My first week home passes slowly. The house feels empty, cold and alien and unwelcoming, and my mother doesn't speak much, but shuffles slowly back and forth from the kitchen to her bedroom, each time to boil noodles, stir a can of soup, and leave a full plate on the table for me to eat alone before disappearing down the hallway. On the fifth night she makes meatloaf with steamed vegetables and pours grape juice into wine glasses, and sits with me at the table as we eat silently, staring at the pictures of Brenda looming above us. After the meal she returns to her room and I wash the dishes, wondering if this is a breakthrough. It's not. The next day, she returns to her routine.
On the sixth night I catch her as she is setting down a plate of frozen lasagna. "Mama, you don't have to cook for me," I plead. "I can cook sometimes. I can go to the grocery store and buy ingredients and make us something good...stir fry, or a casserole."
"No, no," She murmurs, without turning to look at me. "I want to do this. I always cook for Bren--"
She stops suddenly, but I want her to continue. The house seems suddenly colder and quieter than it had before. "Mama, do you miss Brenda?"
She turns to look at me, and I can see tears welling in her eyes. "I miss her very much, Laura."
"I miss her too," I say.
"I wish you knew her. She's a wonderful, wonderful girl."
"Where--where is she?"
"Staying with Ethan."
"Until I leave?"
Tentatively, I reach out and place a hand on my mother's frail shoulder. "I'll go, then," I say softly. "I'll look for an apartment in the city tomorrow."
"You need to find a job," She replies. "Bob Rafferton's looking for some help at the hardware store. I told him you'd go and see him on Monday."
"I'll go," I whisper, and watch as she turns away from me again and shuffles towards her bedroom, the door clicking shut behind her.