She is on the roof now. I can hear her feet grinding pebbles over Sammy's video game.
Her walk is confident, her turns quick and clean. Today is her day off, and she told us this morning as Sammy and I, mouths half open shoveling and leaning, dribbled generic cocoa puff milk. She announced it from the doorway to the kitchen, in her two-triangle bikini top and soccer shorts, the 10ishAM sun reflecting in her pilot glasses.
Her legs are very tan from these days off. They seem to stretch sometimes forever, especially on Saturday mornings. My mother has beautiful legs.
She used them to climb the rain-crumbled wooden ladder to the second story and the gravelly flat expanse of our roof and I rinsed out our breakfast bowls and got Sammy dressed for the day. While I waited for him to brush his teeth, I heard the ladder THUMP as it hit the soft ground. She giggled from the roof and I rolled my eyes. This means she will later take the cat's route down, sprung-swung over the side and onto the railing we hope won't fall under her one hundred and twenty-seven pounds. Dad is out working this weekend and my mother is taking a day off.
I hear scratches across the ceiling, the sound of a towel being dragged across the roof. She sometimes takes a book with her, but not this time. Although, she has been up for hours, going up and down the ladder, preparing.
She gets up really early, "before the quite wears off". When I was small and Sammy was small enough to be crib-bound and out of the way, my mother and I used to go up to the roof together and watch the sunrise or listen for birds in the early light. Now I am older though and I don't wake up so easy.
She was quiet for a while, but now I can hear footsteps. They lead past the edge it seems, over my head and just out enough towards the trees and the horizon that I brace myself for impact on the deck. It never comes. Instead, one and then two bare feet drop and swing in front of the bay windows. They cast a shadow across the dining room table.
I get a glass of grape juice and sit in my chair in the shadow of my mother's legs. They strain a little, and the toes on her shadow feet curl. In a moment they spring forward and something flies off the roof and sticks in a tree. A paper airplane.
My mother taught me once how to make paper airplanes. She's very good at it. She told us it was because she used to hang out at airports and watch the planes take off and people's emotions go nuts. My mother is a specialist in comings and goings.
The next airplane doesn't make it so far. It wobbles and tumbles weakly to the street before getting to the other side. "God damn it," calls my mother's voice. Her feet disappear for a minute and I glance in at Sammy. He is fine, curled around the controller in one of two red chairs that have lost their shape to the dog's weight and the cat's crazy acrobatics.
When I turn back to the window there are two more planes headed across the street.
She is still up there at lunchtime when I cut the peanut butter and honey sandwiches into triangles for Sammy. By now though, the crumpled paper litters the street like snow and we have gotten three phone calls from the neighbors. She has also gotten louder and more rambunctious. Her footsteps aren't as clean, they drag across the loose pebbles in pirouettes and bounding leaps. My mother used to want to be a ballerina.
A while ago my mother started to cry over the ads for salad dressing on TV. Hidden Valley, Paul Newman, Healthy Choice. All the women in those ads had nice hair and lots of teeth. My mother would pretend she wasn't crying. She would lean against the vacuum or the kitchen table or my father's shoulders or the old piano no one plays and let air out of her lungs. Then she would call Grandma.
At three o'clock I take Sammy and the dog for a walk. She waves at the three of us from the roof.
"Hi guys! Anyone news?"
"Nope, same old same old.” I could have said Mr. Peterson had called twice and asked that you not throw paper airplanes into his front yard, or that my basketball coach had called to ask whether I was planning to make the game today. But it was OK, She would have waved in the same way, folding airplanes and dangling her feet off the edge.
"Bye Mom!" Sammy calls as we walk off in the direction of the park, our feet crumpling airplanes as we shuffle down the street. I pick one up. It has curled wings. I put it in my pocket. We get around the corner and I unfold it and look at her pencil lines:
night sweats and his back turned to me
I put the paper back in my pocket.
When we come back, someone has picked up the paper in the street and from the tree up beyond my reach. My mother is leaning back on her arms, her legs crossed, not folding anything but instead looking out into the blue May sky. She waves at us as we unleash the dog in the side yard. We wave back and go to meet our father in the living room.
"Hi Juliet. How's things?" He looks a little like he's been out in the sun all day too. His hair is dirty and his arms are pink.
"Good, Dad. We went for a walk."
"Very nice. Hey princess, you want to go see a movie?"
Dad squeezes my shoulders and goes to the closet to get four coats. Afterwards, we go outside and Sammy and I watch as Dad puts the ladder back up against the wall and brings a coat up to my mother. He squeezes her shoulders too and they sit for a minute watching the sun set and she leans into his arm. When he comes down we go into town and buy popcorn and coke with lemon before going in.
Lucie Blue Duffort, 2002-12