After my brother Andrew died, I drove up to the ranch to visit my sister-in-law. Winding up the dirt road to their home in Texas Hill Country, I passed Old Blue, his ancient hound, snoozing in the sun as usual, by Andrew’s work shed. That had always been his spot, lazing while he watched my brother working on some new project.
Rounding the turn to park in front of the house, Sy, the half blind tuxedo cat, strolled up to greet me. His whiskers were whiter, but he seemed to have aged well. I scratched his head and whispered, “Hey, old friend, how are you?” His answer was a low-pitched purr, as he rubbed against me.
She waited by the door, her black hair framing the huge big dark eyes my brother loved. We always called her Nita. Remembering her Tewa People’s reluctance to show undo emotion, I hugged her quietly.
“I made lemonade,” she said. “Let’s get out of the heat.”
The side door opens to the laundry room. Hanging on a rack by the door, I saw my brother’s many beloved and well-worn ball caps. Under the rack sat a small area for Andrew to leave his old boots and sweat-stained hat as he entered the mud room. It was empty.
I took a deep breath before walking into the homey living room, decorated with beautiful southwestern paintings, Pueblo pottery and woven Navajo rugs. Andrew’s favorite chair sat by the fireplace, and I could almost see him there, stretched out snoozing after a long day of moving rocks and sawing wood. Next to his chair sat his old work boots and hat. Every night Nita used to shake her head, annoyed that he didn’t leave them at the back door in their special place.
I turned to her, wondering why they weren’t in the mud room. I’m not sure, but I think she smiled. “Yeah, Andrew never would leave those at the back door when he came in. He always took them off by his chair, right where I’d trip over them.”
She handed me my lemonade. “And now I still trip over them. But if I listen really carefully, I hear him chuckle, just like he used to. I always scolded him, saying some day you’re going to kill me, Andrew.”
We sipped our lemonade quietly, not speaking. Lady Gray, the old stray cat they adopted, jumped into my lap and rubbed my hand. The quiet late afternoon shadows lengthened, the doves outside began to coo. I looked at the scarred boots and well-worn hat. “You could always move his boots closer to his chair you know, and then you wouldn’t risk tripping over them.”
She answered, “I kind of like them where they are.”