Yesterday, as I polished off my second cup of morning coffee and listened only partially to MSNBC, my father stomped into the kitchen. He was wearing his typical mud-spattered biking gear. His helmet gave his head a mushroom shape. I looked at him, perhaps in a manner not terribly hospitable.
"Are you going to be sitting there all day?" he asked.
"No, I'll be heading into work later."
"It's a Sunday, you know," he said.
"And?" I let that one hang in the air.
"There's groceries in the truck. Your mother fell on the boardwalk, and can't carry them. Bring them in."
"Is she all right?"
He nodded and walked off to his office.
I went out and carried in the groceries. My mother was in the garage, examining her mountain bike, particularly the slight dent in the frame. After carrying the groceries into the kitchen, I went back out to the garage.
"You all right?" I asked.
"Yeah. I hurt my hip and skinned my elbow when I fell."
"Worse things could happen."
"Yeah, well, your father's mad at me. He said I was going too fast."
"Oh well," I sighed. "Can't say I wouldn't go too fast either."
Later, after putting away the groceries, I went upstairs to do some cleaning. My mother was in one of the upstairs bathrooms, trying to clean the abrasion on her elbow. The skin had been ripped raw from her fall, and her elbow was a sticky red spot about the size of a plum. She had a large flexible fabric Band-Aid in her hand.
"Can you help me put this on?" My mom asked.
"Sure." I put down the shirt I was hanging up, and reached around her onto the bathroom counter for the small tube of neosporin I saw sitting there.
"You know, it's going to scar," I said.
"That's all right, I had another scar there."
I put the neosporin on in small circles, careful not to get it on my fingers. It felt strange, applying a Band-aid on my mother. Right players, wrong roles, I thought.
"Dad's probably right. I shouldn't have been going so fast," Mom said. She was talking to herself more than me. I said nothing, and took the Band-Aid from her hand. I debated the orientation of the Band-Aid. Do the strips go across the length of her arm, or do they go across the breadth of her elbow?
"Which way?" I asked.
I slowly applied the Band-Aid.
"I guess I'm getting too old to go fast," she said.
"It was raining." Take the explanation, I hoped.
"I suppose you could look through Prevention magazine, see what it has to say," I joked.
"Okay. All done."
I drove to work a few hours later. Halfway across the Driscoll Bridge, just over the moorings for the cabin cruisers and fishing boats at Lawrence Harbor, I realized I was stupid. I shouldn't have said that joke about Prevention. I should have told her I thought she was young, that she was always young and funny to me. She was my mom. I should have said something better, something caring.
Today, I struggled through work, trying to get everything done, but I still dwelled over what I had said. I say so many things without thinking, and cursed my stupidity.
I want those sentences back, but they're not retrievable. Indelibly written into the record, words evidence my weakness.