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How I Speak of My Mother

How I Speak of My Mother
by Ruzha Cleaveland

As I was saying, she phoned the police chief (his grandfather was our grandfather's best friend) to take her to the doctor, the IGA, the bank. He'd caught her driving and, just like we'd asked, drove her home and took away the car keys. He said he even shook a finger in her face. Two months earlier we'd learned she hadn't driven legally in eight years. She guessed she just hadn't remembered to renew. How could you just forget, we said. Eight years! God, Mom, what if you'd had an accident?

Even if it wasn't your fault someone could take everything, even the house. Then where would you be? Well, she said she'd remembered Otis Harpstreit on the next farm and he drove her to renew. She did pass, everything but road signs. My brother, sister and I looked at each other. I took the keys. Oh, she got mad, said the signs on the test sheet were the wrong color, and what about her spotless sixty-five record, said she'd go to Freeburg in the next county. All her friends forgot things but passed when they took the test there. She grumbled toward the telephone table where she thought she'd put the driver's ed book. She'd pass that test if it was the last thing she did. Sure, we said, then she could have the keys back. So she sat tracing shaky thin shapes in her living room chair, labeling them in ball point to remind herself, covering the labels, trying to remember shape, color, shape, color. Then she'd pause, remember when I rammed the basketball goal the same day I got my license, remember how my sister sneaked that blue '52 Plymouth twenty-five miles to St. Louis and claimed she'd done our folks a favor racing carbon out of the engine. Then Mother would look at family pictures, remember a great-uncle's middle name she forgot to label, so she'd climb the stars to a chest where she thought she'd put the family tree. So much to remember. Finally I took her to the next county where she passed the visual, knew the multiple choices. Everything just the same as before.

Then I watched her scan the page of blank, colored signs. I can't, she whispered. I pulled my chair closer. The tester warned me I couldn't help. Sure enough, she couldn't place the red octagonal shape, much less the school sign. Yes, she had a point: when did we see stop signs without writing on them? That made no difference to the State of Illinois. She walked to the door where habit forced her to turn and thank the clerk. He didn't look up. It broke my heart. And whatever had started didn't stop.

Her cleaning woman heard the story repeatedly, as did Vicky the mail woman, and Lou down at the pharmacy. They told me. Even Father Mark after Sunday mass. The whole town knew I took away her keys. That's when we told Jerry at the police station if he ever, ever saw her driving, get her home, take away the key. And yes, then she remembered one, hidden who-knows-where, and Jerry saw her driving out by the Grange. God. It scared us half to death, and the other half of us knows part of her is already dead. And that's what really scares us.