January 25, 2009

Billy's Scrapbook

Lucy: Ever since my older brother Billy died, my house has been overrun by newspapers. My mother keeps them in stacks in the basement on two long wooden tables that we used to use for wrapping Christmas presents. At first, she was subscribing to every newspaper in Connecticut – which is where Billy lived. By now, she has canceled them all and only gets week-old copies from the reporter she has made friends with, John Bainbridge. I think she just reads them out of habit – stories about my brother’s accident are long gone.

“Mom, you down there?”

The basement door creaks softly as I slowly pulled it open, peering down into the hazy light. No response. Shifting the large stack of papers from one arm to the other, I walk halfway down the basement stairs and peer out through the banister rails. There's my mom, snuggled into my father’s old brown recliner, her powder-blue robe pulled tightly around her curled-up legs and a pile of old photographs littered around her on the floor.

“Mom.” I say flatly, trying to get her attention. When she doesn’t look up, I clamber down the rest of the stairs and drop the stack of papers onto the concrete floor near her feet. “Here.”

Startled, she finally looks up. “Oh! Oh, good morning, honey.” She pulls her reading glasses off her face and smiles up at me. “Sleep well?”

“Well, until the FedEx man scared me to death by knocking like a maniac!” I sigh, plopping down onto the floor with my legs folded beneath me. “Didn’t you hear it?”

“No, I guess I didn’t,” Mom says, sliding her glasses back on. “I was looking at these pictures of Billy’s sixth birthday.” She runs her finger along the edge of the worn photo. “He was so excited because we were going to have a pony. But when it got here, we realized our backyard was too small, and the pony didn’t even have room to turn around!” She laughs softly. “The kids just took turns sitting on its back…”

I sit quietly as she speaks, picking up faded photos from the floor and arranging them in neat stacks. Billy riding a tricycle… Billy opening presents under a tinsel-covered Christmas tree… Billy proudly holding up a tiny silver fish hanging from a fishing line…

Finally, I clear my throat, interrupting her. “Maybe you should put these away for a while, Mom…” I say softly, picking up a pile and returning them to the old shoebox where Mom keeps them. But Mom reaches over and puts her hand on my wrist, suspending my hand in the air.

“Lucy… I’m sorry, but I’m just not ready yet.” She sighs. “I wish I was, but I’m not.”

I stare up into her face. It has aged so quickly these past few years. Her blue eyes seem gray and tired, and deep lines have formed across her forehead and around her mouth. Her thick black hair, which she always pulls back into a long, low braid, is beginning to show hints of silver. I think Mom is still beautiful – like she was in the old photographs of her and my dad as they drove across the country right after they got married – but now, she just looks defeated.

“Ok Mom, I’m sorry.” I reach up and give her a tight hug. “I’ll let you be. It’s a good thing I got up early anyway. I’m going to the beach with Katie this morning.”

“Well, have fun and be safe.” Mom says, giving me a final squeeze. I place the photos back on the floor and stand up, turning toward the stairs.

“Hey Luc?”

At the top step, I pause and slowly turned around. Mom is standing at the bottom of the stairs. “So John sent these papers?” she asks.

“Um, yep.” I turn quickly toward the door, trying to avoid further questions.

“And… well, he didn’t write a note this time?”

I feel my face get hot and red, so I don’t turn back around. “Not that I saw!” I call out, quickly jumping up the last step and running across the kitchen. I don’t hear Mom sigh, and I don’t see her begin to sift through the seven-day stack of papers, looking for the missing Post-It. Instead, I race to my room to call my best friend Katie to see if she’s ready to head to the beach.

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