The cancer did not so much kill Frieda’s mother as engulf her like rising water. Within a week of her death, Frieda’s father had locked himself in the cabin at the edge of Frieda’s property. He had the clothes on his back and the few amenities already in the cabin: a tuberculosis cure cot with raising back, a quilt, a door skin on cinder blocks for a desk. A chair, a functional woodstove, and a spring-fed spigot outside.
John Prade was seventy-eight. Despite the Prades’ fractious marriage, their neighbors in Pittsburgh stood ready with casseroles and good cheer after the funeral. He fended off all generosities and phoned Frieda to come gather her mother’s things. She drove down from her house on retired farmland in the Adirondacks.
“I want to get the hell out of here,” he said when she arrived.
The house had convulsed into unprecedented clutter, as though a huge hand had shaken everything off its shelves and out of drawers.
“Come live with me.” Frieda had not planned to say it. “My house is big enough.”
“Hell, no. I’ve seen it. Odd little box of a place. Too much land. Too cold up there. Here there’s a furnished apartment across town.”
“Let’s pack you up today,” Frieda said. Where had she acquired such calm? Neither parent had had any to spare. “I’ll hire someone to clean this up and ship us the good stuff. Ralph and Cathy can help.”
There would be a fight, of course. Days of cajoling, colluding with her brother, Ralph, on strategy. John Prade had the furious visage of a demonic Chinese mask. “You always got your way, didn’t you?”
Frieda suddenly thought of her mother, pinched and dying, but strong enough in the last eight days of her life to banish her husband from her sickroom, pointing the way out with a waxy finger. At the time, Frieda imagined this act a kindness, though, in retrospect, there was nothing kind about her mother’s fevered eyes.
“Well, I got a blue dress one time,” she said. “I remember promising everything for it.”
. . .