I head downstairs, passing through rays of blue moonlight from the breaks between the hallway curtains. I sense the light slicing me, upset that I’m leaving the cowardly way.
As I descend upon the last step, toes down and heel mid-air, the house decides to moan, with intention, like getting something off its chest. I struggle to remain balanced, swaying on tiptoes, lacking grace, and listening for sounds of the world’s lightest sleeper, aka Mom.
When none come, I release my awkward stance and move into the living room, begging the universe not to wake her. I wouldn’t be doing this at three in the morning if I wanted Mom awake.
The memory of the day I left for college still gives me anxiety. Her body draped against the hood of my car, unwilling to move until I absolutely, positively, without excuse, promised to visit every other month. And that was when I was only 47 miles away. What the hell will she do when she learns I’ll be in a different time zone?
No, this is the only way, I whisper aloud as I pull out two stuffed suitcases previously stowed in the storage closet behind a broken upright vacuum and a long-ago-used beach umbrella. Mom doesn’t throw things away, not since the time she got rid of a waterproof travel bag thinking she would never need one, until her knitting group made a trip to the river and everyone but she had a waterproof travel bag. Never again, she vowed.
Lifting both suitcases into the air so the wheels remain silent, I move on, but the sight of my forgotten water glass on the coffee table, soaked in a ring of condensation, makes me stop short.
I set the suitcases down, ever so gently, arms relieved, and go to the stain. Using my sleeve, I wipe at it, but a pale ring remains on the dark cherry wood. Oddly apropos.
I suppose I could have paid more attention to the few rules she gave me.
A potted plant full of leaves with yellowing edges reminds me it was my job to do the watering. A job at which you clearly suck, mocks the browning fern hanging in the corner.
If I wait till morning and tell her about moving two states away, she’ll be devastated, I whisper to the plant. Maybe even handcuff me to my bed. I don’t think she’s above it. Not to keep her only child home. Not since my father passed on three years ago.
I pick the suitcases up and doing my best to tiptoe under their weight, I move through the kitchen to get to the back door. A grocery list on the fridge flaps from the breeze as I pass by. It includes things Mom knows I like. Items she doesn’t eat herself: gluten-free sea salt crackers, pomegranate Greek yogurt, diet soda.
The light on the microwave, doubling as a night light for as long as I remember, illuminates the kitchen’s black and white tiles. I remember my father installing them, my mother screeching every two minutes, “Mind the cabinets!”
A smile forms on my lips as I sense Dad.
I relieve my loaded arms once more and look around –
The indention in the wall my head made when I was learning to roller-skate.
The photo of Lenny, our family dog, who left the world last year. His vet bills still come in the mail.
A Christmas candle on the shelf, forgotten to be packed away.
My mother’s reading glasses. All four pairs, one for every room. “I can never find the damn things!”
I decide to wait till morning, to say goodbye to the person who will always be home.