Hold Back Tomorrow

Lazy ivory circles bleach the brown
as I pour cream into my morning coffee.

“The doctor said . . .”
            I watch swirls until they merge.
            She waits, studies my face
“I have a slight case of Alzheimer’s.”

A quick breath.
A newspaper rustle from across the room.

She props up her cheeks with a stiff smile
runs her fingers through her uncombed silver hair
tousled curls tumble to the collar of her teal housecoat.

“I took a test,” she flutters, looks away
            straightens a single flow-blue plate
            on the wall just above the breakfast table.
“I . . . I took this test . . .”

One of those three identical plates
is missing, leaving a jagged hole
in the orderly line and a deeper blush of paint.

“The doctor said I nearly passed,” she combs
            the fringe on her placemat with her fingernails.
“If only I had gotten just one more answer right
            I wouldn’t have this disease.”

Coffee burns my tongue
my hands sweep crumbs, refold napkins
align blue and white salt and pepper shakers.

“It could be worse.  It could be worse.
I’ll just fade away.  Never feel pain.”
            Mama sags back into her chair
“just . . . fade away.”

Peering into the shallows of my cup, wanting
just wanting . . . what is already cooling
savoring . . .

“He’s promised—”
            Daddy creases a page of his morning paper just so
            looks up, meets Mama’s eyes, nods
“he’ll hold my hand all the way to the grave.”

—a catch in my breath—
I inhale      swallow
wipe my eyes with a folded napkin.

Mama’s pale blue eyes skitter
            skim cobalt plates sauntering above cupboards
            dust the top of a ceramic duck’s head
            holding a tea towel too pretty to use.

She leans forward
            her vein-roped hands       take my empty cup
            set it in a waiting saucer
            as her seamless voice flows
“What can I do to help?”

The Alchemist Review
Spring 2010