Cracking through Jen’s crème brule reminds her of children, small and quick, gone in the wink of an eye when the Spring ice failed. “Mmmmm, delicious!” Were there three of them? Or only one? Past time now to smile and nod at Whosit’s recitation. Traumas and victories. Can he be so heroic? Can she need to pee AGAIN? This is not her hallway, not the center of the home where she pauses to listen as echoes of babies snuggling tight, toddlers calling their shoes, teenagers thinking no one knows what they’re up to and the husband bellowing. Voices here are fresh, alive – daughter and Whosit. “Whoops. Time to go home. Yes… really…late for an old lady. Ha ha ha ha no really.” Old homes want more care: Wiring left well enough alone but you can’t use that plug; buckets in the right places; subfloors creaking under the years; windows warping in a wavy world. “I’m alright, really, I’m fine fine fine. Good night!” ~~~ I like to keep a clean sheet between skin and blankets, for smooth and to rest the old washing machine. Blankets are heavy when wet ~~~ Some old ladies were keening, some cooking oatmeal, some still snoring; but this one sat plump on the front stoop, not feeling smoke in the air, that whiff of plastic and teddy bear. Houses burn in the canyons, but man must build. It could have stopped there. But Jack’s warm rump needed a pat while his snout dripped cool snot on the concrete. “That’ll leave a mark.” Death muffles Harold’s bellow, “Ah labs, ya gotta love ‘em.” Doves wake and cars hum. Bustling Jeep with daughter inside bounced up the drive, woke Jack but aching hips slowed him down so she sauntered up with no muddy paws planted square in her middle. Jen likes it better that way but the old lady’s not so sure. And the way ahead looks rocky. Breath catches, but Mom puts on pantyhose for her appointment with the future. Which, yes, did look pretty bleak. Was that Harold again? Towards the end everything looked pretty bleak to him. But no. Really. Bleak is when a 20-something female in a navy suit calls you “Evelyn” in that high voice acting sweet when we all know what she’s after. “You can call me Mrs. Murray. No thank you, I do not want to enjoy a complementary lunch in your lovely facility. I am needed at home.” Jen has that look in her eye and a quick escape is called for. “Pretty bleak” “quick escape,” Harold’s voice in my ears, while I wish I could hear what Jen is saying so fast And loud but I am SO TIRED. Home for a nap and a wandery afternoon. That’s why god invented slippers. Gardening. Cooked dinner for Jack. Talked on the phone. Neighbors understand an old woman wants to die with her memories around her. Why can’t Jen? ~~~ Spark in the wiring probably started it, but the smoke billowed iridescent, with tempera paint, talcum powder, and just a hint of Milkbone.