We hit cruising altitude. The ground, out the window, is abstracted from the world and its problems. An expanse of salt flats or Midwestern snow. Two dimensions of white, anyway, shot through with meandering streams or ruts or roads. They look like the veins on the back of an ill woman’s hand. My mother’s hands, say. Or they look like the smoke from Adrienne’s cigarette when we sat on the dock just two summers ago, the way it curled snakily in the windless air. Smoking, Adrienne unfolded her history for me like a map. In the twilight, her hands were luminous, and seemed to leave trails in the darkening air as they moved. Trick of light or memory?
The man beside me cannot stop clearing his throat. His Adam’s apple is the size of a marble. I watch it leap an unlikely distance up his gullet and settle again back down near his topmost shirt button, where some kinky reddish hair peeps out. I watch it until he gives me a searching sideways glance, assessing my interest. Rude to stare at another’s affliction, says my mother’s voice inside my head. An Adam’s apple is not an affliction, I respond. But she’s right—I shouldn’t stare. I turn back to the window. The sun outside is heartless. A gaze cold and pitiless as the sun, my husband would quote. That never made sense to me, but now I feel that “pitiless” is the right word. The sun’s a tyrant up here. I’m on my way to another funeral.
Five summers ago my mother died. Her hands clutched the afghan I’d knitted, my first and only knitting project (“Well, you tried,” she’d said when she saw it). Her knuckles were white with strain. The doctor told us she was drowning. Her eyes darted with animal terror. Her breath came in rattling gasps, and my father and I wrung our hands in anguish at the sound. There’s no other way to say it. My right hand wound around the left. We stayed in the adjacent room when we could, doing our time with her in turns. My left hand wound around the right. I wasn’t there when she died. It was morning. It was silent. Not even a dog barked in our Boston suburb. The dogs gave a moment of silence. I walked in to find my father clutching her hand.