“Mom? Are you OK?”
The words are nearly lost beneath the sound of children shrieking. I hold the phone close to my ear and shout back, “I’m fine, I just have some news. Is now a good time?”
“Sure, if it’s quick. We’re at the park.”
It is tempting to ask after my grandchildren and let the conversation run along familiar lines, but if I get distracted I’ll lose my nerve. This is not a conversation to have over the phone – and yet the phone is in my hand. I look round my box-sized room and have to go to the window. The morning sky stretches away outside, a soothing blue.
“I thought you ought to know I’ve met someone. Do you remember Alison Miller?”
For a moment there is static between us.
“That girl you sang with in high school?”
Before she started as a freshman, my daughter entertained herself by looking through my old yearbook. One of the fading photos was of the concert choir. In it, Al stands beside me. Whole semesters passed when what I wanted most in the world was to reach out and touch her hair during practice.
“That’s her. She’s moved to Gracewell House.” The way I say it makes it sound as though she’s chosen to become a resident, rather than being strong-armed into the decision by relatives.
“Did you keep in touch after graduation?”
“She moved away.”
There is more to it than that, more than I imagine my daughter wants to know. After high school, Al got a scholarship and rose like a bird on a thermal. News of her reached our town via the county paper. I was a newlywed when I read the headline: Local Woman Becomes Youngest Prof to Receive Tenure at City College. I kept the article for weeks.
Over the phone, my daughter is silent. I want to explain how I need her approval but she cuts me up before I can try.
“I hope you know what you’re doing. Do the other residents mind? Do the carers?”
“They don’t mind anything that keeps us active,” I say, then wish I hadn’t. She hangs up soon after.
I had expected the call to be difficult. I did not have the words to explain that Al coming to Gracewell had been a coincidence bordering on the miraculous. When she first arrived, she would walk out onto the highway and try to hitch lifts back into town. Having spent my whole life homemaking for my family, I knew I could create a safe space for us, if it was what she wanted.
I am still stood holding the phone when she comes to find me.
“How did it go?”
“Could have been worse.”
Al takes the phone away and rests her head on my shoulder. It is hard to worry with her around; she reminds me all good things take time. Her silvery hair is soft under my hand.