It had been almost a year since I had been allowed upstairs. In the master bedroom, my mother’s silver-backed hairbrush and mirror rested neatly in their tray on her dresser; only the ballerina lamp that had once been mine occupied her night table. I opened the top drawer of the long, low bureau. The smell of lavender sachets tucked among the stacks of jewellery was an instant reminder of the many Sunday afternoons I had spent as a child, stretched out on my parents’ double bed with the sun streaming in the window and a pile of velvet covered boxes by my side. My mother’s only precious jewellery was her engagement ring and an emerald ring that my father had given her for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary but she had a large collection of costume pieces, most of which she had acquired before she was married.
I would carefully lift a bracelet or necklace or brooch from its container, twisting and turning it until its reflection danced across the ceiling. Sometimes, I would layer pieces one on top of the other until I was laden with glitter. I cherished the times when my mother sat on the bed beside me and told me the stories that accompanied each piece of sparkling metal. “A guy I knew in Cobourg gave me this,” she would say with a mysterious smile, or, “I wore this to a dance in Oshawa.”
* * * * * * *
Every April, Davis’ school invited grandparents to attend morning classes with their grandchildren and stay for a picnic lunch. My mother had attended Grandparents Day when Davis was in Grade One and Grade Two. Her reports on both occasions were glowing.
In 2002, when Davis was in Grade Three, my mother started talking about Grandparents Day in February.
“I love watching Davis in his school room,” she said. “He’s always the first one to put his hand up to answer the teacher’s questions.”
The week before the big day, my mother asked me to help her select a new outfit. “I want Davis to be as proud of me as I am of him,” she said.
On the eve of the event, she called to tell me that her clothes were laid out on the bed in her spare room; everything was ready so that she wouldn’t be late.
“Tell Davis I’ll see him in the morning.”
I dialled my mother’s telephone number early the next afternoon, anticipating that she would have just arrived home from Davis’ school.
“So how was your morning?” I asked as soon as she picked up the receiver.
“Nothing special,” my mother replied.
“Oh,” I said, surprised by her cavalier dismissal of the much-awaited day. “Well, I’m sure Davis was happy to see you, anyway.”
“Why would I see Davis at Reh-Fit?” she asked, referring to the exercise facility she attended three mornings a week.
“Reh-Fit!" I could hear the panic in my voice. "Didn’t you go to Grandparents Day?”
There was a moment of silence.
“No. I guess I forgot,” my mother said slowly. “I knew there was something –” her voice petered out until all I could hear was heavy breathing.
I knew that she wouldn’t forget Grandparents Day on purpose but all I could think about was Davis in his hunter green blazer and grey shorts with tears rolling down his cheeks. He would have waited for my mother to arrive with all of the other grandparents, then sat alone all morning and during that special lunch wondering where she was.
“How could you do that?” I barked. I hung up the telephone halfway through my mother’s explanation that anyone could have made the same mistake. Half a minute later I called back.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” I said. “I know you –”
“You’re not sorry,” she interrupted. “You’re always looking for an excuse to tell me how terrible I am.”
It was her turn to hang up on me.
I called Davis’ school and advised the secretary that I would be picking my son up early that afternoon. Forty minutes later Davis was in the back seat of my car.
“Grandma didn’t mean to forget,” I assured him. “She feels terrible that she let you down.”
His eyes filled with tears.
“If you don’t want to go to her house for a sleepover tonight Dad and I will stay home,” I continued. Part of me wanted to hurt my mother by denying her Davis’ company that evening. I knew that wasn’t fair but I couldn’t help myself.
Davis nodded thoughtfully. “No, I’ll go. It’ll make Grandma feel better,” he said.
A few days later I tried to talk to my mother about what had happened. “Everybody forgets things sometimes. You will too when you get to be my age,” she had insisted.
Two weeks later my mother called. She sounded angry rather than defeated.
“Can you come over and look at this? I know who’s behind this mess about my driver’s license,” she said. “It’s that Dr. Kalansky. She’s always hated me.” The previous week, I had taken my mother to the doctor to ask her to complete the form required by the department of Driver and Vehicle Licensing. My mother had been astute enough to ask for a copy.
When I arrived, she was standing in front of the ironing board. A laundry basket full of towels and bed sheets was sitting on a chair beside her. She didn’t look up when I entered the room. I watched her select a towel from the basket, press her iron over one side and then the other, and fold the rectangle into a neat square. Her movements were strong and purposeful.
The practice written tests I had downloaded covered the kitchen table. A pad of lined paper and a pen sat at my mother’s usual place setting, along with an official driver’s license handbook. It appeared that my mother had been reviewing the handbook and the practice tests before the mail arrived with the letter from Dr. Kalansky’s office.
"There’s that Kalansky’s report.” My mother motioned to the counter with her head. “She says I have debenture.”