Days before her aneurysm bursts, Mom calls me on FaceTime.
“Your stepfather’s planning a so-called hunting weekend in the fall. I can’t forget his past indiscretions.” She’s sitting outside, her oversized, dirt-crusted garden gloves on the picnic table. A red bandana holds streams of graying chestnut hair in place as she wipes sweat off her forehead with a sleeve.
She’s lucky to be alive but unlucky. My stepfather needs to answer her phone for her. “I can’t work the TV remote either,” she says.
Weeks after she comes home, I get time off and make the six-hour drive. The lawn needs mowing. Clumps of dead grass from the last cutting sit like fallen bird nests among the dandelions. Inside she looks up at me, eyes welling. Her growing hair’s a gentle carpet. She runs fingers over her scar, a pink rut from the top of her forehead to mid-skull. She’s relearning to take care of herself. Memory and every day skills should return with time. She lets me help with her makeup. I pick out her lipstick.
In the yard she has me clip spent blooms from her lilacs. She gazes at them, cradles them like keepsakes. “Your stepfather won’t deadhead.”
Home from work, my stepfather pops a beer and says he’ll grill burgers for dinner. Mom pipes up she wants to make my favorite potato salad. She grabs some russets, washes them, and finds her favorite copper bottom pot. It wiggles as the water comes to a rolling boil. Skins on, she halves each potato, lowers the heat, and drops them in. We watch the clock. An occasional drop leaps from the pot and sizzles on the glass top surface.
The potatoes drain and cool in the sink. Mom holds the refrigerator open until it beeps. Closing it, she moves to her spice rack on the wall. Squinting, her head swivels back and forth and she leans forward as my stepfather returns to the kitchen.
“What’s going on?” He slaps pre-formed burgers onto a platter.
“Remembering,” he repeats, leaving.
Mom reaches a hand up to the spice rack. Three fingers tuck before thumb and forefinger pluck dried mustard and set it down. Paprika and celery salt follow. From the fridge come mayo and sweet pickle relish. Potato skins, dark bandages slowly peeled from a wound, fill the sink. As she measures, sprinkles, and folds, a regular kitchen whirlwind, I picture her trimming her roses again, mowing the front yard and spotting me next time when I come for a visit.
She’ll pause, anchor a fist to her side, and wave as if I’m Santa Claus in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. She won’t try to yell over the mower. Then she’ll straighten her arms, lean into it, and get back to work. I’ll stand watching as she finishes up, one path at a time, her green-stained sneakers leaving angel footprints that vanish as the freshly cut grass springs back to the sky.