Usually resistant to insistent phones, I answer this ringing anyway.  I know that death 
awaits me at the other end and my wife confirms that the bitter person of my mother has been 
enveloped by a new darkness.

“Do you want to come down?” she asks.

Not knowing my own mind, or perhaps not trusting my memory to be silent, I relay this to 
our daughter, changing both directions of the question.  “Do you want to go down?”  She does, 
and makes up my mind for me so that I won’t have to think.  Neither of us cry.  She is yet too 
near her Bonnie’s death and I am much too far away from mine.  It’s not that I am all cried out, 
I’m all remembered out.

I let the automaticity of my actions start and steer the Ford and stab the clutch and slam 
the gears until I soften my anger at my daughter’s question, “Are you okay?”  I let the uh huh I’m 
thinking die unsaid, like so many other useless things, and that too is automatic.  But I know she 
knows I don’t need to talk much to be understood; we are that close.  But now we’re on the 
freeway and I increase speed to match the flow around me.

Reflected in the rear-view mirror are the swirls and spirals of imprisoned leaves 
struggling to escape.  Trapped where they fell in the bed of my old pickup, these fallen leftovers, 
newly fostered to my care, eddy back and forth in back, caught in the suction, attempting to break 
free from the sterile confines of the truck, much as my thoughts attempt to break free of the 
sepsis of fifty-five years.  Their illegitimacy does not hold them down, and with the increasing 
speed of our journey some are sucked up and over the sides and spun off into the night.

I’m too hot, can’t breath, and I crack open the sliding partition in the rear window, 
backhanding the latch and the plastic divider with casual memory.  The release of vacuum in the 
interior sucks the vortex into the cab, pummeling and pitting me with incomplete and broken 
leaves, and a fine film of mulch settles over the vinyl seats and dash and my daughter and me.  

We maintain our mutually understood silence in the dirt.

I drive faster -- too slow to make any difference and too late to care -- only to force the 
broken leaves from the truck and from my mind.  I abandon them, one by one leaping over the 
sides of the journey and into their lives, perhaps blown into some storm culvert.  I’m thinking that enough 
of them, like memories, might gather and block the drainage ditch and flood the 
town where she lived and from where I ran away before the storm broke.

“Daddy, are you okay?”

“Uh huh.  Are you?”

My wife tries to temper my reaction by warning me ahead of time of what I’ll find.  

“She’s emaciated; yellowed with jaundice and decay.  They have two towels folded under her 
chin to try and keep her mouth closed.  She had so much trouble trying to breathe at the end.”

I had so much trouble trying to breathe at the beginning I’m thinking.  But I walk ahead 
faster and enter the room alone.  She is indeed extremely yellow, lying there fallow on the bed, 
with her jaw cinched up but not quite tight enough.  Her eyes and my mind are closed.  She is 
finally silent.  I have nothing to say either and I turn and walk away again.

When I go out to the parking lot, there are no new leaves trapped in the cargo bed.  Some 
goodbyes don’t use words; like leaves, they just scatter.

Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school teacher who lives in Moreno Valley, California, with his wife of almost thirty-five years (poor soul, her, not him), their disabled daughter, one of their sons and his ex-wife (?) and two children, Rick and Sally’s grandchildren, and ten cats!  Yes, ten. Don’t ask.  Rick has had articles, stories, poetry, or memoirs published in Educational Leadership, English Journal, California English, Kappa Delta Pi Record, The Voice, Sunspots, Once Upon A Time, and Vietnam Magazine; and, online at The National Gallery of Writing,, and Raphael’s Village,

How does one go about saying goodbye to an estranged parent?  The bits and pieces of memory, the flashes of insight into a bitter relationship, can trap you and force you to confront both your beliefs and your animosity.  Complicating all of this is the fact that my daughter had a wonderful connection with her grandmother, her Bonnie, and I could not, would not, shatter her fond recollections with my acidic ones.  Some good-byes are best just scattered on the wind.



Copyright 2009