Three… I close my eyes. Two… I take a deep breath. One. “Happy New Year!” I plaster a smile on my face and cheer along with my children and grandchildren. My two year old granddaughter, Addy, snuggles into my lap.
“‘Appy New Ear!”
I tickle her tummy and she squeals. “Go find your mommy, honey.” Kissing the top of her head, I scoot her along.
“Mom?” Katie squeezes my shoulder. “Have you taken your medication tonight?”
“I’ll take it when I get home.” I pat her hand. “I need to get going.”
“But it’s so late—”
I shake my head. As I shrug my coat onto one arm, I hug my son with the other.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive you home?”
I nod, “Zackary, I’ll be fine,” and shrug his hand off my arm.
As my windshield wipers battle the falling snow, I don’t fight the tears that have wanted to fall all year. No need to keep the mask on any longer. It takes more energy than I have tonight.
I drop my keys into the bowl, put my coat away, and give Kevin, my tabby cat, a scratch on the head as she weaves around my legs. “Good girl.” Her meow is welcome white noise to drown out my thoughts as the heater chases the chill from my bones. When I see the family pictures that line my walls, my temples begin to throb.
Going to my bedroom I open the closet and stare at the top shelf, my hands trembling as they always do. Electricity shoots through me as I touch the smooth cardboard of the box. “Why do you do this to yourself every year?”
I place it on the bed and slowly take off the lid, the sweet faint scent of baby powder greeting me. Closing my eyes, I swallow. I pull out her shoes and hold them in my palm. One by one I take out the rattle, the pacifier, and the teddy bear and set them aside. I pull the pink blanket to my nose and the world goes away. What would life with her have been like? I ask myself that question every year, and as always I’m without an answer.
“Oh!” I grab my chest as the phone on the nightstand rings. I blink and shake my head. “Hello?”
“Elaina.” I laugh.
“I just wanted to remind you to take your medication.”
I glance at the nightstand. “I thought you were off today.”
“I’m still a nurse, you remember how it was. Even on our days off we’re still working. And, I’m still your friend.”
“Well, thank you, but I don’t need a babysitter. I’m a grown woman of—” I clear my throat. “I’m old enough to take care of myself.”
“A woman came by the hospital for you today.”
“She didn’t give her name,” she coughs, “but she left her number.”
“I don’t have time to—”
“She said she was your daughter.”
The phone clatters on the ground as Elaina’s voice reaches to me from the handset.
“Katherine? Are you okay?”
I retrieve the phone, biting my lip. “I’m sorry.” I stand and brace myself on the nightstand. “What did she look like? Was she okay? Did she seem happy?”
I listen to Elaina tap her nail on the phone. “She wanted to know if you would be interested in seeing her.”
I rub my forehead and pause as the word yes slips from my lips.
“I’ll call her and tell her to come by your house tomorrow afternoon, okay? That way you don’t have to worry about remembering—”
“Elaina, the doctor diagnosed me with the early stages of dementia, he didn’t say I was helpless.”
“I know but—”
Hitting the call button, I replace the handset to the holder.
The next afternoon I make circles around the living room dusting and straightening everything I had cleaned two days before. “What is the point of any of this?” I dust the lampshade again. Going to the kitchen I look at my green cupboards and wonder if she’ll like them. I make sandwiches of Swiss cheese and apple butter. As my mouth waters I question if she’ll have any of my stranger quirks or if she looks like me. Will she ask about her dad?
In my room I pull down the box and take out the letters I’ve written but never sent, and the hair the nurse trimmed from her as she lay in my arms the day she was born. My arthritis screams as I flex my fingers but my nerves refuse to let me stop. Does she have children or a husband, or grandchildren even? What if she hates me for giving her up? As the doorbell rings, my heart picks up its pace.
At the door I take a deep breath. Everything will be okay. As my nerves overtake me I fling open the door and lose my grip as my breath runs from me.
With a shy smile on her face Elaina stands at the door and reaches out a shaking hand. “Hello, Mom.”
Thank you for reading everyone! Have a question you’d like to ‘ask’ Katherine? Leave it in a comment below and I’ll include it in next week’s character interview! I hope you all have a wonderful New Year!
This story was inspired by When Readers Write’s, Blah Buster theme of Dreams. To read more, click here.