Three seconds in, and she peaked at the timer. She didn’t like to sit much. Getting up and down hurt her joints. Instead, she grew used to being on her feet all day. But the doctor said she had to slow down. Yesterday, she was discharged from the hospital. Blurry vision and confusion never boded well at eighty years old. The doctor prescribed rest and no work. She could no longer skip meals or go to bed late. Instead, she had to lead a whole new way of living. As an old woman set in her ways, she had no belief in herself and her new practices. Morning meditations were off to a poor start. Being told to sit still and in silence only made her thoughts louder. “Did Pete remember to pay the water bill? Did Pete lock up the store? The place must look like a mess. I can’t take this. I can’t sit here.”
Despite the pain in her knees, she got up from her chair, grabbed her purse, walked past her husband, and snatched the car keys.
“Hon,” Pete started, putting down his crossword puzzle. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I’m going to the store.”
“The doc said you can’t do that.”
“The doc’s not here, is she?”
“Louise, you shouldn’t be doing this.”
“Pete, I need to do this.”
As his wife walked out the door, he swore at her and grabbed his phone. After sixty years of marriage, he knew he couldn’t stop her when she had her mind made up.
Within an hour, Louise mopped the floors, paid the bills, and finished payroll. In the middle of restocking crackers, she heard a knock on the door.
“Mom, it’s your daughter. Let me in.”
With a grunt, Louise hobbled over to the door.
Through the glass, she said, “I love you, but I’m not letting you in.”
“Mom, don't be ridiculous.”
“If you come in, you won’t let me work.”
“Mom, if you keep working, you’ll kill yourself.” Robin rattled the door. “Come on.”
Ignoring her request again and returning to restocking, she asked, “How’d you know I was here anyway?”
“Dad called me. Mom, you need to go home.”
“I don’t like it there. There’s nothing to do.”
“That’s exactly what the doctor ordered. I'm calling the police.”
“No! Don’t you dare.” Louise hobbled over to the door again.
“Hello, officer, my mother won’t --”
Louise unlocked the door and let her daughter in. “You’re so stubborn.”
“Thank you. Guess who I got it from.” Robin stepped into the store and ended her imaginary phone call. This convenience store was Louise and Pete’s third business venture. First, they were landlords. Then, they opened a car repair shop. All three businesses would continue, as long as Louise let them. Once she made enough money from one, she’d start the next. Her family still didn’t know what she was out to prove. She kept doing more and more. At first, it seemed impressive, but at eighty years old, she couldn’t afford to retire. All her life, she worked overtime because she wanted to. Despite exhausting herself, she worked because she needed to.
“Mom, someone else can do this tomorrow. Let’s go home.”
“Melanie doesn’t do it right.” Louise returned to her cardboard boxes.
“What do you mean? Does she put the crackers where the bread goes?”
“No, she isn’t neat.”
“Are you kidding me? Have you ever had a customer complain about messy shelves?”
“No, because I make sure they’re not messy in the first place.”
Robin rolled her eyes and began to wander through the aisles. As a kid, she helped her mom clean up the empty apartments. In her twenties, she worked the cash register at the car repair shop. As a middle-aged woman, she visited her mother once a week at this store. Somewhere between the potato chips and the beer, she started thinking about her mom as a little girl. Louise never shared much about her past, but Robin knew money was always tight growing up for her and her mother. Getting out of poverty took generations, and she wasn’t sure if her mother was out of it now. With hospital bills and worsening health, Louise could die with debt. Robin didn’t want that for her mother but hated herself for thinking her mother was responsible.
“Mom,” she started. “You gotta go home.”
“Just let me work.”
“You know I can’t do that. Let me do it.” Robin grabbed a box of crackers and put it on the shelf. “Easy.”
“You put those in the wrong spot.”
“Where do they go?”
“See? I need to do this.”
Robin sighed. “Mother, you need to go home.”
“No, I need to work.”
“No.” Robin snatched the box from Louise’s hand. “You need to go home and rest like the doctor said to.”
“I don’t care what the doctor says,” she said and grabbed another box.
“No!” Robin snatched that box as well.
“Stop being a brat and let me do my job!”
“Not until you go home and rest!” She stuck out her tongue.
Louise grabbed ahold of the box in her daughter’s right hand and pulled, but the box didn’t budge. Robin had her father’s strong grip. Also, having hands twenty-five years younger helped. Back and forth, they played tug-of-war. Their grips tightened with each pull.
With a particularly strong move, the box exploded, sending cracker shrapnel across the floor and onto the shelves. Like mother like daughter, the two women swore under their breath and searched for a solution. While Robin picked up the bits of paperboard, Louise found her vacuum. Without warning, she began nudging her daughter with the machine. This was how she asked her to get out of the way. With this, Robin surrendered, grabbed her purse, and tapped her foot until the vacuum turned off.
Once it was silent, Robin started, “I’m leaving, Mom. How about I drive you home?”
“I still have these shelves to stock and your mess to clean up.”
Biting the inside of her cheek, Robin teleported back to high school, when she asked her mother to come to her volleyball games. Every week, she extended an olive branch, despite the mounting evidence that her mother would never come.
“Fine. I’m going.” She waited for a response and walked to the door. With one hand on the handle, she added, “Bye, Mom.” All she got was a “Mhmm.” On her way home, Robin drove with her fingers crossed. She could never live with herself if she left her mother to die.