Cynthia Weeks's Blog

The Table – A Short Story
May 16, 2011, 7:35 pm
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It was the muffled noise from downstairs that woke and scared Margaret.  Automatically her finger flew into her mouth as she played with her hair, using it like a feather to tickle her face.  This ritual helped to sooth Margaret whenever she was agitated or upset, acting like a tranquilizer to calm her nerves.

Her bedroom was located directly above the garage on the third floor of the old Colonial style house.  Stifled sounds floated up through the walls.  Margaret stopped nursing her finger as curiosity drew her to the large casement windows.  The night sky looked ominous in its ash-gray blanket with a hole in it for the moon to shine through.  The rays danced through the window, throwing an eerie illumination about her bedroom.  Below there were two shadowy figures carrying what appeared to be a massive item.  Margaret recognized the object these men held as the dining room table.

The mahogany table was monstrous to Margaret, stretching across the room endlessly.  She loved playing underneath it, pretending that she was a prisoner on a pirate ship or living in a dark cave with her stuffed animals.  The table had intricately carved legs with a large beaked bird on each.  She knew the birds kept watch over her while she played.

Her parents often had dinner parties and Margaret was thankful when the guests stayed at the table, rather than transferring to the living room with its great marble fireplace and comfortable couch and chairs.  She could remain undetected at the top of the stairs, listening to the tickling of glasses and the echo of laughter.  She was comforted by the sounds from below as if they were a lullaby of sorts.  Her mother would have put Margaret to bed hours ago, after her father performed his traditional trick.  She couldn’t figure out how he got his cigarette up his nose and out through his ear, but it delighted her every time.

Margaret loved playing with her father, especially when he’d lie on the floor and play circus with her.  He’d lift her up with his feet and she would fly above him like a trapeze artist, arms out wide, soaring high above him.  She couldn’t remember the last time her father had performed his cigarette trick or played circus with her.  It had been awhile.

The sounds Margaret heard now were not from a party but of men loading the table and its matching chairs into a parked truck.  She watched as it swallowed the table whole with the slam and bolt of its doors.  As the truck drove down the tree-lined driveway, the massive old oaks appeared even larger against the night sky.

Margaret didn’t move away from the window but stood staring out.  Her finger fled to the safety of her mouth but it didn’t pacify her.  The oak trees were leafless.  The empty branches looked like skeleton arms and bony fingers stretching out to grab her.

Margaret couldn’t remember when she had climbed back into the bed.  When she awoke she thought perhaps what she saw last night was just a dream.  She wondered downstairs to the dining room, expecting to see the immense table, dominating the room, but the room’s only decoration were the dust balls wafting lazily in the corners.  The hard wood floor was lighter in color where the table and chairs had set.

She went back upstairs to her parent’s bedroom.  The chilling cold of the doorknob shocked her as much as her mother’s lone sleeping figure in bed.  As she opened the old closet door, it creaked, alarming Margaret, but her mother didn’t stir.  She took a step backward as she peered inside.  Her mother’s shoes were neatly lined up on the floor; clothes arranged by color.  Her father wasn’t as organized as her mother, and she expected to see his clothes lying on the floor over his shoes, clothes hanging precariously in no particular order.  It was nearly empty, his side of the closet, with only one lone white sock, hiding in the corner.

Her finger flew back into her mouth, but still offered no consolation.  Trembling she went back downstairs, hoping that somehow the table would be there.  Only the dust balls occupied the room.

It’s Not What You Think It Is
September 16, 2009, 2:51 pm
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          Dying in your home sounds better than it actually is, at least that was true for my mother.  On an April spring day, it was deadly quiet, even though the bugs were making their high pitch sounds, it was still so very quiet.  I looked at my mother, laying in the dining room on a hospital bed and thought that this was not how she wanted it to end.  Most of us imagine that we are surrounded by the ones we love, holding our hands, flowers filling the room, people stopping by with food of all kinds and to offer their love.

          But it wasn’t that way at all.  It was quiet.  My stepfather would walk by the dining room, barely glancing in her direction on his way to another room, unable to even truly look at her.  My brother would come in for a few minutes and awkwardly pat her hand and then leave just as quickly as he got there.

          She didn’t look like herself.  With the morphine drip, she wasn’t even conscious.  This once powerful and intimidating woman was reduced to a shriveled version of a herself, lying like a mummy on the bed.  Her once beautiful high cheekbones made her face and head look like a skull.  Her fingers were still graceful and her wrists were as impossibly small as ever.  But they somehow seem disconnected to the rest of her body that was disseminated by the chemotherapy.  I’m not sure what ultimately killed her – the chemotherapy or the two cancers the drugs were supposed to eliminate.

          Not many people stopped by during the last few days of her life.  A good friend dropped off soup as she had been doing for the past year.  My stepfather made lots of calls out in the backyard, sounding quite chipper as he did so.  Everyone grieves differently but it irritated me to hear him sound so sociable.  My brother mostly read.  It was his way of coping, but I wanted company as I sat by my mother’s bed.  It was lonely.

          I wondered if my mother was lonely, if she knew that it was only me that was beside.  And perhaps my crying at times was difficult for her to bear.  It took me a day or two to pull myself together, sitting by her bedside, and to give her the “it’s okay to let go … we’ll be okay” speech.  Not that I believed it.

          It was Tuesday morning when I told her that I would be right back after taking a quick shower.  Not more than 10 minutes later, I found her dead in the dining room on the rented hospital bed.  At first I felt I had failed her, that I had chosen to leave just when she needed me the most.  But my mother was a very private person, and in hindsight, I wouldn’t be surprised if she waited for me to leave to die her own personal death.  Or maybe I believe that as to comfort myself.

          I tried closing her eyelids so my stepfather and brother wouldn’t be traumatized by seeing her lifeless eyes staring out at nothing.  But they wouldn’t shut.  It took me many times to just get them down halfway.  I don’t know how long I was with her before I finally went to tell them that she had died.  I wanted her all to myself for the last time.  She had donated her body to science so there wouldn’t be a grave or an urn to have nearby.  Only my memories to keep me company.