1. Your green mug—dark concentric circles of dried coffee, like tree rings, marking the hours since you set it down.
2. A pre-recorded message from your dentist: "This is a courtesy call to remind Arthur Manning of his appointment on Tuesday, April 12th at 10:00."
3. Your oblong bill-fold, containing forty-seven dollars, an American Express card, a small note to "pick up tickets," and a snapshot of Mother, age 41, holding me, the moon-faced baby you'd given up hoping for.
4. In the laundry bin, your blue-and-white striped pajamas and the work shirt and khakis you wore to rototill the heavy spring soil. (I lift this bundle and pull it close, inhaling for the last time the contradictory mingling of Ivory Soap and dirt.)
5. Tacked to the refrigerator, a note in your thin, unsteady scrawl:
- till garden
- call Addy
- return library books
6. Sheets, a bath towel, and a washcloth, tangled and motionless in the dryer's cold drum.
7. The cats on the back porch, half-crazed with hunger, their bowls crusted with flecks of meat, their water slick with pollen.
8. On your desk, my Easter card, already signed and containing its crisp five dollar bill.
9. Also on your desk, two unpaid bills: the newspaper and the cost of last month's chemotherapy. (You would be the first to point out the injustice of charging someone for a failed service, but the insurance company will not agree. I write these final checks.)
10. The garden shed, its open door a blackened eye in the spring sunshine. Inside, I learn of a steno pad whose pale-green pages are covered in years of attempted poetry. (And so I also stumble upon the first of many unanswerable questions: Did you hide this effort from everyone, even mother when she was alive?)
11. In the dim light of the shed, drops of blood, a trail from the sudden nosebleed that sent you to the ER. I track them to the threshold, where they vanish in secrecy amongst the chaos of pine needles.
12. Nowhere to be found, our final conversation. "Stubborn as your damned mother," you'd barked. I'd blurted back a pedestrian "Takes one to know one," before slamming down the phone.
13. On my part, a desperate conviction that there must be some way to claw back to normalcy. I stand in your front hallway and hold my breath, aching for some resonant echo of you. But there is nothing. I close the door and pocket your key. I drive home, to my own life and failings, to the shadows and artifacts I will leave my own children.
BIO: Allison Freeman grew up in New England and now lives full-time in the American South, where she is a member of the North Carolina Writers’ Network and the Wood Holler Writers. Allison has published non-fiction in the past. Her first piece of published fiction, The Walking Dead Diaries, appeared on The Hairpin.