She continued as if she didn’t hear me.
“And then the rain came down that night. A fierce rain, a sideways pouring rain that kept the sheets wet and even muddied them up. I had to pull out the extra sheets and I asked Ruth to help me. It was like dragging a mule through a crop of carrots. That girl was useless. She fumbled and she twisted the sheets as I laid them down, and she acted like something was poured out of her. I ended up making all the beds myself because it was quicker. I was irritated with her because I knew she could be helpful if she put her mind to it. But her mind was in another country, I guess, because she kept laying the sheets down backwards. I knew – or suspected – what she had done to you, and that brought the irritation closer to the surface. But she looked so sad, bless her, and Ruth wasn’t someone you could stay mad at. You remember that, I reckon. She was bubbly and she could be bossy, but she was never mean or unhelpful. She was just useless as a housekeeper that night. So I let it go.
“I sometimes wonder what things would have been like if it hadn’t rained that night. Your dad would have mowed the lawn the next day instead of the next week. Maybe we could have caught his bad heart in time. Or something. Something different. But maybe it would have all stayed the same, just in a different time. That’s not for us to know.”
I wanted to tell her what I saw at the river, but I didn’t want my mother’s thoughts of Ruth to be tarnished. And I was ashamed. Ashamed for holding onto that secret for so long. By telling her, it might tarnish my own memory. Though the memory hurt, it wasn’t a fresh hurt. I wanted to let it rest. But I couldn’t resist the question that was waiting to be asked, probably since I got the phone call from Connie to come home:
“Have you heard from Ruth lately?”
It felt like a cowardly, selfish question. Was that all I cared about? I had traveled hundreds of miles, not to see my dying mother one final time, but to hear any news, no matter how meager, about my cousin. Was everything in my heart narrowed down to such a useless pinpoint?
“And what if I haven’t?” she said. “And what if I have?” She pursed her lips. “Would it make any difference? The past is what it is, David. What if your father cut the lawn the week before? What if Connie’s child had never been killed? They’re nonsense questions, boy, because they don’t matter. All you can do is pierce your heart with what-if’s. Is that what you want to do? Still?”
And so I lied. “No, I don’t want to do that anymore. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of the past. I just want to rest. I want to forget who I am and stay here for a while. A few days, if that’s all right?”
Mom nodded, and her eyes folded down. She was tired, more tired than I would ever know. “As long as you want, boy.”
I stayed with her until she fell asleep.