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Years after Mom left, I understood. In a gesture I knew came from her, told by a mirror. I didn’t reflect long. Told the others. They hadn’t thought of it themselves, but agreed. We never thought we understood, but when I understood and we then all agreed, we understood. Still, it hurt – we agreed not to tell Dad. A bad memory taxes an old person. He already sat in a reclining chair in my living room all day long. Mute since her departure years ago. He napped often. Soup he ate, sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sandwiches, same. (Dessert always yes.)

If we told him, would he have understood? Said anything? Or cared?

We gathered at my dining table, polished walnut with matching chairs, our hands folded. I doubt we’d ever been in such agreement. My husband suggested wine. The other husbands agreed. I got out Mom’s wedding crystal. My having it was a bit of a sore point between us girls, but, hey, I cared for Dad. Besides, all of us in agreement? I put together a plate of cheese: Beauzac blue, a Gruyère surchoix, and an aged chèvre crottin. Had fresh baguettes for the occasion. Cherry tomatoes from the garden. Basil. Made a salad.

Up with a bottle of Margaux 1996, my husband brought two salamis, fines herbes and garlic boar. That supped us. We opened bottle two, bottle three. No reason to let it go to vinegar.

In the meantime, our daughter came in wanting to bake. She’s the spitting image of Karen Carpenter, without the bad haircut, the anorexia, or voice. Plays the drums, though. Well. She baked a chocolate cake and made a vanilla sauce because we didn’t have vanilla ice cream, and insisted we eat the cake and sauce together, warm.

Mother never allowed us to eat warm bread or cake, someone remembered. Gave you a bellyache. No memory of that, here. Couldn’t she have been happy with us?

Dad dribbled sauce.

My husband and daughter put him to bed. We sipped espressos. No bellyaches amongst us. Then our daughter wrote the cake and vanilla sauce recipes on index cards in her lovely handwriting for each party to take home; Mom’d had lovely handwriting.

Someone said that something was coming to an end but that she felt too tipsy after three bottles of Margaux and several rounds of grappa to put it into words, and, by golly, we all agreed. Again. We praised my husband’s wine. His grappa. Here’s to cheese and sausage! To cake! To vanilla sauce!

Hugs and kisses: the evening ended.


Later that night, a thud roused me. I tottered into Dad’s room. Found him catawampus across the bedside throw rug, lit by the nightlight. I woke my husband and daughter. I phoned the others.

His funeral was well attended. One of us thought she might have seen Mom there. Couldn’t be, the rest of us insisted. Still, we wondered. Still, if so, good thing Dad didn’t know.

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Meredith Wadley lives and works in Switzerland.

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