And another one…courtesy of Erin


She learned them through the holes in the carpet, through the spaces in poorly fit together boards. She loves them through the clatter of their cereal bowls, the beeping of their microwave, the smoky smell of their just a little burnt macaroni and cheese. They have only lived beneath her for six months, and she can not recall just how she spent the time before. She knows that she used to walk down by the water to feed moldy bread to the ducks. Tossing the crumbling slices of bread in the water, she could forget how sad she had been when she found the green mold marring the bread’s surface that morning. What a waste, she had thought, but the ducks cheered her up. It is not what she did before that she can not remember, but how. How did she walk up the hill, when now she has to stop and rest half way up the stairs to her apartment. How did she walk along the slippery bank, when now she clings to the walls and counters of her kitchen, afraid she will fall. What would they think if she were to fall, shaking their ceiling for a second, then faintly calling their names.
Ricky, Rosy, and Timmy, and a mother who works swing shift and locks the door when she leaves. Louise stays up as late as she can. Her phone is right next to her chair, and if anything happened down there, she would call the police. She doesn’t know if they have a phone. She pays twenty-five dollars a month for hers, just so her son can call from Denver once a month and ask if she is ready to come live there in an old folks home. Of course she isn’t, she never will be. She misses him sometimes, and she misses her daughter who never calls. Once in a while, she lets herself wish they would come back. But for now she does all right, with her social security check, her boiled potatoes and thin slices of lunch meat ham.
More often than not she wakes in the morning to their voices. “It’s my turn to get the cereal prize!” Sometimes she is still sitting in her rocker, where she fell asleep thinking about how their breathing would sound if she was close enough to hear it, and wondering what sort of blankets they have. If she has slept in her chair, she is too stiff to go to the store for groceries, or to the drug store for more aspirin.
She does the crossword puzzle in her morning paper. It takes nearly all day because her eyesight isn’t what it used to be. These days, she does not take the time to read the occasional pieces of mail that come through her slot, so she stacks them on top of the refrigerator, hoping that they are just junk mail. She saves all her sight for the puzzle, which she finishes the puzzle as its getting dark, and then she pulls her rocker close to the radiator and listens through the pipes and the floor, to Ricky, Rosy, and Timmy. They get home from school at 3:30. On rainy days she is extra worried because their mother doesn’t tell them to put on dry socks when they come in. She is sure that they have been splashing in puddles, and that their little wet feet will make them catch colds. Sometimes they do have colds, and she thinks they should have medicine, but if they did, they might eat it like candy while their mother is at work. She would be sitting here and never know it, never know that they were not just drifting safely off to sleep. She trembles when she thinks of this.
Their mother hugs them all at five minutes to four. She knows this, because she hears their mother say, “Give me my hugs quick, or I’ll miss the damn bus.” She sighs when the mother swears at them, but oh the things they say after the mother has locked the door and gone to work at McDonalds. “Bring us French Fries!” call the children as their mother’s feet go down the stairs. Then they watch cartoons. Ricky wants one show, Timmy wants another. She hears them wrestling for the remote, and is afraid that one of them will hit his head on something. The names they call each other make her skin crawl. Rosy never argues about the television. She wonders if the little girl reads books, or if she watches the TV with a blank face until commercials for make up and Barbie come on. At about five o’clock Timmy and Rosy start to whine that they are hungry. Ricky tells them to wait, he’ll make it when he wants to , but he never makes them wait long, he is hungry too. Each night she strains to hear them say what they are eating. It is very important. She feels all right about macaroni and cheese, and hopes that their chicken soup has some vegetables in it. On the nights they have hot dogs or Pop Tarts, she can not bring herself to cook her potatoes, settling for a slice of thin ham that she swallows in a guilty wad.
On Friday night their mother does not work, so she can go to bed early, knowing that they are not alone. Saturday morning she wakes early. She finds she is able to put on her shoes, so decides she will go to the grocery store. She eats her last banana for breakfast. Its wrinkly skin is like her own, fragile and cratered. The stairs outside the apartment frighten her, and she clings tightly to the splintery railing as she moves one foot at a time down the slimy steps. This is the time of day to walk down the street. The boys on skateboards will still be home asleep. The skate boards make her think of blades, about to chop her off the ground as she walks. But this morning, she is safe. The corner store is two blocks away. When she gets there, the man behind the counter does not look up. She knows he is hoping that she will not ask him something embarrassing, like where the Depends are kept. She picks out four potatoes, because that is as many as she can carry at one time. She rubs her thumb across their skins to be sure that they are firm and fresh. The texture is familiar, something that she can not place for a second, until she realizes it is the texture of work hardened hands. She thinks that is it, but she can not be sure, it has been a long time.
She turns to walk to the meat section, and she sees them, apples with waxy red skins. $0.99 per pound. She wonders if Ricky, Rosy, and Timmy ever have apples. It is not a word that has ever floated up to her. She chooses three apples, and puts them in a plastic bag. She forgets about lunch meat, and buys her potatoes and apples. The man at the counter rings her up quickly, and looks annoyed when she fumbles with crumpled one dollar bills, though there is no one waiting behind her.
The sidewalk is quiet on her way home, and she is glad of it. She tries to think of what she can say when she knocks on their door. “I thought you might like…” “Just a little treat for the children…” Then she remembers that she will have to tell them who she is. The mother sleeping through the mornings and the children off at school have never seen her venture down the stairs. Half a block from home she must stop to catch her breath. She leans against a dirty break wall, but the cold of its surface makes her bones ache. She pushes herself upright again, and finishes her walk. She nearly leaves the bag of apples on their doorstep, but there are pigeons scrabbling around in the gutter. She taps at the door, and at first she is not heard. She knocks harder, and her fingers throb with each impact. The door cracks open just a little.
“Who’s there?” Its the low voice of the mother that she has heard through the floor.
“My name is Louise, I live upstairs.” Her voice sounds scratchy and strange. She wonders if it has changed somehow, or has it just been too long since she has spoken? The woman opens the door a little wider, standing behind it in jeans and a sweatshirt.
“Are the kids being too loud? I’m so sorry.”
“No, no. I just thought they might like… At the store I saw…” Louise does not know why her hand is shaking so much as she tries to separate the bag of apples from the bag of potatoes. A gust of wind pushes past her into the apartment.
“Why don’t you come in,” says the woman, and Louise does. There is a table near the door. She sets the groceries on it, and holds on to its chipped edge. She sees a large cardboard box in the kitchen, full of dishes. She can not believe that they have not unpacked their things yet. She untangles the handles of the plastic grocery sacks, and holds the one with the apples out to the woman.
“These are for the children.”
“Kids, come in here,” calls the woman. They come bursting from a bedroom, crowding in around their mother. Louise watches and can not believe that they are Ricky, Rosy and Timmy. None of them look tall enough to be making soup. Their mother smiles at them. She points to one then the other. “This is Rick, this is Rose, and this is Tim.” The children watch Louise, and she thinks of how she must look to them, with hair she can barely comb, and a dingy wool coat she can’t afford to have cleaned. “This is the nice lady who lives upstairs,” says the mother. “She brought you a treat, you should thank her.”
“Thank you,” say the three little voices, and they are the voices she knows. The mother sets the bag of apples on the counter.
“You can have them later,” she says, “After you finish packing.” Louise holds tighter to the table.
“Are you taking a trip?” she asks.
“No,” says the mother. “We’re moving. Its a better part of town, and I can afford a three bedroom place now. I’ve been saving. Rose is too old to be sharing a room with her brothers. Are you alright?” Louise feels her skin turning sticky and cold. Air catches in her throat and will not go in or out. “I’ll take you home,” says the woman. “You should rest. She puts an arm around Louise’s waste, and they walk out the door and up the stairs.
“I’m all right,” Louise says when she is settled in the rocking chair, “just a little tired.”
“I should go,” says the mother, “I left the door unlocked.”
Louise sits in her rocker, and does not eat anything all day. Her potatoes are still downstairs on the table, forgotten by everyone. The children are still arguing downstairs, but it doesn’t matter. She can feel the silence that will come, like an ache in her bones before a rainstorm.
There is a knock at her door. She does not know how long she has been sitting, but too long, because her body does not unfold easily. “Mrs. King? Its your land lord.” She opens the door, clinging to the door jam to stay upright. “I’m sorry to bother you,” says the land lord who she has only met once before, “but your son has been calling me. He’s been worried, because your phone was disconnected. He called the phone company, and they said you hadn’t paid your bill. He’s paid it now, and your phone should be back on in a couple of days.”
“Thank you,” she croaks.
When he is gone, she goes to her bed and lies down. She thinks that when her son calls, she will tell him she is ready to come to Denver.

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