Guarding the Perimeter

         I returned to the place I grew up to spend the Thanksgiving holiday.  As the airplane began its descent to the airport, I opened the window by my seat and peered down. 
       The landscape was so different from New York that I might as well have flown to my destination in a NASA space shuttle.  The quality of the sunlight was amazing.  It burned my eyes. 
     Later, at my mother’s house, I helped her bake pies.  The television was on in the background.  There was a brief story about Amy Winehouse, the young singer who died of alcohol poisoning. 
     “She was so young!” my mother said.  “Such a shame.  I don’t know why she did that.  Some people can never overcome the bad things that happened to them.  I wonder why that is.”
     I was crinkling the crust of the pie dough with my fingers and didn’t look up.  It crossed my mind that she might have been trying to suggest something, but I doubted it. 

       “Such a shame,” my mother said.  We put the pies in the oven.

       Late that night, before bed, I looked up from my computer screen to see her in the living room, going from window to window, checking the locks.  She does this almost every night.  Sometimes more than once.  The house is the cleanest house I’ve ever seen, and it’s locked up like Fort Knox. 

       The suburban streets outside were vacant, motionless.  The neighborhood was very low crime.  As safe as the safest in America.  I’d never felt the least bit menaced there.  Nevertheless, my mother feared home invasion, prowlers, some faceless threat.  Night terrors.

      She stood at the window by the door, scanning the yard and the street outside.  Her hands were clasped together in front of her, worrying each other.

      “Mom, it’s okay,” I said gently.

      She looked back at me.  “I know.  I’m just checking.” 

      I pictured her in my mind, doing this ritual at night when I was gone.  Guarding the perimeter of her house.  Patrolling.  Checking.  Making sure that nothing could get in.

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