OT: My table thou hast furnished
The day is wretched and the evening is worse and finally everyone’s in bed except mom and me, sitting at the table on the enclosed back porch, going over various paperwork. And then that’s done.
“I shouldn’t have said no to him,” she says, referencing a conversation with my brother, “but I just have nothing left.”
“When you’re sick,” I say, “your problems get to be first on your list.”
“That’s what everyone at work says,” she says, “but you know–”
“I know,” I said. After this afternoon, Virgil has never been more apt: Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore.
She’s silent awhile.
“Are you still going to the picnic on Thursday?” I ask.
“Yeah, I said I would take beans.”
“I’ll make them for you.” Though I’m not optimistic she’ll want to go. It’s going to be the hottest day of the summer so far, one of the hottest summers ever here. Then again, I can imagine the calculation she’s making.
“You can make a third again as much, and make that little bit without bacon if you want. More for the rest of us.”
She falls silent again. But she shows no signs of wanting to go to bed.
“We all out of puzzles?” I ask. We’ve done eight thousand-piece ones in the last week. I’m finally getting a little bit better at it. She still does most of them, though.
“No,” she says. “Actually, that’s a good idea. It will keep my mind occupied.”
“Okay,” I say, and head for the closet.
“Let’s do that Twelve Days of Christmas one,” she says. “It’s toward the back.”
“Uhhuh,” I say. “You do know it’s, um, like, June?”
“It’s very humorous,” she says, “and it won’t be as exasperating as those Thomas Kinkade ones we were doing last week were.”
“If you say so.”
“Plus, it’s not obvious where all the different parts of the song are in the puzzle. You have to hunt.”
“Okay,” I say, returning with the puzzle.
We empty the box onto the table and start spreading out the pieces. She always does the edge pieces first, and I unerringly pick the element of the puzzle that is most intriguing but hardest to put together.
I start humming “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
“Stop that,” she says, “or I’ll have it in my head all night.”
“If you sing it,” I say, “maybe it’ll go out of your head.”
“Okay,” she says.
“You’ll have to keep us on track, though, because I don’t remember everything that happens after about the eighth day.”
“Luckily for you,” she says, “the words are printed on the box, right here.”
My mother is cursed with the combination of loving to sing and being, at the same time, completely, utterly tone deaf. We sing it. Her inability to carry a tune keeps me from doing it, either. But when we’re finished, the song is still in my head and I hum it.
“Stop it,” she says.
“Maybe we should sing something else.”
“Okay,” she says, and begins singing “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” When we get to the verse about myrrh, the lines “sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying / laid in the stone cold tomb” make us both giggle hysterically. I have to grab some tissue.
“I admit that was a bad choice,” she says, still giggling after we’ve finished the fourth verse, and she immediately segues into “O Holy Night.”
During the bravura ending (“Fall on your knees / O hear the angels’ voices”) my father stumbles out from the bedroom.
“What are you doing?” he asks.
“Singing Christmas songs,” she says, and giggles.
“This is perverse,” he says. “It’s June.” He shuffles back to bed, but he’s wakened niece A, too.
“What are you doing?” A asks.
“Singing Christmas songs,” I say.
“Oh,” she says. “Can I have a glass of water?”
“Yes,” I say, “but then right back to bed.”
“Can I crawl in with Grandpa?”
“If it’s okay with him.”
The second she’s gone, mom breaks into “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” All four verses.
I look at her, deadpan, and sing, “Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree.”
“Do you know anything else?”
“Yeah, of course,” I say.
She starts to sing, “The Lord’s My Shepherd.”
And I sing along. Of course I know all the verses. Of course she does. We know three different tunes, it turns out, and we sing all the words to all of them.
She gets up, then, and says, “I suppose A’s in my bed,” and without saying anything else, she takes a sleeping pill and goes off to bed, too.
“Night, mom,” I think, as I start to put out the lights.