Upon Coming Back to an Empty House
I flip through old photos and find
a black and white I took in Menemsha
following a dinner of lobster and blueberry pie.
Three women walking past a fishing shack
with nets and shark fins nailed onto its peeling
red sides. My girlfriend and her mother
and sister, alike in skirts and flowered blouses,
walking into the dusk, walking into
the sweet sadness of good things coming
to an end. Pancake breakfasts, the days
at the beach, reading in wicker chairs
on the porch, the lullaby of foghorns
and bell buoys. Walking into their differences--
a marriage with me and three kids, the final
years alone in a cottage, a cross-country
move to a new career and a husband
for a while. But now, these slender shapes
are merely leaving, strolling down the wooden
dock about to turn and call out to me to come
along, about to fade into the darkness.
The search goes on.
The three year-old in her daddy’s arms
riding him like a nightmare
shrieks as he paces down the hallway.
He half believes: over there, around
the corner--it’s breathing!
On call for baby cries,
the nursing mother sleeps alone now
while father dozes on the floor
beside their big girl’s bed,
remembering his childhood wolves.
They shivered his bones at dusk,
swam snarling on the walls at night.
And the wolf?
She sleeps in her crib, six months old,
breathing roughly, sprouting teeth.
Or say the wolf stirs
in little sister too, ready
to blow the house down.
We enter the spacious, two-story lobby
of Park Manor and notice no peeling wallpaper--
so far it seems to be a clean, well-lighted place.
Barbi! greets us with her biggest professional
smile and hands us a catalogue and brochures.
They offer companionship, appropriate levels
of care, and trips to restaurants and the symphony.
Mom nods, and I ask intelligent questions.
My oldest child is about to go to college,
and here I am again checking out programs,
a dining plan and a dormitory. As we take
the tour, we begin to believe in this place,
in the jazzercise room opening onto a grassy
knoll with benches, in the dining room with its
long salad bar, and yes, in the ice-cream social
every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Wrinkling her nose, Barbi! tells us we’re
in luck. If we wish to be naughty, we can
go right now for ice cream with hot fudge
sauce! This is mom’s language, so we march
down to a place where we find a half-dozen
silent women seated at tiny, wrought-iron
tables, chewing ice cream. Two stooped
men wait in line, staring at the floor.
Maury, the one with the walker,
looks up, nods to us, we think, aims
his walker our way and then shuffles
out of line. Here he comes, mumbling
to mom who says she’ll take a pass,
thankyouverymuch, and pulls me
through the lobby, calling out,
we’ll let you know! to Barbi
who’s rap tap tapping after us in
stiletto heels, holding out more
brochures, but we’re making it
to the glass doors, and glimpses
beyond of beds of blue and yellow
and pink flowers by palm trees
with bright birds darting about
in the streaming sunlight.
—Jim Schneider, Madison, WI