One of the Ways to Say So-Long

The taxi sat in the street below the window. Jacob knew the meter was running, but he still could not pick up his bags and open the door, then close it behind him and stagger his suitcase and trunk down the four flights to the exit and the taxi.

He wanted Irene, his mother, to be here to help him lug the suitcase or the trunk down the stairs, help him load it into the trunk, kiss him on the cheek and say a real goodbye. Wanted her to watch him sag into the taxi seat, lean over and kiss him again, then stand back and wave to him until the taxi turned the corner. Or better yet, ride with him to the airport and wave goodbye at the gate. He had even told her he would pay for her taxi. Of course, she would be crying, she always cried when someone was leaving. Always.

This was the reason she had said goodbye on her way out the door to catch the bus to work. He had made breakfast for them, as he often did. Bacon, eggs, toast and coffee—the usual. They ate in an unusual silence because she could not ask him what he planned for the day. They both knew the plan for his entire day, one that excited him and one that depressed her. There was only the sound of chewing toast. Irene looked out the window. She sighed once or twice.

A robin landed on the window sill, perked its head one way then another, then it was gone. It was probably one of the brood that had egged, hatched, and fledged from the nest in the niche beside the window.

“Those birds been there all summer,” Irene said. She said it every time one of them landed on the window sill to look in at her. She usually said it, sipped again at her coffee, and then said, “One of these day’s they’ll fly the coop.” But this time she merely set her cup on the table and scanned her eyes over Jakob’s head and past the packed suitcase at the door.

“Well, I better be off to work,” she said. She scraped the chair back and stood up.

“The taxi gets here in an hour, mom,” Jacob said. He said it in hopes she would concede to her fears and call in to work for an hour to see him off.

“Well, here.” They were both standing beside the table. She had picked up her purse and was fumbling through it. “Here.” She handed him several bills.

“Mom. I don’t need taxi fare,” he said.

“You never know what you need, honey. It’s not always a pleasant place out there.” She tucked the bills in his shirt pocket.

She put her hands on his shoulders, and tip-toed up to kiss his cheek, as she did every morning. “My college boy,” she said, looking into his eyes, smiling her proud smile. This she had also said every morning since last February when he had received his acceptance letter from Lewis and Clark College in Oregon.

“I’ll come out there to see you sometime,” she said. It was the only thing she said that admitted he would not be here in this kitchen when she got home at 5:30pm. She pursed her lips and looked quickly away.

“Well, goodbye, Mom.”

Then she said, “It’ll be a lonesome apartment here. . . .” She pursed her lips again and blinked her eyes. She lifted her handbag and shrugged the strap over her shoulder. “Well,” she said.

“Well, off to work.” She stepped around the suitcase beside the door as if it weren’t there. Then the door was closed, and he was waiting for the taxi.

And now the taxi was here.

He picked up his suitcase and grabbed the drag strap of the trunk. It would have been nice if she were here to help him wrestle them downstairs. But he was on his own.

He opened to door and stepped through, dragging the trunk. He turned back, “Well, see you at Christmas, mom,” he said into the empty room. He closed the door and heard the latch click shut.

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