In The Back Of The Closet

Prompt taken from A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves.

Her mother wanted a particular sweater. Ruth knew the one, an old cable-knit pullover her father had worn until his own death eight years ago. Now her mother wanted it, to lay under or hold.

It was the first coherent sentence her mother had spoken in days. Her eyes were focused when she said to Ruth, “I want your father’s sweater.” Ruth remembered coming home from a high school dance decades before, crying into that sweater because her boyfriend had broken things off. Her father was sturdy but patted Ruth’s back gently while her mother went to the kitchen to make tea.

“Okay, Mom. I’ll go.” Ruth told the nurses she’d be back in an hour. She was pretty sure she knew where the sweater was, at the back of her parents’ closet, in a box of her father’s things.

She sat parked in the driveway longer than she meant to, listening to the clicks and pings of the cooling engine. She called her husband to tell him where she was, in case he stopped by the hospice on his lunch break and wondered. She sat with her phone in her lap, looking at the closed garage door. Then she flipped down the visor and looked in the mirror. Ruth was always seeing her mother now, in her own glances.

Her parent’s bedroom was spare, smaller than the room they’d given her. She opened the closet and parted the hangers of her mother’s blouses and dresses. On the floor at the back was a cardboard box she set on the bed and opened. The sweater was folded on top. Ruth held it to her face, closed her eyes. All week she’d swallowed lumps, opened her eyes wide, tilted her head back and blinked  furiously because there wasn’t time to cry. Her husband and the nurses told her it was okay but she only shook her head, turned away, or excused herself to the bathroom.

Now she was alone and wanted to cry but couldn’t. She set the sweater aside and looked in the box, picked up a rubber-banded stack of letters with her parents’ handwriting on the envelopes. There were a few photographs she hadn’t seen before, one of her impossibly young parents squinting into the sun, and another of a baby she guessed was herself but on the back, in her mother’s handwriting, Paul.

Ruth took the sweater back to the hospice and laid it over her mother so the soft collar touched her mother’s cheek. She kissed her mother’s forehead and then sat. She’d left the box open on her parents’ bed. Next week or the week after, Ruth would read the letters, look more closely at Paul. But this moment was complete enough. She leaned forward and watched her mother breathe and sleep.

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