Too Little, Too Late
Walking through the red oak door felt strange to me. I had come in and out of that door a million times before, but somehow this time was different. Something about the house seemed strange, too quiet. Pictures hung along the wall revealing old teenage crushes, and I held my husband’s hand tighter. This was going to be my breaking point, and I could feel it. Walking through my mother’s house felt like you had just stepped into a crayola box. She had never been a fan of white walls; instead she chose pastel oranges and blues for a more homey feeling. As a teenager I had never quite understood the difference between white walls and colorful ones, but today the difference was clear. For people who had loved this house so much, it seemed so much different now. Distant voices could be heard from the kitchen, and as we stepped closer, I realized my brother was speaking.
“Molly, help me get the islands. More people should be arriving shortly,” Finn said. My brother Finn had always been the more level-headed out of all of us. He stood at about six-feet, something he had received from my father, and he just looked like a stereotypical guido. He had chosen to embrace our father’s side, and we had all respected that. I left my husband and quickly walked to the basement, where the islands had been long forgotten.
Finn waited until we were in the basement and wrapped his arms around me in a tight hug. “I’m glad you came.” It was the first time we had spoken in what seemed like years, and I had to admit that I was relieved.
“I’m glad I did too.” I said, patting his back before we released each other from the hug. My mother had always done whatever she could for her kids, and this was the least we could do for her. I slid one island in place in the table, and then I turned to my siblings once more. “Had anyone heard from mom at all? Did anyone even know she was sick?” My voice was shaking, and I started to look around to avoid everyone’s eyes.
Almost immediately, I was overcome by what I saw. My three brothers and their wives respectively sitting around the table, looking at all of the pictures my mother had kept. It made sense that they were in the kitchen, rather than the living room. That kitchen table had been our livelihood, our solace. Many nights it had held half of the neighborhood, sitting and playing board games and eating whatever food my mom had decided to make that night. My mother didn’t have a lot of rules while we were growing up, but when she asked you not to do something, you didn’t. Nobody messed with her; she was a small, stubborn Irish woman, and she had a strong stance against drinking. My mother married a hard working Italian man, who quickly succumbed to alcohol. Watching my father slowly drink himself stupid broke my mother’s heart, and her spirits. She had become a shell of whom she was once, except when it came to her children. She made dinner every night and had it at the table ready to go by 5:30, and God help you if you were a minute late and you didn’t call.
“Molly, you’re here!” my older brother Cian said, returning from the bathroom. We had not seen each other in three years, and it was good to be able to look at who he was now, instead of outdated pictures. Cian had piercing blue eyes, and thick brown hair that he used to wear long. He had traded in tie-dyed t-shirts and ripped jeans for a more business-like approach, and it suited him well.
“Of course I’m here. She was my mother too.” I said, upset that he would even think I would miss this. The past tense of the word got caught in my throat, and I saw everyone visibly flinch. My mother was not a saint, and everyone knows that the end is going to come eventually, but you didn’t ever try to sit down and contemplate it. “Was anyone with mom when she…passed?” I asked, hoping someone would say yes. The silence in the room was uneasy, and I broke into tears. My mother had had four children, and none of them had gone to see her before she died. The thought of her dying alone after all she had done for us, made me feel empty inside. She had put herself between her children and her husband during any number of his drunken tirades, and she always made sure we had what we wanted. Nobody had ever asked what she wanted.
“That was what we wanted to ask you about Molly…did you know that she was in the hospital? She called Margaret andme last week!” My brother Robert spoke next. Robert was reserved; he had kept to himself through most of our childhood.
“No…Someone from the hospital called me and said they had a woman by the name of Eileen O’Connor admitted a day prior, and that she had not made it through the night. I wasn’t really focused on much else.” I said. Once again, my eyes began to leak hot teardrops.
“So, mom had a will as we all know.” Cian spoke up, and we all nodded our heads, though none of us could really bring ourselves to speak. It was hard to think about, how she had just been calling us yesterday and now she was gone. It was funny, how one day someone could almost seem like an inconvenience, and the next you were crying when they were gone.
Sitting at the kitchen table we listened as my mother’s material wealth was redistributed among her four children. None of us said a word, simply listened to Cian reading the will and held onto favorite pictures as memories flooded back to us like movies, playing in our minds. We heard keys hit the counter and we all turned around suddenly, to find our mother standing there, a horrified look on her face.
“I don’t have enough potatoes to feed all of you.” Her voice made us all laugh, as one by one we got up from the kitchen table and hugged her hello. None of us really knew what was going on, and curiosity seeped through her crayon-colored walls like the heat from a hot summer day.
“Mom, why are you—” Cian stopped and cleared his throat. “Alive?”
“What do you mean why am I alive? I just called you two days ago. You thought I died because I didn’t call you for one day?” My mother’s eyes sparkled with realization. “The hospital called you about Eileen O’Connor. You thought they meant me.” She placed her groceries on the counter and sat down next to us at the table. She explained that there was another Eileen who lived across town a bit. Her hands drifted to the photos, and each of us in turn did the same.
There were pictures of us from the time we were infants, all the way up to now. My mother had kept every photo she had ever taken of us. “Finn, look at you in this one.” I laughed as I held up a picture of my brother dressed up as Barney the dinosaur.
“Molly, what about this one?” A picture of me in red lipstick and a pair of my mother’s heels, and I was all of about four years old. The central theme of all the pictures seemed to be the kitchen, most of them taken either at, or in front of the very table we were sitting at. My mother stood up and began to walk around the kitchen, silently preparing dinner as she always had. None of us got up, none of us even so much as blinked. We were there together, at what had been our favorite place at one time.
At 5:30 sharp, we sat down to eat dinner, and it felt as though we had never left.