"Come over as soon as . . . you can. There's something . . . I need to talk to you about."
My mother, short of breath, sounded ominous. I thought, considering her age, was this the . . .
"Are you OK?" I asked, not really wanting to know the truth.
"We'll be there in 35 minutes." I was already looking for the car keys and signally to Rona to get ready.
"Me? Alone?" That was unprecedented. Rona and I have always visited together.
"You. There's something . . ." She didn't or couldn't finish and hung up.
"I need to go to Forest Trace," I said to Rona who was hovering close, picking up my sense of concern.
"Give me a second to get my sweater."
"My Mom wants to see me."
"Of course, whatever she wants. But call me as soon as you get there. I can always have car service drive me and . . ."
"Just me," I said as I headed for the car, full of trepidation.
It's not as if this was unexpected. She is after all nearly 106 and though in remarkably good condition for someone her age--or even someone ten years younger--the time comes for everyone.
The drive south was harrowing. More so than usual. Everyone who lives here says I-95 is a death trap with cars darting across lanes as if in a Nascar race. So with death on my mind anyway, I shifted into the extreme right lane and got in line with the usual stream of cautious and traumatized senior citizen drivers. I thought, considering the circumstances, I'd better not get killed.
My mother wasn't at the front door when I arrived. As she always is. Arms out. Smiling. Like she wants to envelop you and all the world.
I rushed to the den, relieved when passing her bedroom not to see her curled in her bed in her last throes of . . .
"Here I am," I said, breathless myself.
"That I can . . . see," she gasped.
"You have me worried. You never asked only me to come to see you. I was afraid that . . ." I trailed off not able to complete my thought.
"I need to talk . . . to you. You. I have something to say . . . to . . . you. My son." She squeezed out her words one at a time.
"I'm here for that or anything you need."
She sat silent for a moment, panting, then said, "India."
"What about India, Mom? I'm all confused." I genuinely was.
"I want to talk with you about . . . India."
"I'm glad to hear you're all right enough to want to talk . . . But India? I thought . . . Honestly, I thought that . . ."
"I was . . . dying." She smiled up at me.
"You scared me half to death. I thought . . . But?"
"Half to death sounds . . . good to me. At my age . . ." She trailed off.
"You're 106, Mom, so when you called and said . . ."
"Not yet what?"
"OK. You're 105-and-a-half. What difference does sixth months make?"
"At my age I'm allowed . . . to be . . . any age I want."
"At your age?" I couldn't restrain myself from feeling put upon. Relieved, yes; but in truth annoyed as well that she had gotten me here this way to talk about . . .
"What did you tell me . . . about India?"
"Here we go again with India."
"Indulge me a minute."
"Like I tried to say . . . before being interrupted," she was sounding better, "What did you tell me about India?"
"I can't remember. Please remind me."
"That you want to go . . . there."
"True. I casually mentioned it to you a few months ago. That, all things considered . . ."
"I'm trying now to consider all things."
"And I have something I want . . . I need to say . . . to you."
"I'm listening." I moved closer and took her hand in mine. Though still not understanding why India or what I had said about it was on her mind.
"You should go."
"I just got here." I was totally puzzled.
"Not here. There."
"Which there are we talking about?"
"Where . . . you said you wanted to go. To India."
"I was just talking. We were just talking. Looking for things to talk about. I think I said that it's one place I haven't been that one day I might like to visit. I said might. Which is different than want."
"I know the difference. I'm not saying you need . . . to go; but if you want to, you should. Go."
"Since you brought me over this way, as if you had something very important to say or, because . . ."
"Again with the dying business. I told you that I'm not . . ."
"I'm relieved to know that. But, again, let's not worry about India. We don't need to. You for sure don't. I mean, need to worry about India or anything. I'm OK, we're OK with the way we are living and how . . ."
"I am keeping you from . . . your dreams."
I was beginning to understand where this was going. What was concerning her.
"No you're not. We're living how we want to live."
"I don't believe you."
"How can you say that, Mom?"
"Because . . . I know you. I know Rona. You're . . . sacrificing for me." She squeezed my hand.
"How can I convince you we're not?"
"I don't know what else to say." I really didn't.
She said, "Time zones," and peered at me as if that would explain everything. Now fully confused I looked back at her and shrugged.
"You say you want to always be in the same time zone."
"Oh, now I think I understand. That we want to live in the same time zone as you--from Maine to New York City to Delray Beach. I mean, in the same time zone as you. So if . . ."
"It's the if I want to talk with you about."
"The if? Just as I thought I was understanding you, you have me mixed up again."
"It's usually me . . . who's all mixed up. Now you. That's what I'm trying to say. About . . . being mixed up."
I thought it better to just listen.
"Old people get all mixed up." I nodded. "I'm all mixed up . . . and now you're mixed up." I continued to look at her, trying not to show concern about her being so seemingly mixed up.
"You're getting to be . . . an old man." All too true, I thought. "Which is my point." Now she was squeezing my hand with more strength that one had any right to expect from someone as old as she.
She saw tears beginning to well in my eyes. "I don't want you . . . to get any older waiting for me." I knew all too well what she meant by waiting.
"Go there . . . if you want. Forget about time zones. Live. Live . . . your life. Don't worry about me. I am all right. And will be all right until . . ."
"It's hard, Mom. I understand what you're saying and I love you for it. And for many other things. But, yes. It does feel as if we're all waiting."
Now she too was teared up. Too old sentimentalists, I thought, tethered to each other for more than seven decades. Waiting. Maybe even wondering who would be first to . . .
"Live your life," she repeated.
"We are," I tried to assure her as well as myself. "We . . ."