Do something for more than a few days and it becomes normal, even the slow walk down this long hallway to visit her deathbed. In the living room we eat, make phone calls, go for walks, and she is still there. A few times a day I forget for a tenth of a second that my mother’s sunken body is back there on a bed that it will not rise from. As soon as the forgetting happens the remembering is back and I must see her.
The door is always open, the shape of the hospice bed framed by the shimmer of the lagoon below redwood and fir covered ridges. The azure sky is an assault, each spring day more perfect than the one that came before. I lower myself into the chair abutting her bed and the smell rises up to embrace me. I have to wrestle back every muscle commanding recoil. This is how my mom smells now, the morphine leaves her mouth drooping open and the staleness has turned acrid and putrefying. I stay in my seat and don’t react. As if she would notice and be hurt by it.
“Hi mom, it’s a beautiful day today. Grandma just arrived and someone brought a whole pile of food. That spinach lasagne that you really like.”
That you can’t eat anymore is what I am thinking. I hold her hand and sing, because after awhile what more is there to say. Breath rushes in and out of my body, but it’s too shallow, blocked just underneath my ribcage. It sits there throbbing with the energy of an atom about to be split in two. Lodged under bone it can’t escape and so it grows, threatens to burn it all down. My attention is pulled away from the black hole swirling in my chest to a motion. For the first time in days she has willed her hand to squeeze mine, the faintest pressure to match her waning warmth. The ball dislodges itself from rib bone to travel up through spongy lung into the bottleneck of my throat. It casts a dense shadow over my heart and settles in, re-arranges the furniture to make itself more comfortable.