One morning, my atheist mother walked into her assisted living facility’s church service irate and naked. The attendees gasped. The reverend summoned a nurse’s assistant who quickly escorted my mother back to her room. When the head nurse called me to report the incident, she did not need to give me details: I could clearly picture my mother charging into a room full of people, oblivious to her surroundings, her sharp chin out, her hunched back exposed, her bare breasts swaying, and yelling, “What the fuck’s going on? Why can’t I get any help around here?”
“She couldn’t locate her underwear,” said the nurse.
I swallowed. “Her underwear?”
“It was in her drawer. She just forgot.” Her voice was bored like she made this sort of call at least fifty times a day, but she must have sensed my apprehension because her tone became lighter, infused with a tinkling laugh. “We’re used to this; don’t worry. We just have to report it to you.” After a pause, she added, “She’s still adjusting. We’ll give it more time.”
I told the nurse I’d be over and got off the phone. The sun was streaming through the window of my study, highlighting the aftermath of the first January snow in Scarborough, Maine. Bright sun illuminated the wet crystals as they clung to the branches of my evergreen shrubs. A car passed on the road, its tires whipping up the melted slush with a whoosh.
What if after more time my mother still barged into resident activities naked? Or yelled at the staff about wanting to smoke, or consume her daily Vodka shots? What if she still
attempted to bribe people to take her home? One nurse’s assistant with crooked teeth and a nervous laugh had told me that my mother had raised the amount to $1,000 cash if someone drove her back to her apartment in Manhattan. I didn’t want to ask her whether there was a chance she would take my mother up on the offer if the price got high enough.
I shut down my computer and stared at the black screen before picking up my car keys. Three weeks earlier, my seventy-eight-year-old mother had relocated to Portland, Maine, from a New York Upper West Side rent-controlled apartment in which she had lived for the past fifty years.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to meet new friends?” I asked her a year before on one of my frequent trips down to the city to make sure her bills were paid and to do her laundry. I approached the subject in the early afternoon, before she started drinking. She was hunched over, sitting on a stool in her tiny kitchen facing West End Avenue, CNN blaring from a small TV set on the shelf. She frowned.
“I’m not going into a home. I don’t like old people.”
“But you’d be closer to me,” I tried next, thinking that might tug at her since I was her only child. “The places in Maine are like luxury hotels. You’d love it.” My mother contorted her once-beautiful face into a shocked, insulted expression.
“You want me to give up this apartment?”
“You’d be much safer, happier in assisted—even independent—living,” I offered.
“I’m not leaving New York,” she said.
“But you’re alone. What if something happens?” I reached up and took a mug from the 1950s-style cabinets, the mug catching on the sticky contact paper that she never cleaned. I poured her a cup of freshly brewed coffee, stirred in three sugars, and handed her the mug.
“You think I’m a senile old fart, don’t you?” she asked. She took a sip, then lit a cigarette, her short unwashed white hair sticking up in oily spikes, her elbow protruding from a hole in the stained sweatshirt I had twice tried to throw away only to have her retrieve it from the trash. Her brown eyes squinted into angry slits. “If I ever get to the point where I can’t take care of myself, I’ll put a plastic bag over my head.”
“Who’s going to help you with the bag?” I asked.
“I’ll manage. You just watch me,” she responded.
My cell phone rang a second time. The head nurse was calling back.
“I forgot to tell you she keeps thinking her nicotine patch is a Band-Aid. She wants to take it off. Maybe you can talk to her when you come?”
I said I would, but I had my doubts about what difference anything I had to say would make.
As a child, I idolized my mother. She began her freelance musical career at nine, playing solo violin with the Syracuse Symphony. A child prodigy, she attended Julliard, which she paid for by being a piano accompanist. I spent much of my childhood going with her to recording sessions, sitting beside her on Saturday afternoons when she played in the pit of Broadway shows, hanging backstage while she played symphony concerts. She’d often introduce me as her sidekick instead of her daughter, which I loved.
As I began to have my own life as an adult, my mother craved the attention I had given to her when I was a child. She telephoned at least once a day, offering unsolicited opinions on everything in my life, from the type of diapers I chose for my son (“Pampers is the only way to go”) to the type of music I listened to (“I can’t believe you still fill your ears with that rock ’n’ roll shit”) to my choice of car (“You should buy a Mercedes”) to the state I lived in (“Maine’s such a rural state; how can you stand it?”). I’d often avoid taking her calls because she drained me of energy. Visiting her was limited to a few times a year. But as an only child, I knew that one day I would have the responsibility of taking care of her.
My mother did not age easily. When she was seventy, I recall how she once tried to teach my son how to play the violin. She placed the instrument under her chin and aimed the scroll at the floor, unable to keep erect because of spinal stenosis and worsening arthritis in her back. Her fingers slid into cringeworthy, out of tune notes as she tried to muster a simple scale. My five- year-old watched with fascination, but I could only recall how, as a child, I used to bask in the lush, rich tones that sang from her instrument when she played.
Several weeks later she called me. “I’m selling the instrument,” she said with a bitter laugh.
I heard the flick of her lighter and her inhalation of breath. “I’m too old,” she said, placing particular emphasis on the word “old,” which I knew was a euphemism for “it’s gotten too hard.”
“No one hires me anymore.” She went on, “Nobody cares what I have to offer.”
“Selling’s major,” I said, trying to assess the psychological consequences of her eviscerating something that had been part of her life for so long.
“Major, my ass. The fiddle’s doing nothing but collecting dust. That and a token will get me on the subway,” she said.
“Tokens don’t exist anymore. It’s now MetroCards,” I said.
“Whatever,” she said.
My mother contacted an instrument dealer and, within a month, the violin was gone. Without much to do, she began spending more time in her apartment alone—chain smoking, and nipping Vodka in the afternoon, then red wine at night.
“What if I got a facelift?” she asked me once on one of my trips down. She gazed at herself in the bathroom mirror and pulled the skin of her face back tight until she looked windblown.
“You don’t need surgery,” I said.
Dusty perfume bottles lined the shelf above the towel rack. Bright green floral wallpaper tinged beige from years of cigarette fumes coated the bathroom walls. The odor of steam heat forced through the radiator and stale air permeated the room. The shelf above the sink was filled with blood pressure pills, glaucoma-preventing drops, and multiple containers of youth-promising creams.
“You’re fine as you are.”
“I’m hideous and old.”
“No, you’re not,” I said, although we both knew I was being kind.
She released her face and arched one eyebrow towards the ceiling. “Don’t lie,” she said and stood up as straight as she could.
“But why surgery? You hardly leave this place, and it won’t make you any happier.”
“I go lots of places,” she said, her eyes flashing, her chin jutting out. “And I’m very happy.” She turned off the bathroom light and shuffled down the hallway, rotating sideways so as not to disturb the pile of books stacked on the floor against the wall; books on art, history, architecture, music, and current events were piled everywhere in her apartment because the bookshelves were stuffed to capacity. But it wasn’t just books she hoarded: it was rubber bands, paper clips, plastic bags, notepads, pens, grocery receipts.
“Can’t we throw some stuff out?” I opened her bedroom closet on another trip down. It was stuffed with clothes from the 60s, old movie projectors, shoehorns saved from various hotels, records, and sheet music stacked on the shelves. “This place is going to take forever to empty.” The scent of musty woolen blankets and dust surrounded me. I coughed.
“I’m not going anywhere, so nobody’s going to have to empty it,” she retorted and relaxed her posture, letting the large curvature on her back re-form. She shook her head and lit a cigarette. “I need these things.”
“Curtain rods from before I was born?”
“They’ll come in handy one day, you watch.”
“I don’t keep junk,” she retorted.
She finally agreed to part with a yellowing plastic soap container from her touring days with orchestras. “I might want this someday,” she said as she reluctantly placed it in the trash.
“But you have three others.” I pointed to a collection wedged between frayed towels and a set of sheets with disintegrated elastic edges in her linen closet.
“I could always need a fourth. You never know.”
Several years later, when my mother was seventy-six, at the urging of her doctor, she hired Allan, a yoga instructor. Allan kept her back pain minimized with stretches and exercise three days a week and also took her on outings around the neighborhood, which she found increasingly difficult to manage on her own due to balance issues and a fear of falling. The rest of the time my mother spent by herself, her mind getting less sharp by the day, the television news now becoming more background noise than a source of information, her New York Times subscription piling up on her dining room table along with unopened mail.
“Your mother stole a tomato from the produce section today,” Allan reported to me one Thursday, his cheery tenor voice unusually serious.
“We went grocery shopping and when we got home, she took it out of her purse and held it up. She said, ‘Isn’t it lovely? It’s so red.’”
I took a deep breath. Allan continued. “I told her I couldn’t visit anymore if she was going to steal. I said, ‘Ann it’s against the law, you can’t take things without paying for them.’ She started to argue that the manager would have given it to her for free, and I said, ‘You didn’t ask,’ and then she got all huffy, and I said, ‘Ann, stealing is not cool.’”
“I’ll talk to her,” I said.
A few days later, I was driving through Portland when my mother’s building manager called from New York.
“We have a very bad situation here,” he said, his thick New York accent rolling through the interior of my car. I pulled onto a side street and put the vehicle in park, my heart pounding.
“What’s going on?”
“She needs help,” he said.
My stomach dropped. “What happened?”
“She’s bringing homeless people into the building.”
I stopped having thoughts of a hospital emergency room, police and paramedics rushing her, near death, into the trauma section, people in blue scrubs and white masks scurrying with bags of saline solution, shock paddles ready.
“Homeless people?” I said, surprised and a bit confused.
He cleared his throat. “She’s bringing them up to the apartment. We’re very worried,” and then he added, “This is New York.”
When I called her that night, she said, “Oh, yes, of course, Jim, my new friend.”
“Who is he?”
“He’s Jim,” said my mother, like I should know. She told me how she had ventured out alone and became unsteady while stepping over puddles in the rain. “The city won’t fix the damn sidewalks. They’re cracked and uneven. I was ready to break my goddamned neck,” she said. But Jim from a doorway a few feet down saw her struggling, took her arm, and helped her cross the street safely. He escorted her all the way to the building and had been so kind and reassuring that she invited him upstairs for a glass of wine, which he seemed to very much appreciate.
“You can’t bring people up off the street no matter how nice they seem. You could be raped, murdered, dismembered,” I said.
“Jim would never do that. How can you say that? How can you even think that?” she responded, her voice curling with resentment. “You just don’t want me to have friends.”
The following weekend, I drove down to the city and, over her protests, installed a security camera, pointed at the door so I could watch and see who, if anyone, my mother brought into the apartment. I could intervene if she brought Jim or other strangers home and persuade them to leave or call the police, if needed.
But with the camera in place, day after day, many times a day, over the internet I watched my mother shuffle back and forth, scowling into the lens every time she passed. The figures from the tapestry she bought in Paris in the early 60s looked down from the wall in the background like watchful dolls. After about a week, my mother’s face loomed enormous on my computer screen, her eyes squinting, her brow furrowed, and then there was nothing—she had figured out how to disconnect the camera.
Two months later, my family and I had just finished dinner when my cell phone rang. It was Allan, and he was frantic.
“I’ve been ringing her bell since five. The super doesn’t have a key. I’ve tried calling but the machine picks up. There are two New York Times sitting outside her door.” He paused and then added, “I’m getting the police.”
Two editions of the New York Times meant that my mother had not opened her door in over thirty-six hours, forty-eight actually since the paper was delivered in the early morning. Had she gone out into the neighborhood by herself and fallen? She always carried identification, and someone would have notified me by now.
Within minutes, drilling filled the background, punctuated by loud voices—emergency personnel, the super, neighbors—and the static blips from police radios. Allan kept me on the phone while the police drilled the lock, but I don’t remember what he said. I sat on my couch in Scarborough, my husband holding my hand, my other hand gripping the phone to my ear. My legs began to shake. My toes sensed every sensation within my slippers and then turned numb. The idea that my mother might be dead struck me in the gut. My vision began to register white spots, highlighting the contrast between light and dark in the room. The idea that she might have been alone and helpless before dying sickened me. My ears began to ring.
“They’re in,” he said.
“I can’t follow them. I’m at the door they just busted open. I have to wait.”
My throat tightened. Nausea. Then Allan spoke. “She’s yelling . . . Can you hear it?”
My mother’s high pitched tones sailed into my ear, shrill and piercing through the fog of police radio noise. I couldn’t understand the words she said, but I’m sure they contained a curse-peppered version of “what took you so long?”
I exhaled with relief to mask my horror. I envisioned myself as her on the floor, trapped, unable to move, but conscious and screaming, the thick walls silencing her calls for help. Desperation, panic, and fear raced through me. But she had survived. My mother was alive.
I flew down to New York City the next morning, leaving my husband and son in Maine. Overnight, my mother had been admitted to the hospital. When I got there, she was asleep, her mouth gaped, her hospital gown open sufficiently for me to see the puffed deep purple flesh that surrounded the upper left portion of her body. She breathed in a slow even pace. The muscles of her face were relaxed. I bent down.
“How do you feel?” I whispered.
Her eyes popped open. “Like shit.”
“The doctors said you broke your shoulder.”
“I know.” She continued to stare at me and then, as if she anticipated I would ask her to recount what happened, she said, “Two buildings came down and squeezed me and I couldn’t move.”
Her eyes widened. “I was outside and two buildings just came up and squeezed me.”
“Do you know where you are now?” I asked.
She made an irritated tisk with her tongue. “Of course I do. In a hospital, silly.”
The police had found my mother on the floor of her apartment tightly wedged between her dresser and her bed. No one could understand how she managed to contort herself into such a position because there was virtually no space between the edge of the bed and the side of the dresser.
“You’re going to be fine,” I said.
“Yeah, right.” She closed her eyes.
The doctors assured me that she had not hit her head or had a stroke. A broken shoulder was her only injury. No surgery needed, but rehab was imperative since she had lost much of the strength in her legs after being on the floor in one position so long. After a week in the hospital, she was transferred to a rehabilitation facility/nursing home on 106th Street. The place had dirty windows, an elevator that moaned like a sick cat, and an antiseptic odor that overpowered the halls.
Three weeks later, she was becoming strong enough to be discharged. “She can’t live on her own, you realize,” the rehab facility social worker told me, “but she can stay here if she wants. It’s only five hundred dollars a day.”
I can’t remember exactly how I told my mother she had to move to Maine. I know I told her that all the medical staff had said that it would be unsafe for her to return alone to the apartment and that facilities in New York City would be similar to where she was, an establishment with expensive, ugly hospital-like rooms and smelly hallways. Whatever I said, she did not argue with me.
With the days counting down to her discharge, I must have called half a dozen assisted living facilities in the greater Portland area: nice places, places on the ocean, places with balconies, interior decorators, grand pianos, four star chefs, and facility administrators who shook my hand enthusiastically when they found out she would be private pay—thanks to the long-term care insurance policy I made her purchase several years before. At least five directors assured me they had a spot for her—she was a musician from New York with an illustrious career (“She played in Frank Sinatra’s orchestra? And with the Moody Blues? People will find her fascinating!”)—until they reviewed the nursing notes from the rehab facility, detailing my mother’s daily expletive-ridden rants about missing her cigarettes, booze, and apartment, and the Haldol needed to keep her reasonable.
I finally contacted a service that, within an hour, found a place willing to accept her. Soon, I was on my way to see an assisted living facility in Northern Portland that I had not thought of before. Yellow and orange leaves speckled the neighborhoods I passed as I drove, trees barely hanging on to the last bright reds of late fall, woodsmoke infiltrating the air. I cracked my window to breathe it in. This time of year was usually fun filled and exciting, with Halloween behind and Thanksgiving just ahead. But I began to panic about my mother. Was her agreement to move just a joke? Would she get into my car in New York, smiling, and by Connecticut, throw a tantrum and demand to go back to her apartment? And even if we made it all the way to the facility, then what? Would she transition well? Would she be grateful to me for keeping her safe, or resent me, even hate me, for taking away her old life?
I drove up to a wooded lot off of Canco Road in Portland. The road wound through rows of pine trees, manicured grounds, and a series of interconnected immaculate buildings resembling a large country inn. There were brightly dressed scarecrows, multicolored corn wreaths, and a “Welcome Fall!” sign balanced against the side of the building at the entrance. Inside, a gaslit fireplace warmed the common room, pinecones adorned the mantle, paintings of ships and landscapes decorated the walls. In the dining area, residents sat in groups of four, at tables with white linens and real glassware, some in wheelchairs, some with their walkers adjacent to the table. It was lunchtime and the smell of garlic bread and fresh vegetables infused the air.
The facility administrator, a petite woman with large blue eyes, greeted me.
“I can’t wait to meet your mother,” she said as I sat down in her office.
“Are you sure you’ve seen the nursing notes?” I asked. She laughed and tucked her straight blonde hair behind her ears.
“We’re large. We can handle all types,” she said as I signed the paperwork as my mother’s power of attorney and wrote a check for the deposit.
We picked out a large furnished studio with a private bath on the second floor. My mother would have a bed, a flowered sofa, a TV, several dressers, and light streaming in through large windows that overlooked the driveway and a series of pine trees below. I brought framed pictures from the New York apartment—pictures of her when she was younger, pictures of me as a baby and then of me when I graduated from college, and pictures of my son. I arranged them on her dresser and by her television so at least something would be familiar.
“Your mom will love it here,” said the facility administrator, shaking my hand as we said goodbye. I smiled to hide my apprehension. I knew that my mother would never love anything but her packed apartment on West End Avenue and that if she protested enough in the car, we might not even make it out of the city.
When I drove down to New York to pick up my mother three days later, she emerged from the rehab center, looking tiny, fragile, a stooped gray gnome in fleece pants and a black parka, her hair neatly combed, her left arm confined in a sling. One of the nurses and I helped her into the front seat, and I fastened her seat belt, breathing in the stench of stale cigarettes that still lingered on her jacket even though she hadn’t smoked in a month. She didn’t look at me as we drove away from the city. She didn’t talk to me, and I didn’t remind her where we were going. She just stared out the window and, by Connecticut, she was asleep.
Five weeks later, my cell phone rang at 2:00 a.m. I was exhausted from spending hours on my mother each day: keeping her company, plying her with snacks, toiletries, clothes, games, and puzzles, and being on the phone with the head nurse or nurse’s assistant every evening. What started out as “she’s such a character” with a genuine laugh and “she’s a feisty one” became “she wants cigarettes, but we’re a non-smoking facility” and “she wants Vodka but we’re a non-drinking facility” and a tense “have you considered a home-health companion to help keep her calm? We can recommend an agency.”
I rolled over. The phone hadn’t disturbed my husband. I watched his even breathing in and out, in and out, and I envied his calm. The facility knew to call my landline at night if it was an emergency. I would have answered; the landline was right by my bed. The cell phone stopped ringing by the time I got to it, but the voicemail signal dinged. The number that had called popped into view. It was the new phone I installed in my mother’s room. I clicked on the voicemail.
“I don’t appreciate what you’ve done, locking me up in this place,” came her prickly, furious voice through my device. “I demand to go home. This place is a goddamned prison.”
I envisioned her sitting on the edge of her new sofa, gripping the receiver with all her strength, spit flying from her mouth with every rage-filled consonant. “If you don’t get me out of here right now, I’m going into the road. I’ll jump in front of a car. If you don’t believe me, just watch. Then I’ll be dead and you’ll be sorry.”
The guilt worked, but I knew my mother’s threat was just a threat. The facility’s exterior doors were all locked at night, and the staff had warned me about “sundowning,” an agitation that many dementia patients experience in the evening. For all her bluster, she was likely to trudge downstairs and start harassing the staff on the night shift until she got tired. But had I made a terrible mistake by bringing her to Maine? Should I have let her return to her apartment and just been prepared to deal with whatever happened, accepted the consequences like a good daughter? Was I cruel to force her to live in an institution?
I went into the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. My generic Ativan, recently prescribed to me, was waiting. I had only taken one previously, the night before my mother’s release from rehab. I filled a glass with water and gulped down a pill.
Who was I to deprive my mother of the right to live her life as she wanted, the right to drink too much, smoke too much, to steal tomatoes and bring homeless people to the apartment? To die alone on the floor after a fall? No. I decided I could never let that happen. “I’m doing the right thing,” I repeated over and over in my head as the cool water slid down my throat.
Within minutes, the medicine began its effect. My legs relaxed and my mind switched from anxious to tranquil. I climbed back into bed, snuggling next to my husband. “You good?” he asked, turning toward me.
“Yes,” I replied. I kissed his cheek. “I’ll be okay.”
In the morning, I drove straight to the facility. The temperatures had dipped below zero overnight, giving the streets and sidewalks a frozen white hue even though there was no snow. The dry air pierced my lungs as I emerged from my car. The forecast for New York had not been much different—bitter cold and brutal wind: don’t-go-out-if-you-don’t-have-to kind of weather. I imagined my mother trying to negotiate the city streets, on her way to buy booze or cigarettes, bundled in her parka, clutching her purse, attempting to step over the sidewalk cracks while holding a scarf to her face. And what if there was no Jim to help her? What if she lost her balance and fell, broke her hip or hit her head?
My mother was not in the common room or the dining room or in her studio apartment when I arrived. I began to worry. What if she had found a way out the night before? Not possible, I told myself, but then I wondered. Was this facility not as good as others? Were they inadequate in their safety measures? Did they not get residents up in the morning and help them dress as the facility administrator promised they did? Did they not check on them at night like they were supposed to?
The administrator’s office door was open, and I marched in.
“Where is she?” I asked.
“Right here,” said the administrator. My mother was next to the doorway, sitting on a chair with a spiral notebook on her lap. She held three sheets of blank copy paper and two manilla envelopes in her good hand. Neatly dressed in a turtleneck and fleece pants, she handed one of the envelopes to the administrator, who thanked her.
“You okay?” I asked my mother.
She gazed at me with surprise. “Why wouldn’t I be okay?”
“You called me last night,” and I was about to blurt out the details of the voicemail when I stopped myself.
“She’s helping me,” said the administrator with a wink. “Aren’t you, Ann?”
My mother’s chin rose. “I’m running this place,” she said. She slid to the edge of the chair and balanced the balls of her slipper clad feet on the floor. “They’ve asked me to.”
The administrator continued. “I’ve given her a few things to do. And I certainly don’t mind. I think keeping her busy is important.”
I suddenly realized how much truth there was to that statement. Yes, keeping my mother useful, productive, and involved like she still mattered was key. It had probably been years since she felt engaged and significant, especially after the loss of her career.
“You sure you’re okay?” I repeated.
My mother pursed her lips in annoyance. “I’m working.”
I kissed my mother on the cheek and told her I had to get to work too. She just nodded and didn’t even ask, like she had every other time, why I wasn’t going to stay and keep her company during lunch.
Although my mother spent most of her afternoons in the administrator’s office arranging pens, holding papers, and dispensing cups of water to other residents if they came by, she never fully accepted life in Maine. Throughout the two-and-a-half years she lived at the facility before her unexpected death, she kept a suitcase by her bed stuffed with extra clothes, hairbrushes, and an envelope marked “IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS”. It contained random newspaper articles that she had cut from back issues of The New York Times (I had the Times delivered to her facility-apartment door each day)—articles on movies I was sure she never heard of, car reviews, although she didn’t drive, and recipes, despite her lack of a kitchen in which to cook.
“I’m going home soon,” she would say to me, pointing at the suitcase when I came to visit. But she no longer bribed anyone to take her.
With help from her new doctor, I sought care from a geriatric psychiatrist who prescribed medications that improved her overall mood. The facility staff convinced my mother that the cranberry juice that accompanied her dinner was red wine and, soon, my mother stopped asking for alcohol. Although my mother continued to believe she was still a smoker, because of the nicotine patch, she didn’t have cravings. I hired a home health aid with whom she bonded to quell any leftover anxiety in the evenings, and I was able to return to my life without fear that I was neglecting her.
During her time in Maine, I once took her on an outing to Macy’s at the Maine Mall. We walked through the store, my mother uninterested, until we came upon the Lancôme display. As we approached, she gazed at the shelves of neatly displayed creams and serums and cleansers, some in light purple boxes touting that they firmed and lifted, and others in silver containers, promising to erase lines and even skin tone. As she stared at the rows of product, her brow furrowed with confusion. The saleswoman was about to engage us in conversation when I put my hand up, indicating she should wait.
“You might need some night cream. I think you’re out,” I said to my mother, pointing to the smallest light purple box in the case.
My mother’s eyes widened. “How did you know?” she said, even though it had been years since she had used creams.
The saleswoman took the box from the case and gave it to my mother. My mother handled it, stroking her fingers along its shiny plastic wrapper and over its edges, as though it were a curious old friend, one whom she hadn’t seen or thought about in a long time.
“I like this one,” she said.
I began to take out my credit card, but changed my mind. Instead, I handed my mother her own credit card, which I now kept.
The saleswoman presented my mother with the slip and my mother signed it perfectly, etching a large A before the “nn,” followed by a prominent initial B and then a bold S before the “tutch” of her last name. The saleswoman put the box in a small bag.
As we turned away from the counter, my mother beamed a proud, satisfied smile. She held the purchase tightly in her hand. I patted her arm and wrapped it around mine, and as we walked back to the car, she stood up straighter than I had seen in years.
Pamela Stutch received her MFA from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program. Her work has appeared in Typehouse Literary Magazine, Five on the Fifth, The Woven Tale Press magazine, Literary Mama, and The Write Launch. She is currently employed as an attorney and lives in Scarborough, ME, with her husband, son, and several furry animals.