alone, my mind pleaded. Where was Lacy? How can we bear tragedy alone? How had we become so fragmented? I sat. What more could happen to us?

Mrs. Treybaum squeezed my mother’s hand. She cleared her throat.

“Luanne,” mom started. “There’s been an accident.” Her voice cracked. I stared at my mother. She stared at the space in between.

“Your father…” I watched her body draw on reserves of strength to finish that sentence. Maybe if she just didn’t finish the sentence…. My heart beat faster.

“Lulu, your father has been shot.”

“We don’t know anything yet, honey,” Mrs. Treybaum took up the charge as my mother’s strength failed. “Oh bless your heart, he is on his way to the hospital now, Lord Jesus, the ambulance met them halfway, and you know I just have a feeling, good and clean through, Lord and Father in heaven, well, as a matter of the safety off, and a hairline trigger, bless you darling, mumble mumble, laying by himself for an hour, a day, a week, they didn’t know, we don’t know anything, couldn’t possibly have been on purpose, loved you so much, and well, we’re just praying real hard for you now, dear.”

I had a hard time separating her words into sentences, or really telling if she was talking to me, my mom, or praying, or what. Someone had turned on a TV somewhere, but nothing was on and the fuzz of the snow filled my mind blocking out the sounds from her mouth as I watched them fall forward and out onto the table. Such a dignified woman, I though. Such the southern bell, the way her voice never quavered. And then I remembered, it was Veterans’ Day. Veterans couldn’t die on Veterans’ Day. I think I read that somewhere. The fuzz quieted a little at this thought.

My mom’s phone rang. She took the call in the kitchen. Mrs. Treybaum and I returned to staring at one another. I could tell she wanted to hug me, but I didn’t give her the satisfaction. Nothing had been decided yet, after all, and I kept imagining my head pressed into that large bosom. I inched over on the couch ever so slightly away from her.

“Noooooooo!!” rang crystal clear from the kitchen, followed by the crash of the phone to the ground and my mother’s slow collapse. I peaked my head over the back of the sofa. The two walls of the pass through leading into the kitchen framed the scene perfectly. Her back arched, her knees bending then giving way, her body flopping forward like a rag doll standing on all fours. I often wish my mind could remember the multitudes of prayers, of blessings, of I love you’s issued from my mother’s lips; but cries of pain scream into the soul, crossing boundaries into eternity, until, of all the sounds my mother made, they alone remain.

Mrs. Treybaum rushed to pick her up, and I excused myself to go to the bathroom. The 27 steps up the stairs felt longer than usual, and strangely covered in glue. My feet stuck reluctantly to each step. My mind flickered each time I lifted a foot, blinked as I set it higher up, white chasing white and still it buzzed, a fading out that never faded back in; the national anthem played in the wee hours of the morning, but patriots never stayed up that late and the snow always fell on sleeping insomniacs.

I made it to the bathroom, but I didn’t have to pee. Instead I sat, then lay, on the pink shag rug, on the white tile floor, in the princess themed bathroom, with the purple bows and ribbons chasing themselves up the walls in even repetition; and I wept. They say the body is made up of 75% water. My chest heaved as I forced that mass of water to fall from my eyes, willing its weight released. Slowly the sobs subsided, and desert winds rushed over my heart. I got up, washed my face and hands, and walked back downstairs.