Mother promised her gift to my sister and me was no matter if we wanted her to or not, right after she’d die, she’d hurry back as a steaming bowl of split pea soup or a glass flute of champagne toasting her name day or any occasion that called for bare-legs dancing in bright purple half-slips or running barefoot through snow, screaming as we touch-tagged the nearest tree then turned to run inside the wood-heated house, each log sputtering in sluggish code. She promised to find some way to tell us what it was really like to die, but in the meantime, we’d have to learn to endure loneliness and long dark halls until a crow cawed or the wooden banister knocked back.
For two nights my sister and I whispered Mamo, mu z toboyu –Mother, we’re here with you, into two long nights, finger-stroked her hair away from the fevered aged child face, took turns pressing our foreheads against hers, skin of our skin, listened as through a glass held to a wall.
The morning she died we arrived to find a waxy vinyl curtain encircling her bed protecting her from strangers’ eyes, airborne germs, the stifling August air we leaned into to take in at peace — eyes closed, her mouth unlocked, sprung open like a large locket.
Did she cross the ash bridge to my father beaming as a newlywed, meeting her again after twenty-nine years, aged as she or the same as the day he died? Did he remember to bring an empty hard-shelled suitcase, the brass-trimmed traveling alarm, her favorite white satin autograph dachshund — for years unsigned? Was Grandmother there at the window, unseen to the rest of us, sifting through morning light, dressed in her floor-dusted apron around her thick waist, the last word in the argument she and Mother started fifty years ago on her lips?
There were no secret notes for us inscribed in her skin, in the tiny blue veins of her eyelids, or scripted in her gray-tipped hair flared across the pillow. It looked as if she simply stopped wherever she was, whatever she was thinking or doing, where ever she thought she could still walk to if held up by her arms. She simply stopped, her face turned slightly to the right as if she were listening to something distant. In her hands she clutched a soft leather pouch — God, she would have said.