The last time he visited it had been early fall, the first of the cooler days, and as usual, Ma Alwright had been sitting in her rocker, feet on the railing, watching the world go by. As he climbed the increasingly rickety steps to the porch, he passed the steady line of apple cores balanced on the rail by her feet. Always apples. She’d been surprised to see him yet graceful and he had felt no embarrassment. When she decided to make them coffee and started easing herself out of the chair, it was his turn to feel surprised. Somewhere along the way, Ma Alwright had aged and despite her remonstrances, he took her arm, further surprised, and shaken too, by the thin, papery skin and weak limb, and helped her up. He didn’t say anything.
Now it was spring, still cool, and he hadn’t made it back. As he left the last time, he’d told himself that he would visit more often but that’s what he always did as he got into his car and drove away. But he’d quickly forget his self-promises and time would continue on by.
As he climbed the porch steps this morning, it was the absent apple cores he noticed first, and felt deeply, the news becoming a sudden, fierce reality. The rocker was abandoned too now, forlorn. He hurried inside and was going to the stairs when he noticed the open door to the back room. He paused on the threshold, briefly wondering when she had stopped using the bedroom above, respectfully holding back as he would have done when he was a boy.
The young doctor, a newcomer in the town, was with her still. A good-hearted fellow who had taken to calling on Mrs Alwright on his rounds, just neighbourly like. It was the doctor who had been the one to find her. Fortunately. Goodness knows how long it would have been before one of the children had visited.
The doctor looked up:
“I’m glad you could come,” then added “she passed peacefully.”
He nodded, still shuffling awkwardly in the doorway, guilt overwhelming him. As he had grown older, he realised more deeply how much maybe that she had given up, how life maybe hadn’t gone to her plan when first she had to raise her siblings who had later flown the nest without a second glance then she’d taken in the unruly brood that his own siblings were. Life hadn’t exactly been kind to Ma Alwright but she’d been the centre of their world, a comforting stability, and her passing was incomprehensible, he was totally shaken to the core.
This piece is for Red Writing Hood who asked us for 450 words (441!) exploring ‘core’. Core has many meanings and as an amateur logophile, I worked in apple cores, the idea of something or someone being indispensable and/or central and the idiom ‘shaken to the core’. Friendly concrit always welcomed!