Her Old Self

Emily Cavanagh, University of Maryland


“What do you mean you’re moving to Seattle this afternoon?” Agatha said. She clasped her wrinkled hands tightly in front of her on the kitchen table, or rather Erica’s kitchen table since she so obviously didn’t want her to feel ownership over anything in her life. Many years ago, the same table had sat in her kitchen, but when she’d moved in with Erica’s family, they’d taken it and made it their own.

Erica sighed. “Tom, the kids and me,” she said. “This isn’t new information. I told you before.”


“Last week. The week before that. Lots of times.”

“Oh,” Agatha said. “I don’t remember. I’ve been so forgetful lately.” She watched as Erica twisted her wedding ring around her finger. She grasped at her own ring finger, but found it bare.

“It fell down the drain last month.”

“What did?”

“Your ring.”


“You’ll be going to that nice assisted living place we talked about. It’s called Sunrise. Remember it?”

Agatha nodded even though she didn’t remember the place.

“We took a tour. You said you liked the carpet there. It was soft. You took your shoes off and felt it.”

“That sounds like me.”

“Yes. You said it reminded you of the orange carpet in your parent’s basement when you were little.”

“I used to play tag with Maggie in the basement, and we’d fall when we were running, but we wouldn’t get hurt because the carpet was so soft.”

“So I’ll be taking you there today.”

“To Mommy and Daddy’s house?”

“No,” Erica said, “to the assisted living community. It’s called Sunrise. Remember?”

“Oh, yes. I remember now. I remember on Christmas we used to watch the sunrise then wake Mommy and Daddy for presents.”

“Yes,” Erica said. She frowned.

Agatha watched as her daughter continued to twist the ring around her finger. When Erica was young, she’d always liked those quarter toy dispensers at the grocery store. She’d beg Agatha for a quarter whenever they went, and Agatha rarely said no. Agatha’s parents had grown up during the Great Depression and were still in the mindset of making anything they needed out of what they already had. That meant dolls and stuffed animals were repurposed blankets or clothes stuffed with magazines. Bicycles and scooters were rusty wheelbarrows. It hadn’t bothered Agatha much until she’d had a child of her own. Then the newness of store-bought toys for her daughter gave her a sense of pride.

Erica’s favorite quarter machine was the jewelry one. It had all those plastic rings in it. Agatha would find the jewelry in the laundry basket or at the bottom of the bathtub broken. It never seemed to last very long. “You’re going to strip the silver paint off if you keep twisting it around your finger like that,” she said.

Erica’s frown deepened. She looked down at her ring finger and pulled her other hand away. “Mom, please.”


“Do you understand that we’re moving and you’re staying here? Well, not here. You’re moving into assisted living.”


“I told you why. Tom and I both got jobs there.”

“You don’t want me anymore?”

“It’s not that.”

“I’m not an old toy.”


“All those new toys we bought. I never had that, you know. Maggie and I, we used to make our own Christmas present every year. So did Mommy and Daddy.”

“We’ll visit you at Christmas.”

“I remember Aunt Claire visited one Christmas. She brought one of those peppermint pigs you hit with a hammer for New Year’s Eve. We found it and ate it Christmas night. We got in so much trouble. You remember, don’t you?”

“Mom,” she said. “That must’ve been seventy years ago. I wasn’t alive.”

“Of course you were.”

“Do you know who I am?”

“You’re Maggie.”

“No, I’m your daughter. I’m Erica.”

“That’s not right.” Agatha shook her head several times. “No, that’s not right. Don’t pretend, Maggie. I don’t want to play right now.” The woman across from her looked so familiar. It was Maggie. It had to be. Why was she doing this to her? Why did she want her to feel so helpless, so alone?

The familiar woman grasped for Agatha’s hand, and Agatha drew back. “Oh, Mom,” the woman said.  “Mom, stop this.”

“Don’t call me that, Maggie.” Before bed every night, Maggie made up fantastic stories about pirates, princesses and dragons. She did the voices of each of the characters. She even acted the stories out sometimes. Agatha loved Maggie’s characters then, but this was different. “I don’t want to hear a story. Not now.”

The woman sighed, reminding Agatha of someone. Once, when Agatha was a girl, the power had gone out at her house, and her mother had asked her to go in the pantry and look for some candles. She’d reached out into the dark cupboard where they always were, but they weren’t there. She’d felt around blindly in the dark, grasping at familiar objects that were suddenly unfamiliar. Looking at this woman’s face felt the same way. The knowledge was there, but she couldn’t find it amongst all the useless other things in the darkness.

The woman stood up from the table. She went to the closet and returned with Agatha’s coat, holding it up to her.

“It’s not cold, Maggie,” said Agatha. The name didn’t quite fit the woman, but it seemed close.

“Erica,” the woman said. “And it’s February. It’s cold. Put it on. We have to go. They’re expecting us in twenty minutes.” She waited as Agatha’s stiff arms found their way into their place in the jacket.

“Erica,” Agatha repeated. She turned to the familiar woman, studying her face for a moment before speaking. “But where are we going?” she asked.

Emily Cavanagh is a senior English literature and early childhood education double major. She’d like to thank her parents and her brother. This coming year, she plans to apply to MFA programs in order to study creative writing.