Sunday, December 16, 2012

   I returned to my father's sagging chair, in the silent living room, and sat looking at my mother as she remained upright and unmoving in her corner of the couch. Despite the change I sensed in her, since out time on the porch, she seemed calm, in her way, sitting there with the afghan on her lap. It was like the old days, when I would come home from wherever I was and my mother would take up her position exactly there, in the corner of the couch, with a book and her reading glasses, while my father graded papers in his study and I sat in the armchair with a book of my own. I had liked coming home, liked sitting in that chair with the sound of pages turning and of children playing in the street, liked, above all, the sense of something peaceful from childhood still flowing through the house, and I wondered how it was that I had let it all slip away. And as I sat there, in the drowsy warmth, I seemed to hear a humming sound, a spectral tune, drifting up out of my childhood. It was something my mother used to sing, a song from her own girlhood. "I remember," I said, because I wanted to talk to my mother, I wanted to tell her that I remembered a tune she had once hummed, when I was a boy, but the sound of the humming crept into my words, and only then did I realize that my mother was sitting there humming that tune. And I was stirred that she was humming a tune from our two childhoods, as she sat in the darkening room with her eyes closed, a tune that ascended in three leaps and then came slowly down, like a feather falling, but at the same time I wanted her to stop humming that tune so that I could speak to her, before I was no longer there. After all, it was only a short visit. When my mother stopped humming I said, "I know I haven't been back for a while, but if we could just talk a little, a little talk, talk to me - " The words sounded louder than I had intended, as if I had shouted them in an empty house.

- Steven Millhauser
"Sons and Mothers"

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