Starlights from Dorothy
Her daughter had a handkerchief, folded down to quarters; and several mints, the kind that looked like they had been cut from a huge candy cane. They were individually wrapped. She closed the handkerchief in the palm of her hand, like a lotus blossom turned carnivore around the mints. She deposited the handkerchief-bud in her purse before going.
Mom, Dorothy, played piano whenever the mood hit her, which was quite often. She taught so many. No one could say when exactly, but the notes and stanzas eventually looked like some language from another world. Alzheimer’s did that, nibbling away at the links and associations. True to form, she never complained. She’d play from childhood memory, the last to go, occasionally looking back to the sheet music before her in hopes it would translate itself into something intelligible. At the beginning it probably did.
Ultimately those connections hung up; done with the conversation. The last time she sat at a piano she expressed dissatisfaction with herself (I’m such a dummy), and the unfairness (I can’t do it anymore). Her talent and craft had been reduced to finger exercises; long slender fingers racing up and down the keys, stopping for little staccato riffs possibly drawn from memory—possibly made up on the spot.
Even after her outbursts, minor as they were, she would go back to pretending everything was okay. Classic mom—classic Dorothy. Sometimes the ploy would even work and things would become okay. Maybe that’s why she pretended; it occasionally worked. She would do it with people as well. Talking just as cordial as ever, using blanket statements as conversation filler. Oh, I know, I know; or a drawn out, yeeesss. Not quite on the same page all the time, yet knowing the chapter she was in.
She was found out later with questions like, “Mom? Do you know who I am?” Even after doling out your own name, you were never quite sure she understood the relationship. Anything with “in-law” appended to it was certainly gibberish.
During car trips to the doctor, the dentist, the optometrist; she would invariably ask, “Does someone have something to suck on?” She’d waggle her slender piano fingers toward her mouth and say, “my mouth’s sort of dry.” Of course, she’d take any kind of candy you might have. Her favorite was the peppermint flavored Starlight mint.
One time, Dorothy was in the back seat and her son-in-law was driving. They sat waiting for her daughter to run into the doctor’s office for a prescription. She asked for a mint and he had none. What he did have was one of those Listerine Pocket Misters in cool mint. “Ma,” he said. “I don’t have a mint for you but I have something else. It’s a mister. It’s minty. Want to try it?”
“Sure,” she said. She really had no idea what she was in for.
“Okay, open your mouth a little and I’ll squirt some mint for you.”
She did and he did and her eyes got as big as saucers. Then she breathed in and her eyes went supernova. She said, “Wowwww.”
He said, “Yeah, good stuff. Huh?”
She said, “That’s strong.” She smiled sweetly when it had a chance to settle in and said, “That’s wonderful.”
Thinking about things one day, she said distantly, “It all happened so fast.” The expression on her face was of a person who had just run a fast-forward loop of her life; vignettes, much like flash cards, shuffled and viewed randomly, the edges tattered and worn with time. It was a moment of reflection and introspection. One can only guess at what she saw while sitting there, looking off into the clouded past. But that was all she said:
“It all happened so fast.”
She, the daughter, rang the doorbell and busied herself by unzipping the top of her purse. She dropped her car keys in and removed the white lotus blossom. Looking up just in time to see the door open, she matched his greeting with her own mousy hi. It was all she could say for the moment.
He opened the door enough for her to know she should come in. She stepped forward, holding the storm door open with her body, still a step outside the threshold. Holding her hand up as if it were the outer petals of the blossom, she opened her fingers and the blossom opened as well. The candies were revealed as pistils, red and white.
“What’s that?” he said, looking from her hand to her face.
“They were in mom’s jacket pocket. Your handkerchief and her mints.”
His lower lip quivered then. He leaned back against the wall for support, tears racing for his jawline.
He said, “Oh God I miss her.”
My mother-in-law, Dorothy Poore, passed away from complications brought on by Alzheimer’s disease on Monday, November 30th. She spent 81 years here on Earth working on a fine set of wings.