Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas

Here's a little story I wrote around this time last year. Happy holidays to all.

TIME OUT OF MIND

"Hello!" Mark called as he pulled the door open. He looked around the front hall as he kicked the snow from his shoes, alert for any deterioration in the state of the house. His mother still insisted on doing all the cleaning herself, and he half-hoped her arthritis would finally get bad enough she would accept his offer to hire a service.
His mother's voice came from down the hall. "I'm in the kitchen," she said. "Tea'll be on in a minute."
He smiled, hung up his coat. Silly of him to think anything would ever change: the oak floorboards still gleamed, the kettle was still boiling the moment he stepped in the door. With all that she had done in her life -- starting literally from nothing, and achieving everything she had -- it was silly to think that she would ever need him.
In the kitchen his mother was taking the whistling kettle off the stove, pouring water into the teapot. On the counter sat unused microwave, coffee maker, and food processor, the remains of birthdays and Christmases past. His mother took a pink knitted tea cozy off the crowded counter surface, fitted it onto the pot. "What brings you by today?" she asked.
"Do I need a reason to visit?"
"No, of course not," his mother said. She opened the fridge, took out two of the little containers of milk she took from restaurants.
"Actually, though, I was wondering how you were making out with the LifeLine."
Her eyebrows furrowed for a moment before she nodded. "Oh, that thing. All right, I suppose."
"The delivery men set it up for you? I paid for that."
"Oh yes. It's in the back room."
Mark stepped over to the kitchen's back doorway, peered into the room beyond. There it was, the LifeLine unit, looking like a cross between a recliner and an old-fashioned hair dryer; it had been set up facing the TV, where the DVD and Vidfile players he had bought her over the years sat collecting dust. "And it works all right?" he asked.
She nodded, slipped the cozy off the teapot and poured two cups. "Oh, yes."
"Did they show you how to use it?" This was what he had been afraid of. He knew, of course, her track record with machines, but had thought she might be motivated to learn how to use this one. She had lived such an interesting life, done so much in her time; he couldn't imagine she would pass up the opportunity to relive it if she could.
"They gave me a book," his mother said. "It's quite interesting. Milk?"
He nodded. "But have you used it?"
She put his mug down on the counter next to him, patted it with a careful-that's-hot gesture. "Mostly I just use the red button."
"But --" The red button flashed you back five, ten or fifteen minutes, depending on how many times you pressed it; the salesman at the store had called it the Argument Settler, since he said people often used it to verify who had actually said what.
"The thing is," she said, "sometimes the phone rings or the kettle boils, and I miss what's happening on one of my shows. Then I go back and watch it again."
"But it can do some much more than that, Mom. You can relive your childhood -- anything in your whole life --"
"I know, I know. But I have so much to do around here, who has time to live in the past?"

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