by Pamela York Klainer
First her job had vanished, and then her apartment, so Rose hardly flinched when Selwyn called the day before the move to say that Frank was dead. He’d ordered an entire bucket of wings, extra spicy, the night before and it gave him what he thought was indigestion. When the sour feeling hadn’t abated several hours later he called Selwyn, who called his twin brother, and the two went over to Frank’s house, insisting on a trip to the emergency department. Frank wouldn’t hear of an ambulance, so the boys got him into the back seat of Selwyn’s Plymouth Duster. On arrival at the hospital Frank was dead weight from a heart attack, all 400 pounds of him. Frank hadn’t wanted the big production that an ambulance with lights and sirens would have brought, but getting him out of the back seat was a very big production and required the help of the fire department and four burly firemen. One of the firemen was doing a double shift and, feeling tired and irritable, had nasty things to say about the idiots that intentionally wedged a fat guy in a small space, but the comments were made out of the boys’ hearing and Frank himself was beyond feeling ashamed of his massive girth.
Selwyn was apologetic when he spoke to Rose, but they were going to put Frank’s house on the market right away because both families needed the money. Rose could move in, but she’d have people coming through and might have to move again before the end of the month if they were lucky and got a quick offer.
Rose groaned inwardly, knowing that her daughters would say she was stupid for even thinking of living with her brother Frank, and now that dumb idea had left her without any home at all. She shouldn’t even think of moving in with them, because it was never going to happen. Yes, yes, they knew Rose and their father – supposedly – had always kept a room for Rose’s mother Katie Kelly. But Katie hadn’t ever wanted to come, had she, and where would she have slept if she had? In a broom closet? The girls didn’t grow up in a big house, not even when Rose and their father had been living together, and there hadn’t been spare bedrooms. Having Katie Kelly live with Rose had been a pipe dream, a figment of the imagination that Rose’s daughters judged harshly and cruelly dismissed.
But Rose, in the depths of her heart, really had wanted Katie to come, and would have found space for her mother no matter what. When Katie had gone to live with Rose’s youngest sister, Rose was crushed beyond measure. Katie had taken her few remaining nice things to the sister’s house for storage, with the admonition to share them with her siblings after Katie died. But Rose’s sister hadn’t shared and Rose had gotten nothing, not a pair of her mother’s rosary beads or a few more of the china plates with faded gold trim nor one of Katie’s big flowered hats. People didn’t wear flowered hats any more but Rose would have kept the hat, and loved it, and tried it on now and again when she was thinking about her mother.
More than anything Rose wanted her two daughters to be close, closer than Rose had been with any of her brothers or sisters. But the girls weren’t close, not to each other and certainly not to Rose. The nearby daughter was married and had a child. The faraway one was single and had a big job and traveled a lot, sometimes out of the country. Neither gave Rose the kind of attention she expected, which left Rose feeling keenly disappointed and sometimes bitter. A good mother, in her view, deserved better.
Rose knew how to be a good mother because she’d had a good mother. Katie Kelly gave all ten of her children cod liver oil every day, and kept a big pot of soup simmering on the stove. She kept them fed, even if it meant a lot of white bread and potatoes. She sent them to Catholic school, and to church on Sundays. She called herself “the holy mother” because she always had holes in her cotton housedress from diaper pins used to change the latest baby. If Katie didn’t have much time for any one of her children Rose understood. There were simply too many of them, too much noise and commotion, too many dirty clothes and soiled bed sheets and wet towels, too many lost hats or white gloves for church or misplaced books, too many un-ironed shirts. And someone was always crying, hurt or cranky or just demanding attention. That’s what Rose remembered most from growing up. Someone in the house was always crying.
Rose had wanted a large family too, but she’d had the miscarriages and finally her husband said enough was enough. They had two healthy girls, and that would have to do. Rose pushed the girls into everything she wished she’d had growing up. The girls had gone to swimming lessons at the Y and ballroom dancing lessons in rented space at the local school and when they were old enough, Rose signed them up for instruction on how to drive. Driving was very important for a woman, Rose thought. Being able to drive meant you could always get away.
But when Rose did get away from the stale marriage to the man who did little more on coming home from work than sit in his chair and drink beer and grunt when some sports figure on TV missed a kick, it was her girls who were least forgiving. They thought Rose had simply dumped their father and moved on. Their father needed a wife, any man did. That he’d turned mean over the divorce, fighting Rose over every penny and lying through his teeth, seemed not to win Rose any sympathy at all.
Rose sighed, the sound of her breath coming out more like a moan. These old memories were not good for her. Keeping busy was good. Keeping busy kept the old sorrows at bay. And she had plenty to keep busy about. She needed to be out of her apartment tomorrow morning, when the truck was coming to take her bed and the last few boxes. She hated the thought of going to Frank’s. Katie Kelly had been superstitious and Rose was too, and the idea of sleeping in a house where someone had just died sounded like inviting bad fortune to wreak havoc again. Rose had stopped looking at rooming houses right after Selwyn first called, but she still had the list. One offered kitchen privileges, which Rose liked because she couldn’t afford to be eating out all the time. Before the truck came she could rescue the box that had her small appliances, and she thought she could find a used hot plate at one of the thrift stores. With that she could manage. She was sure she could get Selwyn to drive her and carry her few things into the rooming house once she made the arrangements, because the boys would feel guilty about how things had worked out. That way Rose wouldn’t have to involve her daughters at all, just call to tell them when she had arrived in her new place. Rose drew herself up straight. The girls would have no right to say a thing, because Rose wasn’t asking them for help. She’d just be calling to give them her new address and make light of the aborted move.
The cat was already gone, so there was no one to hear as Rose dialed Selwyn’s number. Yes, she knew the boys were busy planning the funeral and calling realtors and boxing up Frank’s clothes so the house wouldn’t look so cluttered. But really, all of this had left Rose in a terrible bind, and she knew Selwyn would understand. Rose’s voice struck just the right note between firm and fragile, and by the time the conversation was done Selwyn agreed to come with his car at the exact hour Aunt Rose had in mind.