*Trigger Warning: Terminal Illness*
Her skin had become nearly translucent, like one of the glass tetras I had seen in aquarium stores. I had watched them swim in their tanks, thinking how wondrous it was to be able to see their hearts beating inside their bodies. I wished that everything in life was as transparent. People’s intentions and meanings hidden behind conversations they didn’t want to have. She was one of those people who would simply not have the conversations that needed to be had, and get rid of anyone who disagreed with her.
I wondered that if my mother's gown were to fall away, whether I would see all of her organs working away inside, those that were still working anyhow. Her breathing was shallow and labored; smells of floral perfumes and baking cookies were replaced with competing musty biological smells and antiseptics. The only sounds were distant voices down the corridor and the gentle purring of machinery in the room.
Sighing, I looked down at my feet and realized that I hadn’t changed my socks this morning. This had been a long journey and thus there was no shock or anger, just a tiredness. Her body was tired and I was tired of seeing her this way and apparently too tired to change my socks.
Her fingers fluttered half concealed by a loosely woven cotton hospital blanket and I wondered if she was dreaming and what of. Did she dream of summer days when I was a child? The days seemed perfect to me because I was just a child, oblivious to hard work, taxes, wars, and illness. Did she remember the days of my childhood or her own childhood more fondly? The stories she had told of her own childhood were not leisurely or fun, so perhaps the days of my childhood would be more appropriate. Maybe there would be some sort of magic if she and I were thinking of the same time and place: she in her dream and I in my reminiscing.
On this particular day, the grass had grown two inches overnight and the dandelions and other small weeds that had popped up to compete tickled my ankles. I had a bread sack in my hand with the heels of several loaves inside. About twenty ducks were at the water’s edge not far from the small cemetery and swimming beach. The cemetery hadn’t had any burials after 1925, but the fact that a swimming beach was adjacent to a plot in which bodies were interred had always bothered me. My mother on the other hand loved walking amongst the stones, reading the names and whatever other information was included. She would later describe me as morbid, not recognizing her own preference for the dead to the living as a little unusual. She had trouble relating to the living. But as a result of so much time spent in cemeteries, I never had any issue with death.
We were never permitted to swim at the lake. Ear infections were common among swimmers but more likely due to the waterfowl than the ancient cemetery, and I was a moderately sickly child to begin with. Although perhaps, I was a little more like Amelie of film, whose sheer excitement at rare interaction leads everyone to believe she has a heart condition. I probably would have been fine visiting the doctor half as often as I had. She would later be the one to help me minimize conditions that she had gotten doctors to diagnose when I needed a clean bill of health.
The weather was mild and I needed only a light windbreaker. I felt every stone and pebble through my thinly soled children’s sandals on my way to the water’s edge. The birds had been swimming calmly about occasionally stopping to preen. Being quite familiar with children and bread sacks, the birds swam towards the low sea wall, tail feathers ruffling excitedly. To feed ducks on a clear blue-skied day, watching them swim about fighting over bread crumbs was well worth the discomfort of a few pebbles poking through my soles. It would be something I wouldn’t mind doing on a day like today; some reminder of life beyond.
My eyes wandered across to the parking structure facing the hospital room window, and the faint grey-blue sky that matched both of our eyes. There wasn’t anything visible outside of the window to spark any memories, just concrete and sky. That was why I carried around photographs in my tote bag. In the off chance that she was able, some of the memories would be there at the ready. I shifted in my chair which was neither comfortable nor uncomfortable given that it was cushioned but also covered with some sort of tan antimicrobial vinyl. The vinyl matched trim inside the room, clearly an attempt at modern style while maintaining sterility. I would wait for my mother to stir naturally or to be awakened by the next nurse doing rounds.
I had done more than my share of waiting and being patient in my life. A life that most will not understand in the slightest.
I sat this way day-dreaming of bread sacks and ducks until I dozed off into some sort of half-awake, half-asleep state. My head jolted upright as a nurse entered the room. I had been lost in the images I had conjured and was the one first awakened by the nurse. She was unobtrusive in her work, running through the same checks as every nurse had every two hours for the last month. However, she seemed as concerned about me as my mother, asking if she could get me anything and ensuring that I had indeed eaten something. My mother’s future had already been seemingly decided, mine on the other hand was still up for debate. As my minimal self-care made evident, the future had been put on hold until these final days were over.
My mother’s bed creaked as she stirred and I watched her thin form shift under the covers. In her labored voice I heard her say softly “Let’s talk a walk.”