Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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My mother always went to sleep on the sofa after Sunday dinner, the meal that I learned to call “lunch” after I left home. She lay flat on her back with a throw pillow under her head and her glasses off, wearing a too-short housedress (changed into immediately after church, to preserve her Sunday clothes) that showed her sturdy white legs, knotted with blue veins. She had already taken off her worn shoes and put them by the sofa, but she was still wearing my father’s old dress socks. She never snored but lay there like a carved Etruscan queen, her mouth closed, her coarse gray hair springing back from her forehead.
Meanwhile my father slept sitting upright in his brown vinyl chair, his great belly swelling out in front of him, his glasses off but his shoes on and his head fallen to one side. He snored softly, nothing like the sounds that rattled the house when he slept in their bed at night.
The sun came through the gold-colored fiberglass drapes, because the Venetian blinds had been left open. The dinner (lunch) dishes had already been washed and put away, and the leftovers — fried chicken, mashed potatoes, milk gravy, peas or green beans or corn or tomatoes from my father’s garden — were in the refrigerator, protected by plastic covers held on with elastic, waiting to be eaten cold at supper. The rooms were filled with the smells of food. The only sounds were those of the house slowly settling around us, and the birds outside in the walnut trees, and an occasional car going by on the blacktop road. If it was summer, I would go off into the woods with my dog, Sparky, and wander all afternoon; if it was winter, I’d go upstairs to my room to lie on my bed and read. Sometimes I would listen to a show on the radio, such as The Shadow. But in all my comings and goings I had to be very quiet, walking in my bare or stockinged feet, so I would not wake my parents.
All the world seemed to be sleeping then, except for me. And I wondered: Why did they fall asleep like that? Why were they always so tired? Why didn’t they want to be out in the woods exploring, looking for the lost silver mine and the mayapples and the mysterious pawpaw tree, or gathering wildflowers that would quickly die and spread their pollen and petals and stamens through the house?
I remember all this now that I am older and my mother and father are both dead. I remember it sometimes after lunch, when I lie down on my bed with my gray cat and rest for a little while. Usually I read a bit. I live in a different place now, in a different state, and almost everything around me is different. The noises here are cable cars, someone walking up or down the stairs and closing the door of another flat, mourning doves in the window box or on the graveled roofs. But, just as my parents did, I fall asleep from time to time in the early afternoon, not in my living room but on my bed, on my side, with my knees and arms bent and my head resting on my hands, like a child.