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Flannel Sheets in the Dumbwaiter

Judge and I walk down the hall, past the doors that show beds all askew, blankets and spreads flipped back. We come down the back stairs, just the two of us. Annie waits at the door to the mud room, happy to report that all beds are empty, all suitcases gone, all cats disappeared, all dogs evaporated, but Judge. And Merv, still tucked in.

Judge is pushing his kibble ball happily enough, I think. He felt it though, the sudden not here-ness of Sherlock, his cousin and companion. They had walked together, wrestled together, guarded the house together, eaten together. If I called the one, the other came too. Or if I used certain magic words like “treat,” or “carrot,” they would both bound up with anticipation. Sherlock left, for his trip back to the Connecticut coast, and Judge searched. The room where Sherlock slept, empty. The corner where his bed had laid, empty. In conversation with Merv I said the name Sherlock and Judge jumped up, raced to windows and wagged his tail. No Connecticut car, no Sherlock. Judge lay down, disconsolate. Annie prowls the rooms where Churro stayed, checked under the bed, the chairs. A double check of attic and basement. She shakes the memory of Churro off like errant kitty litter stuck to her feet.

The sunroom table is piled with new games and an old cribbage board. A platter that usually hangs on the wall is filled with Christmas cards. Red and white tulips swoon over a vase. Christmas pictures hang from the kitchen walls. In the pantry, candy and cookies persist, but barely.

The dining room buffets are scrubbed clean of crumbs and gravy and sauces. The tablecloths have long since been pulled, and shaken and washed and hung out, and sprinkled and ironed. Candles, all burnt down, have been stowed in the bowl over the fireplace for their new fire starting afterlife.

A trail of Christmas tree needles leads to the living room, where the tree suggests its impending afterlife too, to join up with a heap of branches in the woods, to shelter some moles, or turkeys, perhaps. The piano is stacked with hymnals, all open to the same carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter.” The voices and the harmonies linger. If I am very quiet, the long last chord trails off in the corners of the room, in the vibrations of the strings. Memories linger too. Christmas dolls and toys, waiting for three little girls, under the tree, glimpsed through the keyhole of the great door. A Christmas celebrated early, so that Dad could give Mom the presents he had bought for her. She, wrapped snug and tender, resting on the long sofa that was Dad’s, to nap on or sit on with a beer and a book and a deck of cards. The sofa that had served company and Christmas and Dad. And now Mom’s last Christmas.

This year was an adult Christmas, if there is such a thing. No tricycles or dolls or sleds. No doll houses. No legos. Next year, perhaps. “Next year,” insists the house. Next year children all over with hide and seek, and dress up and pretend and blocks all and great architectural creations. Next year, all the beds full and cots too and air beds and coolers on the porches and tidal waves of wrapping paper.

Ah, the dumbwaiter, with its piles of flannel sheets, ready for their wait, at ease. Some are old, and a little rough, and some are, not exactly new, but still fluffy and soft and ready to hold a body’s heat, all snuggled in under the weight of blankets and quilts.

Ah the cribbage games. A long winning streak, game after game, till, the night before she left, a sister beat me again, and again, glorying in the muggins calls, hoping for the coup de grace of skunking, content with a clear win. Old cribbage words, happy to be pulled out with nibs and bobs and pegs and cards limp with too much shuffling.

So quick it all turns to memory. So quick the wood in the fire turns to flame and heat. So quick Judge falls back asleep. So quick the tulips loose their petals, the candles burn down.

So quick my coffee cup empties. I look at the cup’s interior. No nostalgia. Rather, a cheerful realization. I can pour another cup, savor it by the fire and the dog, stretched out. Good morning! Happy Yule!

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