With the house now empty I walked up the two flights of stairs, past the fading wallpaper, ghost frames etched into the once vibrant paper, and past closed doors and empty rooms that held the faint echo of childish voices raised in laughter and happiness. The door to the tower was open, and the lights were on. I gripped the familiar, worn railing and ascended the curving staircase.
In the latter years of her life, mom hadn’t been able to walk up the stairs to her room. After dad had died, she had even less energy to go to her room and had asked me to help her move everything downstairs so she didn’t have to make the climb.
I sighed and opened the door at the top of the stairs, the air still stale and close from years of inactivity. Dust motes floated in the fading sunlight which streamed through the round window and for a moment, I could almost smell mom’s lavender perfume. Grief gripped my chest and squeezed, but I pushed it aside. I wasn’t ready to mourn. There was work yet to be done.
Boxes already littered the floor, and I sent a silent thanks to my husband for bringing them up before he left. I was tired and after two days of unearthing forgotten memories, my emotions were frayed and too close to the surface. They were even closer here in my mother’s retreat.
Bolts of fabric, thread, pins, scissors–anything I could donate went in one set of boxes. The rest was designated for the trash. I had not shared my mom’s passion for sewing, despite her numerous attempts to interest me.
The sky had darkened without my knowledge and the room cooled from the lack of light. I shook my head to clear the cobwebs and moved around the room, rejuvenated and eager to be done, sorting and packing as I went. Only mom’s sewing table remained. I emptied all drawers but one. It was stuck and took some time to wiggle loose. The sight within knocked the breath from my lungs and I was once again ten years old.
Smiling cat faces on bright pink fabric stared back at me. On the neatly folded pile of cloth, there was a faded note in my mother’s handwriting pinned to the top. “For Mary Katherine–to finish when you are ready.”
The skirt pattern I had failed to complete almost forty years ago was enveloped within the fabric’s folds as was a receipt. She had bought another length, so I could try again. But I had never returned.
Regrets hung heavy in the small room, and the finality of mom’s death brought me to my knees. Tears leaked down my cheeks and the pain I had refused to acknowledge swelled into a terrible crescendo of loss and grief. I was a little girl again, crying for her mother. But there was no one left to comfort me.
When at last the storm subsided, I got up off the floor and wiped my eyes, lost and a little unsure, but like the remnants of her familiar perfume, mom’s voice returned to whisper in my ear, giving me purpose. “Enough stalling, Mary Katherine. What’s next?”
Placing the fabric on the table, my hands ceased shaking and a relaxed calm enfolded me in familiar warmth. I measured, marked and pinned as though my mother’s hands guided mine across the fabric. When I reached for the scissors, I hesitated, closed my eyes, and listened.
(C) Sara Ackerman 2017