Betty Aaronson Kramer, that’s what it reads on my license, even with my husband dead now for twenty years. For my seventieth birthday, my daughter Marcia took me to Poli’s, my favorite restaurant, for a fish dinner. Marcia complained because I put the leftover saltines and dinner rolls in my pocketbook. Do all mothers embarrass their daughters? But I don’t want the waiters to throw good food out in the trash. I was born in 1918, and I guess the Depression stuck with me like an internal organ. My granddaughter Molly is finicky as a cat and barely eats even a quarter of the food on her plate.
I save anything that might prove useful. I keep a “chaos” drawer for the detritus, things I want to keep but don’t know how to deal with at the moment. Top right-hand drawer, in the kitchen, next to the wall phone. There I keep the Canadian pennies I received accidentally in change, coupons, a business card for the piano tuner. I need to know what’s where, so I keep everything enveloped in plastic, packaged in a neat baggie with the knotted scarf of a twisty tie.
I live at 801 Imperial House, Munhall Road, a condo-only complex. The key doesn’t work. 401. Identical carpeted hallways with identical wood doors. I’m sure of the one part. 701? 601? I have lived here for fifteen years. My children suggested I move here in order to “make things easier.” For whom? I wondered. I keep the guest bedroom for my black Steinway. I played lullabies on it for Marcia when she was a little girl. Hush little baby, don’t say a word, Momma’s going to buy you a mockingbird.
* * *
Marcia called to ask if she could drop off … someone. Or something. I have seven grandchildren, all told, and a dog named Trixie. No, he died. Last year? I can’t remember. Marcia asked for a pen to write down a number, so I pointed to the kitchen drawer. What is all this? Marcia said. It’s how I keep things straight. Marcia looked through my drawers, my private drawers, the tiny one in my night table, the top one of my dresser, where I keep special letters. A picture of Mr. Carey, my ballroom dance teacher. I felt violated. She saw plastic bags, twisty ties, items contained, cordoned off, separated. Each Canadian penny in it’s own bag. Isn’t everything well-organized? I said.
Marcia sat on the orange and yellow striped couch and like Macbeth wiped her hands, dirtied by knowledge, on her jeans. I felt something was wrong, an inkling, like a blurry spot in my vision. What is your name? Marcia asked. I am Betty Aaronson, I said, and I live at the corner of Mt. Royal Road, have all my life. Why are you asking me crazy questions?
They sold my car and moved me, all my things, into some kind of home, where I live in one room, and eat meals in a big dining hall. I hate being ordered about like a child. I feel like a human house losing chunks of mortar, memory, in a hard rain; it’s all there, I can see it, trickling away, almost hear it, a whisper.
* * *
A woman comes to visit me. She looks familiar. She sits in a chair quietly reading a whatmacallit, a paperback. How are you? I say, to be polite. She looks out …. The window. Rain. Tuesdays, I must make the bus for my dance class. What, mom? The woman says. Let me….my special dress… the silvery whatsit, ….for my feet, something flat but sturdy, quarters to make it easier. What? The woman says. You know, I say, for the bus. Conversations like crossword puzzles, she says, sighing.
I feel tired, so I lay down on my bed. This woman, she takes her shoes off, and curls up next to me and puts her arms around me. I don’t mind. I could fall asleep. She sings about a mockingbird. Do you know who you are, she asks? Of course I do, that’s crazy. I am. I’m….Betty.