American Fiction Sad

“Look, Ma. The crocuses are back.” I waited a moment for her to respond. “Aren’t they beautiful?” A beat. “They’re your favorite, right?”

“What?” She pulled out of her reverie, “Yes.”

“I forgot why you and grandma liked them so much. Can you tell me again? I want to tell Claire later.”

I stopped her wheelchair in front of a cluster of crocuses so we could consider them. Their purple-veined bells had just pushed through the woodchips, presenting their golden stamen from between their curled petals. She stared at them for a moment. “They mean joy. Gladness. Hope.” Good. I knew I could get her to humor me if I mentioned her granddaughter.

“Claire will love to hear that. We have some crocuses growing near the sidewalk, too, so I can take her over to see them when I tell her what you said they mean.”

“That’s nice.”

Shoot. A dead end already. I was hoping to keep her interested in that for a while longer. “Claire’s spring break will be over soon. She’s ready to get back to school already and I’ve had a lot of trouble just finding productive things for her to do. I hate to admit it, but I’m getting payback now for all the trouble I gave you when I was a kid!” That might work. She likes to be right.

“That always happens.” She folded her hands in her lap and stared straight ahead while I pushed her. I decided to just let her enjoy the walk. I’d stop pestering her. I collected a few of the purple crocus bells and tucked them into a corner pocket of my purse to bring home. I resumed my spot at the helm of the wheelchair and continued our trip down the road.

We walked for a while on the sidewalk under the bright green shade of the oaks lining the street. A nearby butterfly glided stutteringly, inspecting that day’s assortment of flowers.

“Are you going to put me in a home?”

I took care not to stumble or stop walking at this. “Um. Why do you ask that, Ma?”

“Never mind why. Just answer. Are you?”

“I don’t know, Ma. What do you think?”

“I think you’re going to do it.”


“Stop asking why, Cara. You will.”

“We haven’t even made any decisions about that yet.”

“I still think you will.”

“Ok.” I took a few breaths to contain my annoyance at her usual straightforwardness and stubbornness. “Ma, I wouldn’t move you anywhere without consulting you first. What do you think about going to a place where you don’t have to work so hard to care for yourself?”

“I think it’s a place people go to die.”

“Ma! Plenty of folks enjoy retirement facilities for a long time before they leave this Earth, and they can spend time there just living and enjoying life without worry.”

“It’s a holding tank for the old until they die. You want to put me there so you don’t have to worry about me. So I’m not a burden to you.”

I stopped the wheelchair and crouched near her knees so that we were eye to eye. “Ma. You’re not a burden to me, but I do worry about you. I worry about you in that house all alone after Dad died, blaming yourself for things. No, don’t argue. I know you do. I have invited you to come live with us many times, but you have refused over and over again. You said that you didn’t want to intrude, even though that’s not what I think. A retirement facility would be a way to have your own place while still being cared for. That way, if you ever have a fall again, there will be someone there immediately.”

“You know I can’t leave the house your father and I built together. It means too much.”

I sighed. Any further on this topic would bring us into nuclear territory. There was no need to do that today. I stepped away from the brink and returned to the wheelchair handles. “I know, Ma.” We walked on past a freshly tilled garden bed to make it back to her house.

After getting her situated in her chair, I picked out a little clear glass vase for the crocuses. I filled it with fresh water, slipped the blooms inside, and set them on the end table nearest her chair. “Why’d you put those there?”

“I thought they would make you happy.”

“They are in the way. Put them somewhere else. The sink.”

I paused, but then snatched that little vase and took it two rooms away to the windowsill above the kitchen sink, where she would never see it because the visiting nurse does her food prep anyway. I tried to let it go. It was a small thing. I slung my purse over my shoulder and went back to her chair to say goodbye.

“Ok, Ma. I’m going. The nurse will be back here soon to help you with dinner.”


I waited. Nothing. “Ok, Ma. Goodbye.”

She murmured something unintelligible and switched on the TV. I sighed, gathered my composure, and left.

“Don’t worry. We’ll make sure that she’s taken care of. Our fire alarms indicate to us immediately which unit is in trouble, so we’ll be able to get to her right away if any cooking accidents happen. No candles are allowed, though,” the facility director mentioned as she finished opening the drapes to Ma’s new living room.

“I only burned a little oil, that’s all,” Ma muttered under her breath. I ignored her.

“Thank you. Is there anything else we need to do to sort out paperwork?”

“No, you’re all set. I know that coming here will mean a transition. It will take time to settle in, but we have so many wonderful people here. I’ll leave you alone now to get acquainted with the place!” The director left, closing the door behind her.

“She seems nice.”

“Why am I being punished like this, Cara?”

“This isn’t a punishment. Remember, I invited you to live with me, but you didn’t want to. If you lived with me, you wouldn’t be alone. Now, not only can you not live in a half-burned house, we’re worried about leaving you alone so much of the time.” The fall and the fire had happened too close to each other, even under a regularly scheduled residential care nurse. She didn’t want a live-in nurse. We couldn’t risk another disaster in the same time frame. “I just…want to protect you, Ma.”

She moved herself close to the window and surveyed the landscape outside. “It’s not half-burned. Only the kitchen is gone.” Then, she asserted quietly, “I can take care of myself.”

“Ma…I know.” She had survived the fire. But what if that happened again? How could I tell her that someday soon, she might not recover or make it out in time?

As I was sorting out how best to reiterate my case to her, she said, “This happened to mom. I didn’t want it to happen to me.”

“What? What happened to grandma?”

She started a bit in her chair, clearly having forgotten that I was standing near her. She looked like she was considering something and I worried that she was preparing to lie or blow the topic off, but then moved forward with her explanation. “I had to send her to a nursing home. She couldn’t take care of herself. I couldn’t take care of her. She needed constant supervision. I used to feel so guilty that she couldn’t spend her last days in her home with dignity. I am not as bad as she was. I don’t see why I have to be here.”

I took it in. “Ma, you know I love you. But the fact of the matter is that this retirement facility,” I emphasized the words to remind her that this place was different than a nursing home, “is our best chance to keep you safe and happy. If you don’t like this, you can always change your mind and come live with me. You can let me know anytime.”

“Yeah, I know,” she sighed. I waited to see if she would add anything else. She didn’t.

I spent some time looking around, finding positive things to say about the apartment. She could put her books here, her crafting supplies there, her favorite picture of Dad on that wall. She glanced at my activities and nodded silently before returning to look out of the window. I ran out of things to say, so I prepared to leave.

“Alright. I’m going to go now. You let me know if you need anything, ok?”

“Ok. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.” I paused, watching her look out through the window. I reached into my purse and took out my parting housewarming gift. I unwrapped it placed it on the coffee table near her without making a big deal of it. “I love you, Ma.”

She was quiet, so I decided to walk away and give her time. I made my way to the door when, as I reached for the doorknob, I finally heard her say, “I love you, too, Cara. Still do.” I turned to see her stroking the petals of the crocuses I’d left for her in a little jam jar on that coffee table.

I suppressed the tremble in my voice long enough to say, “I know. I’ll see you later.” I closed the door behind me, leaned on it for support for a moment, and walked out. Then I left her to herself in her new apartment at the residential care facility.

March 26, 2021 14:23

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Michael Boquet
01:39 Mar 31, 2021

What a beautiful story. It all felt so real. You do a great job of setting the scene and relaying the characters' emotions. I really felt for both the mom and the daughter. The whole piece is very true to life and powerful. Nice job.


Quinn Revelle
14:28 Apr 01, 2021

Thank you so much for the feedback and encouragement!


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