usually there are just the three of us at our evening dinner. we sit around a small table my paternal grandfather made, a prototype for a large contract he had with a local psychiatric hospital back in the 1950’s. it is the same table my father, in his later years, placed at the end of the sofa in the living room where he read the newspaper, watched tv, or practiced dates and numbers when his stroke removed them from his memory banks.

i sit across from mom, udo to my left and her right.  a window is behind me and sometimes mom bobs and weaves to gaze at the farm field beyond.

over the past year, i have been unable to make eye contact with her as she eats, the half-chewed mouthfuls clinging to her protruding tongue as she puts yet more in there.  udo, for a while, was concerned she was having serious swallowing issues, but she has simply developed the habit of putting three fork fulls of food in her mouth, always sampling some of everything on her plate, before she completes the chewing and finally swallows.  it is okay that she does this, but watching while i also eat does little for my appetite and so i avert my gaze.

we – udo and i – try to keep up a generic sort of pattering conversation at meal time, trying to keep it accessible to her.  for the most part, she simply puts her head down and attends to her plate.  there are occasions, however, when she participates in the conversation or is triggered by something in the conversation to relay one or more of her stories.

there is a repertoire of these stories and they are somewhat akin to memories leavened with neurological cracklings and poppings of dementia; memories with holes and gaps, sometimes left to hang without connections, sometimes filled in with random ingredients from the pantry of her mind.

frequently these days, our evening meal conversation includes daily events related to the black lives matter upswell of protest.  invariably, these topics touch a specific memory in her from her last year in high school. last evening was no different, though the story spun a bit into other nuggets of her school life.

she, looking at me:  you remember Central School.


me, hesitating:  Central School

she: yes, up in back. you must have gone there too.

me:  um, um …

she, looking a bit confused:  you are not one of mumma’s children

me: no, i am not

she:  who is your mother?

me, still hesitantly:  you are. you are my mother.

she, furrowed browed and quizzically:  i can’t be your mother

me, after a short silence:  do you know my name?

she does not respond but continues to look confused and disbelieving

me:  my name is wendy.  i am your third child.

she, again with a space for thought:  you must have lived with us in sydney river.

me:  yes, i did.

she, tentatively offering a questionstatement:  claudia was the only other girl

me:  yes.

and then she went silent, closing in a bit on herself, and turned her attention to the slice of strawberry rhubarb pie in front of her. and i returned to my slice, closing in on myself a bit too.

i am not always aware of who i am in these conversations.  sometimes i am wendy, her daughter, though that label exists without context, without memory of that relationship.  other times it is clear i am her sister and still other times i am unsure – am i a cousin, a childhood neighbour or friend?  but, even after a couple of years of this, i am always caught unawares by these turns in conversation, when it becomes clear that we are not clear. neither of us.