Oh, Ralph, Sweetheart Face!
The face I gaze upon is both familiar and strange. Each etched and chiseled feature intimately recognizable, precursory of my own: The silver gray hairline receding to a widow's peak above each temple, where a baby blue bandana conceals the rest. The leathery forehead that warps into three distinct creases with the lift of an eyebrow. The long, slightly hooked nose. Thin lips stretched in a flat level line, concealing the turbulent roll and pitch of emotion behind them.
What does the wearer of this stoic mask actually feel?
You've been gone all day long, and I missed you something terrible, Sweetums.
The only distinguishable difference between the face before me and my own is a pair of large, round hazelnut eyes, rounder and more protruding than they were in youth, the lingering result of hyperthyroidism.
The eyes themselves are not actually visible at the moment, hidden behind the lidded shelter of sleep. The stuttering vibration of a dream dances across the shielded orbs. Where in the tumbling universe of the subconscious does this dancer dance?
Oh, Ralph. Come on, sit down and let me make you comfortable. That way I can look at my darling boy while I make you supper.
The lidded eyes crack open, slowly focus, take me in. A few moments later, the level line curls upward at each end, and she smiles. The dance is over, for now.
All right, where is she? I know she's here. She's either out on that fire escape or hiding in the bathroom. Your mother is here, Alice, but she's not stayin'!
Mother is here, all right, in a cream-colored bathrobe in a private room in Wroten House, one of the healthcare communities of Meadowlark Hills in Manhattan, Kansas. She is here, and here she will stay, until her own story is finished.
Behind me, a TV screen glows and flickers: black, white, and the same silver gray as our two hairlines. A cable station is showing a Honeymooners Marathon, the original 39 episodes of the first and only season, 1955-56, when the classic Jackie Gleason Show skit was presented as a 30-minute independent sitcom.