The water was hot, and I stood in the shower a long time after washing. I shaved as closely as I could, and used more deodorant than necessary.
My suit, shirt, tie and shoes were all waiting on my bed where
I put them after too much ironing and fuss.
It was so quiet. Normally, the house was a place of action, people coming and going, a working farm to be run, kids to take places and back, a joyous mayhem only relished when it is lost.
Two days ago, after feeding the cattle and fixing the hand clutch
on our ancient Allis Chalmers tractor, it was time to come in for lunch. I entered through the back door by the driveway, into the small side porch where we hung coats and shed dirty boots and shoes to keep from tracking the farm into the house. Coming
into the house from the bright, midday sun was a relief,
so cool and dim.
It was only as my stocking foot landed on the first step into the kitchen that I realized something was missing. The house was still.
TheQuiet was waiting just inside the door, and our lives changed.
Mom was on the floor in the front room, having died while
dusting the top of the console television. I knew that she was
gone, but pressed my fingers to her neck like I’ve seen them
do in movies. Feeling nothing, I wept.
TheSheriff came with the ambulance, all arrangements were made, the wake planned.A person’s death is quite orderly, taken care of by polite officials that secure the remains and fill out papers. All this so the loved ones can grieve, gather their tribe
and focus on cataloging memories of the life lived.
Now, sitting on the landing looking into the kitchen, I am amazed at the stillness.The room is dim, and I see all the small red lights glowing on crockpots full of food for the gathering. The glass lids clatter softly against their steamy, wet seats, letting the aroma of braising meat and lovely side dishes sneak out into the air. This food was made with love and soul, and is meant to heal, but today I want none of it.
My sisters came this morning to prepare the house to receive the mourners, as they had done only five months ago for my wife. I lit the day’s first cigarette and thought of Kate, and the day The Quiet came for her. A police officer arrived at the screen door about 8:30 that morning and informed me of the accident. A drunk driver had come across the road and hit her car head on. She died, instantly, and most of me did, too. As the policeman drove out of the lane, the only sound was the fading engine noise.
I stood there, very still, for a long time.
I gathered the five kids from school and we held each other
closely, rode out the storm in each other’s arms and found
our laughter again.
And then The Quiet came for Mom.
The glass crockpot lids softly rattle and the timer on the oven loudly counts down the minutes until the main courses are
ready to serve.
My legs begin to cramp, so I stand to work out the kinks and grind out the cigarette in the ashtray. Stretching, I hear the dogs barking to announce that my sisters are back from picking up the kids.
The four-door Ford pickup comes down the drive, kicking up a thick plume of dirt.Excited dogs give chase, my laughing kids hanging out the windows, yelling words of encouragement to them as they all race to the front porch.
The truck comes to a stop and they all tumble out to play with
the dogs and verbally abuse each other – as siblings do –
all while being put into headlocks and getting skinny butts
pinched by their aunts.
It is glorious.
I drink all this in from inside the screen door, this completely normal moment. Aunts +kids + dogs = joy. And it heals me.
Too late, I realize, I was so concerned about keeping my creases sharp and shirt unwrinkled that I am now standing at the door in my boxers and T-shirt. My clothing, while beautifully prepared, remains on the bed upstairs. My oldest sister opens the door to let everyone in, snapping me out of my thoughts.
“I see your Father has decided that the wake will be held in beach attire” she said loudly, to which they all hooted and laughed.
“I see your Father has decided that the wake will be held in beach attire,” she says, loudly, to which they all hoot and laugh.
On the way past, she tosses me a sideways glance with a smile
and says, simply, “Idiot.”
Now, the sounds from inside the house are many. Two fewer voices, but just as loud.
Quiet no more.