The time is early last summer -- or was it late spring? -- and the Complete and Total Loser's mother, dead for seventeen days now, has summoned a tree service worker to talk about tree removals in the back yard. She has always been a high-maintenance control freak, a label she ignored rather than disputed, and having needless work done in and around the house is a way for her to get attention as her powers diminish.
She wants three perfectly healthy trees removed but her timing in having the tree man come is bad; the Loser, the family nature lover, is there. After the man examines the trees, the Loser asks the pertinent question: Is there any benefit to removing them? Are they diseased? Do they present any danger to anything? The answer is no on all counts and the Loser gets the man out after some minutes of heated discussion between he and his mother.
He ends the discussion after the tree worker has left with this:
"Mom, how much longer do you think you're going to live in this house?" Her health is failing precipitously and she's talked of moving to an assisted living facility.
"Five years," she says, though she doesn't say it like that. What she says is more like, "Five years?" Her eyes widen.
The Loser sees in her face at that moment a mix of helplessness and denial that pangs him but he suppresses at the time.
"OK," the Loser says. "Five years. So why not let those perfectly healthy trees stay there and let whoever moves in after you and Dad move decide what to do with them?"
She doesn't mention the trees again for what turns out to be the rest of her life.
The Loser is beginning to see that exchange and other things as signals of her impending demise. Some are subtle and just entering his consciousness. Others seemed obvious then but the Loser preferred to perceive them differently at the time. (What good does dwelling on gloom do?)
On one of his weekly visits the Loser's mother says, "I found something of yours the other day." It was a tiny wooden chest, a souvenir she'd gotten in Florida in the mid 1960s and given to the Loser. It's the size of a stack of four decks of playing cards and the Loser used to store his boyhood coin collection. It had been missing for decades and he'd thought of it sometimes but assumed that it was just one of those things that gets lost as the years pass. Where had she had it? Why did she find it now? Was she going through old things? If so, why?