I kneel near my mom’s side of the bed. She once told me she picked this side to sleep on-for what would turn out to be her entire adult life-because across from the foot of it, and not the other, she could see the top of the storage barn behind our house, its yellowed siding sprouting up like a dandelion from behind the window.
Dad often tooled around back there on projects late into the night and Mom was nervous that he’d accidentally catch something on fire. She feared waking up to see red flames lashing out of the barn, taunting the moon with their stuck-out tongues (Dad, passed out from the smoke and helpless to warn us).
She’d run to wake us children, pull the smallest from a cocoon of covers, be first to alert us to the danger rapidly coming to eat up our house. What big teeth it had.
In my reverie of her reverie, everyone ends up safe. We’d wait together across the road, watching firefighters wash down the final flames. Dad would be standing with us, smoking a fresh cigar and laughing about how he always knew smoking was trying to kill him.
The barn never caught on fire. Dad was still alive and his lungs were damn fine, thank you very much. And as for the children, we’d moved on to beds where we now had our own chosen side on which we slept. Children of our own to plan on saving from peril.
No, the fire Mom tried to warn us about had a slower burn. In fact, I don’t think she even tried to warn us. She tried to prepare us instead.
It was a few days before Thanksgiving when she asked me to come to the house so she could teach me how to make her blue ribbon apple pie.
I sliced the apples while her hands methodically pushed out the dough. She talked about what part of Germany her ancestors came from and their push out to the American west. The muscle memory of moving on.
When it finally came time to put the pie together, she told me the secret ingredient was simple, that the right answer was always more obvious than first thought: Take a fresh lemon, cut it in half, squeeze it over the spiced apples awaiting their latticed pastry roof.
At next year’s Thanksgiving, when I asked her about which type of apples she preferred to use in her desert, she looked at me as if it was I now speaking German. Said she didn’t think she had ever made an apple pie.
I feel a familiar hand on my back. Dad says it’s time. I lift myself from the floor, then take a moment to touch the heart center of a pillow, worn like a well by the arc of her head.
This is where I say goodbye, even though we are only now going to the funeral.