Today, we present Katherine Rooks’s story “Mix and Match.” This powerful piece is told from the perspective of a mother with advanced cancer, as she grapples with the reality of leaving her family behind. Its blunt, first-person prose broke our hearts. Don’t miss this unforgettable story.
“I wear my hope like a parka in July: for show, to prove that I still believe it might snow good fortune.”
I hear the distinct rustling of someone attempting to be quiet. I don’t need to see over the lumps of laundry padded around me to know that it’s Calvin; he’s only eleven, and at eleven it’s impossible to be quiet even when you’re trying so so hard and not even breathing. He’s prowling the perimeter of my room, scanning the floor with those blue eyes of his that are still too large for his face. Guaranteed, he’s looking for socks, but he won’t find any on the floor. I had Greg move all the laundry onto the bed before he left this morning because I was feeling well enough to try to sort, fold and match a few things. I’m less picky now. I used to be emphatic that socks had to be matched with their exact partner, but now I think in approximations: more black than blue, more sport than dress, roughly the same size. Even with those relaxed standards, the task still overwhelms me. The net result is that I’m living under a pile of laundry.
And I like it that way. I’m almost always cold at this point and it’s nice to be surrounded by things that remind me of Greg and the kids. Living in a house with three men means socks by the dozens come through the laundry. Left to their own devices, Greg, Calvin, and Noah would perennially have one foot in something three sizes too big and the other foot cramped in some shrunken sock left over from the stone age.
The laundry alternates between our bed and the floor, depending on how I’m feeling. Either way, it sends my mother right over the edge. “You’re buried in laundry,” she yells at me when she comes to visit, which isn’t as often as you’d think.
“That husband of yours needs to hire someone to do the wash while you’re sick,” she adds. I wish he’d hire someone to dust. Every surface in the room is strewn with pill bottles, hardcover books dropped off by well-meaning friends and flowers wilting in scummy water. At least the laundry is evidence of status quo.
“I’m not ‘doing’ laundry,” I say, “just trying to sort it.” Also, while I’m sick?
She looks at me like the chemo’s gone right to my brain; which, of course, it has. But I still know what I like.
My kids, for one, and I want to see them. But Calvin and Noah are busy with school, which is as it should be and I want them to stay focused on their day-to-day. I want them to know that they have lives totally independent of me. Even though I believe that a little separation is good for them, it still tears me up when my boys, as different as two brothers can be, enter my room in the same way: quietly, eyes down, like they might be bothering me.