She awoke in a bed that was not her own in a room that was not the room she remembered. It was hard to get up; she didn’t understand why her legs ached and her arms felt stiff. They hadn’t always felt that way. Only yesterday she had awoken in her own small bed tucked into the corner of the room she shared with her two sisters. Her sisters slept in the large brass bed set under the lace-curtained window. When the sun came up, it cast a tessellated pattern over the rose and ivy wallpaper.
There was a foreign sun this morning; it seemed cold and distant. This wasn’t the sun she remembered. There were no patterns of ivy and lace on the walls. Sunlight shone like a cold sheen of ice in the oval mirror that hung above the dresser. It filled the mirror with indistinct images that shimmered like shadows flitting across a stagnant pool. The too-large bed sprawled across the entire length of one wall. On a small table beside the bed, she saw a square device that blinked meaningless numbers.
Frightened, she stumbled out into the hallway. Cold seeped through the soles of her feet and crept up her spine and trembled her shoulders.
Clutching her arms across her chest for warmth, she shuffled down the unlit hall and found a kitchen. This was not her mother’s kitchen. The kitchen she remembered was dominated by a huge, blue enamel coal stove that kept the room warm in winter and filled the house with the fragrance of freshly baked bread. The dog her sisters had rescued from the alley slept behind the stove with the cat on his back. A painting of full blown roses in a glass bowl hung over the little wooden table that became a doll house as soon as she crawled under its legs to play. A canary sang in a cage by the window that opened onto the backyard garden that bloomed with a profusion of herbs and flowers.
The kitchen she cautiously entered was antiseptically white. She wanted to call out for her dog and her cat, but she couldn’t remember their names. Had they run away? She hurried to the back door and threw it open. Mama’s garden was gone! Only the repetitive green of a well-manicured lawn rolled against a concrete porch. Beyond it stood a high wooden fence that blocked access to the alley.
“What time is it?” She blurted, frantic to have some point of reference.
“It’s six thirty. Why don’t you go back to bed?” A sleepy voice said behind her.
“What day is it?” She turned to face a woman standing in the kitchen doorway. Something about the woman looked familiar. She wondered if she was the aunt who lived on the other side of the mountains. Surely this middle-aged woman wasn’t one of her sisters! The sisters she remembered were pretty and young. Mama braided their hair and tied the ends with brightly colored ribbons. This woman was much older, and her hair was streaked with gray. Her eyes were bloodshot.
“Do you want some coffee?” The woman asked and took two cups out of the cupboard without waiting for an answer.
“Where are Ella and Dorothy?” She asked and didn’t care that her voice shrilled with worry.
“They’ve passed away,” the middle-aged woman said without emotion as she measured sugar and instant coffee into the cups.
“I want to go home!” Terror stricken, the woman looked around the creamy white kitchen.
“You ARE home,” the woman told her.
“No, I want to go home!” She couldn’t find the words to explain that her house had a blue enameled coal stove and shaggy brown dog that slept behind the stove with a calico cat on his back. The square, oak kitchen table became a dollhouse the minute you crawled underneath it. This colorless kitchen was devoid of memories.
“Where am I?” She asked helplessly.
“You’re home,” the woman said solicitously as she fitted a slice of bread into the toaster.
“I don’t remember any of this!” Her voice was shrill again, but she didn’t care. She felt very lost and alone.
“It’s all right, Mom,” the woman who looked like the aunt she couldn’t remember placed a plate of buttered toast on the table. “It’s hard to remember first thing in the morning.”
So that was the problem, she told herself. The problem was morning! She pondered mornings as she ate her toast and drank her coffee.
“I think I’ll go back to bed,” she announced.
“You do that, Mom. You’re eighty years old. You do whatever you want.”
When I wake up next time, it’s not going to be morning, she told herself as she shuffled down the hall, back to the room with the oversize bed and the imageless mirror brimming with cold sun. If she fell asleep, she might wake up in her own little bed in the room she shared with her two sisters. Hopefully they had returned by now. She wondered what the woman meant when she said they had “passed on.”
“I’ll ask them when I see them,” she decided and curled under the covers. When she awoke again, she hoped Mama would be baking bread and the dog would be sleeping behind the stove with the cat snuggled on his back as the canary sang in the cage by the window. But first she had to wait out the morning. Morning was the problem. Once the morning was gone, she could go back home.
Published in Stories