The Familiar Stranger
by Bryan R. Monte

Her black moustache
was darker than mine at 13
and the wiry hairs
on the mole on her chin
kept me at a distance
as she walked through
a house always kept dark
the yellowed window shades
drawn on both sides
facing the neighbours.

She only got out of bed
late in the afternoon
and came downstairs
barefoot, in her nightgown
to sit in a kitchen chair
on the glassed-in back porch
its warped, mouldy wooden floor
crowded with tomato plants
potted in rusted, coffee cans
the window frames outlined
by potato vines, the spuds
half suspended by toothpicks
above water-filled Mason jars
lined up along the windowsills.

“Clothes and shoes hurt too much,”
she complained to her son, “Bobby,”
my father, who hung his head
when she called his name or begged
for a pill from his drugstore
to put out the fire in her legs.
By my next visit, a few years later,
her bed had been moved down
to another room off the kitchen
too weak, too dizzy to climb stairs
her eyes swimming, mouth twisted
unsure of me, the familiar stranger.