Lisa Toboz

My mother and I sat in her kitchen eating apple pie the day before she died. The snow fell softly outside as I listened to the clatter of our forks, the chattering TV, her shallow breath. This is what we did each week that I visited in the last few years of her life. As she slipped more quietly away from us, the conversations became shorter, finding the right words more difficult. This is easier to bear when I think of her death as if it were a scene in a story, but lately, this is my life.

In a strange turn of life events, my friend Jody’s mother died a week after my mother. If I had written this in a short story, I could hear my writing peers saying, ”that couldn’t happen in ‘real’ life.” But life is this coincidental; I’m not sure when fiction became the blueprint for reality. It’s why I’ve been buried in fairy tales and mystery novels since I left grad school, why I’ve stopped looking for definitive answers. I sat in her bedroom a week after she died, looking at her snow boots by the door, as if she had just kicked them off. Her watch ticking on the nightstand next to her bed.

Some days will be better than others since my mother’s been gone. I know this intellectually, but feeling through it is another story. One Saturday I felt close to my old self, rummaging through an estate sale where I found some Greek icons and a box of magic tricks that my husband once had as a kid. The house was insane. From the front, it looked like a typical suburban ranch, but inside was a maze of 18 rooms filled with shag carpet, mirrored wallpaper, palinka bottles and flickering electric candles. It was a prelude to round two of organizing my mother’s own estate the next Sunday. I don’t know what makes me think that my family and I are going to go for a few weekends and be done with it, but it’s just one more way the brain battles with the heart, tricking you into hurrying through your grief instead of facing it.

When I was a kid, I wanted to live in a rundown, haunted mansion filled with mummies and bones and the closest thing to this was the Carnegie Museum. I love the building almost more than the exhibits it holds. Tiny doors in taxidermy hall that I believed were for elves, or made just for me. I wanted to sleep in the igloo diorama, bury my face in sealskin. The museum reminds me of Friday library nights with my mother, where every three weeks she’d take my sister and me to the adjoining library branch so we could borrow books. I loved reading in the stacks in the winter evenings, inhaling musty book scent as I flipped through "The Three Investigators" or "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler." So this is about a good memory of my mother. About the childhood want to live in a museum, or losing myself in fiction when I don’t want to deal with reality. It’s about how the world moves around my family and me as we are left grieving together, and most days, alone.