I have walked through this quiet house, bare feet on wooden floors, feathers as bookmarks, cobwebs in high shadows, 4745 times. Mothers can calculate our routines like that.
It’s late and my son is in bed and I am closing my laptop, pouring the last inches of water out of my glass and into the drooping Christmas cactus on the window sill, wishful thinking. The cats stir as I push in my chair, put up my books, lock the front door. The stray who we don’t have the heart to kick out watches me through half-opened eyes, stretches, and goes back to sleep on a pillow.
I know the floorboards of this house, where to step, where to shift my weight so I can move through the darkness, through the bands of street lights warped coming through the windows, baskets of folded laundry, shoes by the front door, a framed picture of my grandfather fixing a broken chair.
I’ve worked shift work and I’ve worked late and I’ve worked mornings and I’ve worked nights; I’ve worked until the birds come up and start to sing again. But it is the privilege of my days, the privilege of my nights, to be able to close up this house around my sleeping child, even now, as he grows into a young man. It will always be a sacred routine.
In the center of our house there is a wooden table and on the table there is an old chess board we dug out of the neighbor’s trash years ago. I stop a minute to study the board, my castle in danger, his bishop ready to strike, my pawns stuck, unmovable. There are piles of mail and books and binders, a vase of flowers, petals drying and dropping, a partially finished crossword puzzle, bravely written in ink, a checkbook, a notebook, and a book of poetry I haven’t yet read. There are pens in Mason jars and notes on scrap paper, five dollars clipped together with a binder clip, a card from my best friend, everything unceremoniously piled around the chess board.
It’s a busy life, one of a thousand miles, of oil changes and flat tires, of paying bills and patching roofs, of spreadsheets and red pens, of to-do lists and phone calls, meetings and making dinner, of remembering to water the sunchokes and to bring in the garbage bin, of grocery lists and chopping vegetables, of voicemails and text messages and work…