“Are you listening to me?”
“Of course.” I smile, placing a comforting hand on her knee. She’s lost weight again. “You know how much I love your stories.”
“Yes. Okay.” She nods to herself, her eyes drifting to the walls for a moment and I follow her gaze to that hideous wallpaper, a disgusting paisley print in beige and olive green. At least it’s mostly covered, the wall now a giant tapestry of old photographs. Hundreds of them.
“Oh, where are my manners? I haven’t offered you any tea, have I?”
“No worries,” I tell her. I lift the little teacup and saucer I had nestled on my lap, just enough for her to see it. “Carol made some before she left.”
“Oh, yes. Good, good.” She nods agreeably. “Don’t know what I’d do without that woman, you know. Probably find myself drinking straight from the toilet, just like ol’ Banjo. Where is that dog, anyway? Here boy!”
“Banjo’s not here anymore,” I remind her. Hasn’t been for fifteen years.
“Well, where is he then? Don’t tell me you left that damn gate open again!” She tries to stand, her knees wobbly and weak. She inhales sharply as she struggles to regain her balance, her bony fingers digging into the armrest of the overstuffed sofa.
I’ve set the empty china on the polished coffee table in front of us, prepared to swoop in and brace her should her legs give out. The stitches from her last incident peek out from the neck of her flannel top, a harsh reminder that I’ll not always be there to catch her.
“Where is it?” Her eyes lock on mine, the once sparkling green irises now a swirling grey maelstrom of panic and shame.
“What are you after, mom? Let me get it; I was about to get up anyway.”
“I was… I seem to have misplaced my… my, um — ”
“Your glasses?” I ask, standing. It’s usually the answer. I scan the room, hoping she hasn’t buried them in the garden again.
She collapses back into her seat. Her mouth is a tight line of frustration. Her eyes flit back and forth, searching through the miasmic haze clouding her mind.
“Don’t you call me that,” she huffs. “I don’t know you from Sam.”
I ignore that. I have to.
“Where did you — ” I let the thought trail off. Best not to agitate her with pointless questions. I manage to find them quickly enough, perched atop a dusty porcelain cherub in her china cabinet. Why on earth did she put those here?
“Where did I what, dear? Don’t mumble.” She’s bent over and grimacing as her joints strain to reach her knitting now splayed out on the floor. “Carol, fetch my knitting, would you? These old bones are giving me grief today.”
“My name’s Emma.” Consistency. She needs consistency.
I pick up the stray balls of yarn, plop them back in her basket with the glasses and set the bundle on her lap.
“Oh, Emma’s my daughter’s name.” A pause. “Where’s carol?”
“She’ll be back.”
“Of course, of course. I’ve been rambling again, haven’t I?” She laughs, a hollow sound, empty. She stares at the wall of memories, watery-eyed and frail. “My daughter was supposed to visit me today.”
I squeeze her hand.
“She’s very busy, you know. Big-shot lawyer in Boston, always helping the little guy. Selfless, that girl.”
I nod. A tear escapes, and I brush it away.
“Have you met her? My daughter?” A warm, genuine smile lights up her face. “You’d like her. She’s a good listener.”