by Ciera Horton McElroy
They do not leave by night. It is Mother’s Day, bright and warm for the Dakotas—rolling clouds and a lollipop-yellow sun. They leave in plain sight. Rose’s knitting bundle is hidden in Andy’s briefcase, her toiletries stowed in Marta’s purse. Her thick waffle robe is stuffed with pill bottles, Bible, pearls. They help her to the car in slow, mincing steps. They say things like, “We’re taking you to the falls, Ma,” or “Isn’t it such a nice day for a drive?”
She is not in on the scheme. Rose’s skin has become like newspaper, gray and lined. Her eyes, bluer than a winter sky, are glass marbles. Her flannel nightgown is a thick tent with cherry blossoms. The fine print hides the stains. She looks at her son as he fastens her seatbelt; she looks at her daughter-in-law whose smile seems stiff but eager. How nice, she thinks. A drive, how nice. She is weary, though forgets why. She has bruises, but even these are mysteries, as though someone held a paint sponge to her wrist, let the purple stain her like canvas.
Andy starts the car. Marta slides beside him. Only now does he glance at the house’s front steps, where Ellen stands near the teak rockers. One hour, she’d said when they arrived unannounced.
Ha, Andy’d thought. Also, Fuck you.
A neighbor sounded the alarm just one week ago. “I think you should know there are things going on…”
The things: prescriptions altered and showers limited. Outright disgust for an aging body. Rose fell from her bed and was made to lie there for hours, punishment for clumsiness. She soiled herself, the same. Her reading glasses broke—correction, were broken, and her books removed along with the tiny TV set. She was placed on a feeding tube without needing it. Her body became speckled and limp with bed sores. More like this, so much more. The words clouded Andy’s mind as he listened to the weeping neighbor. This was all happening in his brother’s house, at the hand of his brother’s wife.
Ellen does not wave as the car leaves the driveway.
She has always been a strange woman. She hates when she and Clint accidentally match. She leaves out clothes for him to wear and erupts if he changes the shirt. She allows no beer in the house. Clint cannot have his own phone. Andy has heard all of this secondhand, but he believes it, every word. He remembers the awkward moment from their rehearsal dinner when he asked about her family. Her reply: “My daddy was a boot, and my mama was a doormat.”
Someone must have hurt you very badly, Andy thought then.
“Do you think she knows?” Marta says, following his gaze.
“I don’t really care.”
Ellen’s glare is leaden with threat. But his mother is tucked into the back seat. She stares out the window as if amazed by the houses that line this street. Have you been out of the house in two years? he wonders. Andy grips the steering wheel. He must drive straight. Only once they clear the neighborhood and enter the busy road of strip malls and churches does he breathe deeply again. Restaurant banners wave in the wind, advertising Mother’s Day specials. Brunch for $12.99 — treat your mother to something sweet! He does not have children, but for the first time in his adult life he felt fatherly, tucking his own mother’s nightgown around her spider-thin legs, adjusting the seatbelt over her chest. The questions will come later: How did I not know? Why did I not check? But for now there is only Rose in the car, one arthritic hand raised to the backseat window, warm against the glass.
Ciera Horton McElroy‘s work has appeared in AGNI, Bridge Eight, the Crab Orchard Review, Little Fiction, Lumina, and Flash Fiction Magazine among others. She is represented by Folio Literary Management.