Keys: A Short Short Memoir

I thought I dropped them on the kitchen counter when I returned from Snyder’s with Dimetapp for my son. Another runny nose. I search the bathroom, but there are only hairbrushes, and yesterday’s coffee cups. The New York Times covers the kitchen counter with its article on beta carotene. Too much about women and cancer in the news today. Cathy lies in the hospital, emaciated. Her glazed eyes stare at me through newsprint and window. I hunt through the stack of sailing photos on my office sofa and the pockets of my briefcase at least three times. Caught in the web of phlegm where each breath was arduous, she lifted her head to me, recognized my voice. Her sisters lined the wall behind me, silent. She lay there alone. The distance in death repeating the distance in life. I pick up the stack of mail on the counter and forget to stir the instant soup before covering it. Five days before I had held her hand when she asked me to breathe with her. After years of sailing the Apostle Islands and walking along the Mississippi River Road with her, I did not believe she would die of breast cancer, though her mother had ten years earlier. I lift the sweaters and shirts thrown carelessly on the bedroom dressing table after last night’s visit and stare blurry eyed into laundry baskets filled with underwear and socks. Help me breathe, she said. And I tried to match my breath to hers, but couldn’t. The others don’t understand, she said. But I know I don’t either. I let her fingers slip through mine. I stir the black bean soup, low fat, after all, but all the dried ingredients coagulate on the bottom and the beans stick to the spoon like refried. No lunch. No keys. Ten days ago I brought her homemade clam chowder, her favorite. She ate it for lunch, then supper, she said. I grab a handful of chocolate chip cookies and return to my office, look under The Atlantic, today’s New Yorker, the Star Tribune want ads. Nothing. I lean back into my chair, cradle the phone, and stare at the stack of files and journals on my computer table until I see a hint of metal under a cave of papers and remember the glint of afternoon light in Chaco Canyon. It was dusk by the time we drove the Great Road North. Just as we climbed the last rise, the moon, huge, rose out of dark clouds with us. We teetered on the edge of this world, crossed the arroyo, and drove toward the moon.

©Kate Hallett Dayton

Passages North

Volume 19, Number 2

Kate Hallett Dayton

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