My mom still whispers to me. Sometimes it happens when I'm still. More often, it seems, I hear her in the midst of doing something as routine as returning a book to the library.
* * * *
The grass in my front yard had grown so tall, I worried about Clyde. He lives around the corner, so I walked to his house on Friday night. He was in his yard, with a friend.
As usual, he grinned when he saw me. He said, "This is my friend, Betty."
Betty smiled. He said to her, "This is Jane. I told you about her."
I extended my hand over the picket fence. "Hi, Betty. It's nice to meet you."
Betty shook my hand. Betty doesn't speak. I'm unsure if she's shy, or lacks the ability. She smiles, though.
Clyde has a speech impediment. He can't pronounce some consonants, omits a few verbs, but he has no difficulty talking with me. I love our conversations.
"My grass is pretty tall, Clyde. Can you mow it for me?"
"Last week was my birthday." He thought for a moment. "The 29th."
Happy Birthday! How old are you?"
He thought for a few seconds. "Fifty-nine."
"My birthday is this month," I said. "I'll be 58."
"I'll come over tomorrow."
"That's fine. I just came by to make sure you were okay."
"My trailer had so much grass in it, I didn't have room for my mower. I had to go to the dump."
"No, problem. Just come when you can."
"My mom is real bad. The doctor says it will be two weeks."
"I'm sorry, Clyde."
"She in the nursing home. Been there since . . . " he paused again, to think. "I think 2010. She real bad. I see you tomorrow, though!"
"I'll see you, tomorrow, Clyde." I walked backwards and waved goodbye, so he could take Betty home.
When Clyde hadn't arrived by noon the next day, I walked to the library to return the book I'd borrowed. I cut through the alley, a dirt two-track that's softer and easier to walk on than the uneven concrete sidewalk.
Here's what happens, next.
Wendy is in back, with Paul. A 50' ladder extends from the ground to a widow-maker limb on a tree in her back yard. Another man I don't recognize is with them. Wendy introduces us.
He catches the last name, looks at me and asks, "Are you, Jane?"
"I know," I say, realizing at the same instant as he does, that we know each other and share a common past. "It's the grey hair. It throws everyone."
"I remember sitting on your patio," he says. "Do you know what I remember? Your dad's lilies. They were so fragrant, it was like the whole yard was perfumed."
I didn't say, "Your wife was with Mom the night she died."
I remember thinking how old he seemed, when I was 17 and he was in his mid-twenties, with a wife, a farm and a baby girl. He had a dark beard then. His beard is now grey and I marvel at how young he looks.
* * * *
A few minutes after I returned home, the doorbell rang. Clyde's truck was parked in the drive. Betty smiled from the passenger seat. I opened the door.
"I got bad news. My mom passed away. I come back to mow. I going to the nursing home."
I hugged him and told him to go. He stood on the step, thinking. "I come back . . . "
"Clyde," I said, "I know. You need to go, now."
"I need to go, now."
"Yes," I said. "You need to go."
I smiled and waved at Betty, who smiled and waved back. My whole face hurt from holding back the tears.