Emily would be home from college soon, and she would have to explain. The
question was how. How to tell her daughter everything, in a way that Emily
wouldn't reject, interrupt, tell her what her own words really meant. Agnes
looked down at the surface of the kitchen table. It was cluttered with
dishes there was no room for in the sink and this week's newspapers. Her
new cat, Cat, had plopped himself smugly in the center of the newspapers.
What her husband had always said about cats was true, she had to admit, but
now she found herself delighting in Cat's bad tendencies: he jumped up on
things, shed hair everywhere and once she had caught him on the table,
licking the butter. Now he was on the newspapers, extending a paw toward
her dinner plate.
"Oh, you big fat thing," she told him. He looked up at her with honey gold
eyes and yawned.
There was a tablet of note paper on the table, each piece had a photograph
of the Realtor who had sent it, along with a magnet with his face and
telephone number and a letter informing her that after bereavement many
people find their houses too large, too much to maintain on their own, and
he would be happy to provide her with a free market estimate and
representation if she wanted to sell her home. She had thrown the magnet
away, but had kept the notepad because paper is always useful. Now she took
the pen she used for writing grocery lists and tapped its point
thoughtfully against the Realtor's face.
Maybe a note, something Emily would have to read.
I'm at my Grief Group tonight. I want to explain about what you'll find in
the backyard. I want to tell you about your father. If I'd known, I would
have had you come home. But it was too much to ask you to just come home
for the funeral. The cat's name is Cat.
She frowned. A list wouldn't explain anything. She tore the page off and
ripped it up. Cat batted at the scraps with a chubby velvet paw and then
batted at the pen in her hand. She would just write it like she would say
it, if Emily were listening.
I'm at my Grief Group tonight. I'm sorry I wasn't home when you got here,
but it is very important to go every time. We are all widows except for one
man, who lost his wife two months ago, and we depend on each other to be
there. Tonight I am bringing dessert: instead of baking something I am
walking to the store and getting ice cream. Since your father died I have
begun walking everywhere or taking the bus for long trips. He always drove,
you remember, because it made me too nervous.
She was out of room already. She folded the first page over the back of the
pad and continued. I like walking. I never did it much before but now I
have my routes that I go on, and people say hello to me. I bundle up good
and I'm careful on the ice. There is so much I never noticed before!
This wasn't explaining anything. She'd better get to the point, as Emily
was always asking her to do. It was on one of my walks that I got the idea
for what's in the backyard. I was inching along over the icy sidewalk and I
saw a glove lying on the snow. How to explain how that glove, lying alone
on its white bed, palm open and fingers outstretched, had spoken to her,
had seemed to be in her same situation, how she'd leaned down and snatched
it up and carried it home because it had seemed important. How could she
explain to Emily that someone's lost glove was important? I picked it up
and then whenever I was on a walk, I seemed to find another one: never a
pair, always just one lost glove. I took them all home and kept them in
your father's empty T-shirt drawer, until it got
hard to shut it. By March, all his drawers were full. I had to think of
Wait. Emily wouldn't care about the gloves so much. First she should tell
her about her father. That was what was important, and why she hadn't told
her to come home. I didn't think your father was all that sick. He never
told me he felt bad, and you know how stubborn he was about going to the
doctor. I should have known but I didn't. I just thought every day was the
same, that nothing was changing. And that night when I was washing the
supper dishes and he asked me to come upstairs and lay down with him didn't
seem any different from any other night. I told him I wanted to finish the
dishes. When I came upstairs he was already dead. Emily, I think of that
now and I cry. There is no end to my crying I cry oceans and the ache of it
is too big for my chest. Honey, I am so sorry that I didn't know, I would
have had you come home. If I had known.
If she had known, she would never have done the dishes. She would have
taken him to the emergency room. They would have saved him. He would be
here now, dozing in front of the television and she wouldn't be writing
this note. She folded the second page over the tablet and faced the third
I found Cat on one of my walks through the neighborhood. He popped out of a
dumpster and frightened me. He was so skinny and dirty! As you can see,
he's now huge and his fur is beautiful. I mix an egg and oil into his food
to make him shiny. He followed me and kept mewing, so I had to pick him up.
I didn't intend to keep him. We never had cats. Your father didn't like
them. But Cat just decided I was his. He likes to be stroked under his
chin. Try it. If it's nine and I'm not home yet, please let him out into
What you will find in the yard is what I did with all the gloves. I had
about a hundred of them, and none of them matched. How is that possible?
They must make so many different kinds. The world never ceases to make me
wonder. Well, I was looking at them filling up your father's bureau and
then I happened to go outside and see our tree, with its branches all bare.
I put the gloves into boxes and dragged them out there, found your father's
old ladder and began hanging them from every little branch. I covered the
tree with them, as far as I could reach from the ladder. They hang there
like strange leaves.
The gloves touched her inside somehow, each hanging alone on a branch, all
of them swinging in the wind. The tree looked so full now, the gloves all
waving together. When the wind blows, the gloves wave together, like
they're waving good-bye, then waving hello.
Well, that was it, what she really wanted Emily to know. She pulled all the
pages off the tablet and left them on the table for her daughter to find.
Susan Taylor lives in South Minneapolis and is in her third
year of the University of Minnesota Creative Writing MFA program. Susan's
address is: email@example.com