"Anvil, by the way," said Mom one night, last week, as we're all sitting around the dinnertable.
We've been laughing.
"What?" I think I've misunderstood. When in fact I have, but earlier, and only now am hearing right.
"You wrote I had a 'small animal' in my heart. I said a 'small anvil.'"
Oh. Not the furtive, frantic scurryings of a trapped bird, then.
The clang and unremitting hammer clang, the heat and hiss of other metal being changed, under which you can only bear up, keep witness.
"But, it's okay," said Mom. "I like what you wrote. I figured you'd just improved the imagery."
"No. I didn't know."
"Either way," Mom said.
Dad's doctor had said how he'd feel so much better after the surgery. Usually, putting in a stent relieves angina - chest pains - completely. When Dad met me at the airport, his face was yellow, greenish. I didn't like to say anything, thinking it was just recovery.
"I need to sit down," he said after awhile, after hugs and news, after standing there with me waiting at the luggage carrel. "Just a little tightness," he said. As we walked out to the car ("I feel so dumb - not helping you carry anything") he asked if I'd mind driving the long drive home. He who always drives.
But the next day his color was good again. He looked like his old self - vigorous, definite, robust, loud. I couldn't find it in me to feel anything but glad to be there, to be with them, and then to welcome my brothers and sisters with their babies, my own husband and children when they came in turn. To be there together. At home. Taking turns cooking. Taking down a concrete-block wall Dad wanted moved. Taking a ride in Dad's new (used) car - a sleek silver bullet with minimal miles on it. Taking time in the evening to sing cowboy songs and sailor songs while Dad played guitar. "I couldn't do this just a couple weeks back, without losing breath, without - " Dad laughs and shrugs and asks what song we want to sing next.
At the end of our two weeks, the day after Fritz and the children and I take our leave, still driving back through the badlands of western Idaho, Fritz takes us off-road for a brief side-trip to see volcano craters. You wouldn't think volcanoes were there - all around is open and empty, all rolling golden swells to the far horizons, dry yellow grasses. But then, at the tires' edge, the earth opens up. A huge round scoop taken out of the ground. Crater, which is Greek for cauldron. Where ground should be.
Right then, the cell-phone rings.
Mom is sitting with Dad, waiting for him to wake after this next round of testing. She says thank you for the help, for coming, she says she misses us already, she regrets not doing this, doing that, "I'm glad you're coming back in August. It would be too much if I didn't know you were coming back in August." She says we will do, in August, what we didn't do this time.
I enjoyed this visit, though. I was at peace, at home, and happy.
The whole time, though, Mom couldn't sit still. Even after the others arrived the second week, she kept carting in more boxes - extra bakeware, esoteric kitchen utensils, her grandmother's glass goblets, pottery my grandma made - for us to choose from - boxes after boxes each day from the shop where they've been storing it until the remodeling was done. She'd forget to eat breakfast, pulling out weeds along the ditchbank, watering the baby aspens, planting pots of daisies. By the afternoon, my sister and I would lure her in, set a plate of fruit before her, but she'd bounce back up to hang pictures.
"Come sit down, Mom. Visit with us."
"I can't." So we'd weed outside beside her and she'd go start a new project inside.
Now that I'm back (I was going to say 'home') it's me who can't stick to anything. I shrug off commitments and appointments. Not so productive as my mother, I putter in the garden, putter in the house, write about anything else. It's comforting - the warm smell of drying grasses from the unmowed field. The familiar stacks of kitchen towels.
We've discovered Dad has heart spasms - has had for years, will continue to have. Any one of them could be enough to cause a heart attack.
He will learn relaxation. He will take his "nitro" (we say now, familiarly). He will choose food without fat. He will love more than ever his veggies and fresh fruit - and all of this could turn out to be a real opportunity, a blessing, really.
And we will think of it only in this way.