Alex Stone

Posted on June 18, 2018


Old Wiring

Risa arrived at her mother’s. Her sister’s words from last night had settled on her skin like cigarette smoke. Stinking. Suffocating every pore with their toxins. Risa lived an hour’s drive away, but hadn’t visited her mother in months. Life has a way of making 45 miles a rigorous trek. Now, she needed to conduct an experiment, needed her own confirmation of Linda’s account. She walked up the curving brick path her parents had put in when she was eight, careful to avoid the bricks with embossed stars. These ones her parents had put in upside down. She and Linda had always avoided stepping on them. Dandelions and grass sprouted between the bricks. Moss had gained a foothold where the old bricks had cracked. Weeds grew wild in the yard.

She dug her key out of her purse, knocked, and unlocked the door without waiting for a response.


Her eyes were slow to adjust from daylight to the dark hallway. She found the light switch. Flipped it on. Nothing. She flipped it several more times, expecting different results.

“Mom! You home? It’s me!”

She heard signs of life in the living room. The shuffle of pages. The thud of glassware on a ceramic coaster. The squeak of a rocking chair followed by slippered footsteps.


Her mother appeared from around the corner, People magazine in hand, wearing her favorite robe. The baby blue satin one that she and Linda had given her when they were teenagers. The fabric was noticeably thinner than it used to be and the breast pocket had begun to tear at the upper right seam. The outline of her Virginia Slims was visible through the fabric.

“Hey Ma!” Risa’s smile pulled tight at the corners. “Sorry for the surprise visit. I had the urge to do lunch with you and actually had a free afternoon. How are you?”

“No problem! You know, I was just doing my morning reading. It’s so good to see you!” Her mother embraced her, stale smoke and Kiehl’s Original Musk mingling in Risa’s nose.

“Is your hall light broken?”

“That? It went out a few weeks ago. I put a new bulb in. It broke again.” She shrugged. “Something must be wrong with the wiring, so I just left it. I’ll call Joe one of these days.”

“Do you have any more light bulbs? Let’s try again. It’s so dark in this hallway. I’m afraid you’ll trip and break a hip!” Risa offered a pseudo-serious scowl with tilted head and crossed arms.

“Oh, you! You’re bad. Let me go find one.” She slapped Risa with the People magazine and scuttled to the kitchen.

Risa heard her rummage through the junk drawer, the place where everything lost ended up found, even when everyone preferred it stay lost. Her mother returned with a light bulb and Risa set to work, getting a chair, making sure the light switch was flipped off, carefully unfastening the sconce.

“Did you hear about the Jones brothers?” Her mother’s eyes were bright with gossip.

“No, what happened?” Risa unscrewed the old bulb.

“Oh those boys were always little rascals. They got lit like a firecracker a couple weeks ago, thought it’d be funny to take a little joyride in their daddy’s car.”

“In the sheriff’s car?”

“Oh yeah! At 28 you’d think they’d know better. But their daddy never really did know how to discipline them.”

“God. What happened?” She finished threading the new light bulb and replaced the sconce.

“Well you know, he had some of his squad pals pull them over, take them in for the night. Give ‘em a little scare. But they’re off scot-free. They know their pop is a declawed kitten.”

“More like a tailless tadpole!”

They cackled the way women do when they know their laughter is just a little too cruel. Risa flipped on the switch. The light shined bright, illuminating the unswept floor, before flickering and dimming to darkness.

“Oh, shit! Sorry mom. Guess we’ll have to get Joe down here after all. Let me make you some lunch.”

Risa sifted through a fridge and found three open bottles of 2% milk, jams and spreads months past their “best by” date, and vegetables that should have been used days ago. She threw out a couple molding take-out containers. She eyed garlic and a sprouting onion on the counter and cooked them with canned tomatoes and dried basil over pasta. Her mother shared the details of her neighbor’s romantic advances (“And he’s six years younger than me!” Risa chimed in about senior citizens being the highest risk group for STDs). Risa shared about her work life (“If they don’t give me a raise in six months, I’m out.” Her mother took this opportunity to nudge her about the “biological clock”). Her mother asked her if she had heard what happened with the Jones brothers and Risa gently reminded her that she had told her in the hallway. Risa took diligent mental notes on her experiment. What were the early signs of dementia? How does Alzheimer’s manifest in the onset? She noticed the repetitions (but who doesn’t repeat themselves now and then?), recalled the old food (who hasn’t forgotten about some old takeout?). Could Linda be right?

The angled, red light of the late afternoon sun revealed dust floating like galaxies in the living room. Risa would have to leave now to beat the evening traffic. Her mother followed her to the door.

“Before you go, did you hear about the Jones brothers?”

“Yeah, mom. You, um, you told me.”

“I did? Yeah, of course. Those rascals!” She blushed and averted her eyes. Risa leaned in for a hug.

“Okay mom. Uh, call Joe!”

“I will, sweetie. I love you.”

“Love you too.”

Risa hurried down the brick walkway, her feet stomping on starred bricks she’d so carefully avoided for so many years. There was some old wiring Joe couldn’t fix.

Hypothesis: Confirmed.



Alex Stone is a writer currently living in Oakland, CA. She enjoys writing because it gives her a great excuse to pay more attention to the world and eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations. Some of her favorite authors include Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Margaret Atwood. When not writing, Alex enjoys bikepacking, ceramics, and cooperative economics.

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