This is the Way Life Goes

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

The house has grown strange. Oh, it's the same house, but there are pictures missing from the walls and new, unfamiliar images present instead. None of the furniture seems to be in the right place. Even the contents of the fridge, and the fridge itself, are wrong.

"Donald?" she calls out, and is startled by the sound of her own voice. Thin and higher than she remembered. That wasn't her voice. The boys had always said she had a gorgeous voice. What was wrong? "Donald, where are you?" Drat that boy. If he's playing some kind of game...

"Yes mother," comes the response before Donald even moves into sight. It's Donald's voice, but there's something off about it, too. The timbre is a little wrong. She scowls, watching the doorway, ready to give her son an ear full over whatever prank he's playing.

But the man who steps into the doorway isn't her Donald. Donald is a slender young man with pale blond hair and a wicked glint in his eye. This man is thick set, his face lined with age, his hair a dark blond, his eyes masked by eyeglasses. "Where's Donald?" she demands sharply. "Who are you?"

The stranger sighs. "It's me, mother. What are you doing in the kitchen? It's past dinner time. You're supposed to be watching a little telly before bed. You don't want to miss your shows, do you?"

Dinner time? Shows? What's he blathering on about and what's he done with Donald? She backs towards the knife block. "I don't know what you've done to my house, but I want you to leave," she says, as strongly as she can in this strange voice.

"I haven't done anything to the house," the man says patiently. So patiently. "I even put the furniture back where it was after the last time you had it moved."

He's not advancing on her anymore and the look in his eyes is so long suffering...he reminds her a little bit of Richard, her old pharmacist, back before they'd moved. He'd been such a kind older gentleman. She wondered what he was doing in her kitchen. Well, why not ask? "Richard? What are you doing in my kitchen?" she frowned. "It's not appropriate for a single gentleman to visit a lady alone in her home when her husband is away."

Richard sighed, but smiled gently, like he always did. "You haven't been well, my dear. Your husband asked me to check on you this evening, since he couldn't be here himself. And we aren't alone. Your son is here, isn't he?"

Donald? Of course he was here. It was the summer and he was out of school. It was awfully quiet, but Donald did enjoy reading. "Of course," she said, relaxing a little. "Of course, how forgetful of me. And I have been feeling tired."

"Come along, then," Richard said, holding out one hand. "We'll get you settled and I'll be on my way."

She moved toward him and was reassured by the hand that cupped her elbow, steering her carefully through the house. How did Richard know his way around the house? Surely he hadn't called frequently enough to become so familiar. She blinked, confused, and glanced to her left to find Donald at her elbow. "Donald?" she asked carefully.

He smiled warmly. "Hello, mother."

"Have I missed my shows?"

"Just a few minutes," he reassured her.

She looked away from him, vaguely embarrassed. "I'm sorry I went wandering off like that."

Donald patted her hand affectionately. "It's quite all right. This is your home." They arrived in her bedroom and Donald helped her back into bed, settling her against the pillows so that she could sit up comfortably while she watched the TV at the foot of the bed.

"You shouldn't have to constantly watch me like this," she frowned. "A grown woman shouldn't need constant watching and a child shouldn't have such duties pressed up on them."

Donald laughed lightly. "I'm hardly a child anymore, mother. Besides, this is the way life goes. The parents take care of the children and then the children take care of the parents. I'm just paying a debt that is decades old."

She smiled and patted his cheek. "It was a pleasure to take care of you, not a duty. You were a lovely child."

He took her hand in his and squeezed it gently. "And you were a wonderful mother. More than worth handling a little wandering."

For a moment, she was selfishly glad that her own parents had died before they placed her in the position her Donald was in now. "I'm all settled now," she said. "You should get to bed. You have to be up to work in the morning."

"You have everything you need?" he asked, hesitating.

She smiled. "I'm quite settled. Go," she made a shooing motion, "sleep."

After a moment he nodded and rose, glancing back for a moment before he shut the door to her bedroom. She let herself sink into the pillows and closed her eyes for a long moment. Hopefully he really would settle in for the night. Hopefully she wouldn't disturb him again. She wished she could promise him that, but she knew well enough that this moment of lucidity would fade soon. She wished such moments would stop coming altogether. A selfish thought, given how difficult it would be on Donald, was terrible thing to know you couldn't trust your own mind.

Better not to be aware of it at all.