RUTH Z. DEMING - THE BROWN ROOF
THE BROWN ROOF
It’s not easy making the phone call. This isn’t one of those calls where I can multi-task, putting the dishes away or tidying up the living room. I must totally focus as if I were listening to a voice from the dead or one of those faraway planets like Neptune or Jupiter’s moon, Io, where the chances of life, say the scientists, are the best they’ve found.
Taking a deep breath, I lie down on the red couch, brushing off some pretzel crumbs, and dial. Yes, dial is the correct word. I have only one phone and it’s a landline.
“Hi, Ma?” I say.
“Yeah, I was expecting your call,” she says.
“I called you yesterday,” I said, “but you didn’t pick up.”
“Sometimes I can’t find my phone,” she says.
No wonder. She sleeps in a double bed, the same one she and Dad used to sleep in before he died of brain cancer. She and my sister, Ellen, who lives with her, finally managed to buy a new mattress five years ago, but are still thinking of returning it.
“I went to Ada’s mom’s funeral the other day,” I say.
“What? Ada died?”
“No she did NOT,” I screamed into the phone.
“I’ll ask Ellen what you said,” she muttered, and then shouted “Ellen!”
They lived in a huge house and Ellen was usually on another floor. My mother would occasionally mention something I told her a dozen years ago. Case in point: that she could come live with me – after all, she gave me the money for my three-bedroom house – rather than put her in a home.
That woman could remember everything I said, not to mention every insult or slight from one of her five daughters.
“I want you to come over and go through my photos,” she said.
I didn’t mention I had done that and ended up at a point where I didn’t recognize any of the mishpucha. Yiddish for “family.” We were sitting at the kitchen table, a huge Shaker table with long benches with comfortable cushions on them. She had a picture album and we labeled the backs of the photos and shoved them into the compartments.
Not easy. I had her do it with her arthritic fingers.
From the red couch I heard some birds chirping.
“Mom, did you hear that?”
“Birds chirping. I’ll open the door so you can hear.”
Two large bluejays were fighting in the birdbath in my front yard.
“I hear them, faintly,” she said, not interested.
“The bluejays have no home. Nor do the chickadees,” I said. “Remember?”
She remembered that my boyfriend, Scott, who lives next door to me had three trees cut down. At the first cut, every single bird who lived in the tree or were perching there, sailed away as fast as they could.
It’s like living in your own house which was rocked by an earthquake.
“He got a good price from the tree service. Seven hundred fifty dollars,” she remembered. Money was Mom’s way of controlling her children.
A few moments of silence. When she spoke, I thought, Figures.
“You still owe me money from when you got your roof done.”
“I know,” I said. “I’m planning on paying you back. How much do I owe you?”
“Ellen!” she shouted.
I thought, I do have some stocks I could sell, but when the results arrive in the mail I don’t know what they mean.
“Never mind,” I said. “I have it written down some where.”
It was a bright November day.
“Mom, take a look outside.”
“I can’t,” she said, “it hurts too much to get out of bed.”
“Did Ellen give you your Alleve? You should take two.”
“I don’t remember,” she said.
On my kitchen table, I have a bright blue pill box where I keep my pills. The days of the week are chipping off, like old nail polish, since I’ve had it for 18 years.
“Ma, I’m going to hang up now but I’ll see you on Sunday.”
“Are you gonna bring lunch?”
“Uh, I think Lynn will.”
A major fight ensues when Lynn brings her three-course meals.
“Everyone out of the kitchen!” she proclaims. “I need all the room.”
Ellen is infuriated. In-fur-iated!!!
“Bye!” I say and hang up quickly.
In my polka-dot pajama top and bright blue slacks, I go outside where the blue sky shines brightly. Earlier that morning when I went out, I said Good morning to the neighbors who were still asleep in their beds.
Then I walked to the sidewalk and took a good look at my new roof.
If you can describe a roof as gorgeous, it sure was.
Brown tiles, which matched my yellow house.
Whenever I pull out of my driveway, I say, “God bless this house, even though I’m not sure there’s a God.”
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