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Waving Goodbye, Waving Hello

by Susan Taylor

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.

Dear Emily,

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 something else.

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 empty page.

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 the yard.

The yard.

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 email address is:


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