The room was as still as it always was. Black; a streak of lavender white splashed onto the upper left-hand corner from the outside backyard lights. The sheets on the bed were the same ones from the month before. No one slept in this bedroom anymore, we moved downstairs to the loveseat leaving our limbs to cramp and hinder. Or there was the couch that had an odor of stale urine occasionally from her accidents — “But if you put a sheet over it, it’s fine,” they’d tell me. They said to go upstairs. They said to leave the door open. (“Nothing to worry about; she can be like this for months.) They said to go to sleep. But trying to fall asleep while hearing a death rattle is hard to do.
Dom. Dom. Yo Dom.
I forgot. I forgot I went to bed. I forgot I ascended every single “crick-crack-creak” in the stairs that I knew too well, and went to bed. Well, I tried to go to bed. See, when constant consumption of too much pillow fluffing, too much lotion, too much of trying to figure out the hospital bed and nurses giving direction over the phone and changing the feeding tube is done and over with for the day, you would think it would generate utter exhaustion: Not tonight. More so, not for me. I folded onto the bed sheets but only slept for 24 minutes. Tonight was different. It was exactly 12 a.m. when Aunt Roe told me to go to bed. Today the phone rang more than it usually did. The hinges on the door squealed an immutable hymn, her voice a mumble and her body trembled. Later, when I held her hand, her fingers molded like a statue around my pointer finger I got nervous. I thought I would crack her finger off and crumble it down: crack, knuckle, crack.
“Dom. Dom. Yo dom,” my father said. He shook my pinky toe.
“Hmmm,” he started. “This little piggy cried all the way home.”
“I think Mom’s gone.”
I wanted to be there when my mother died, but I went to bed for 24 minutes instead.
It was 12:24 a.m., I remember exactly. Reason: I’m the person who rounds up to the half hour even if it is 12:20 a.m., on the dot. Tonight was an exception. I needed confirmation, I needed reassurance. I needed every second or minute or hour to count to comprehend what was about to happen. I needed 12:24 a.m.
“What,” I said with a dried mouth from the humid air.
“I said we think Mom’s gone,” said my father, slowly speaking at the foot of my bed.
“What do you mean she is gone.”
It wasn’t a question. I didn’t need to process what I heard: I knew what he said and how he said it and how true or untrue it was and was going to be.
“Mom. She’s not breathin’ anymore.”
It’s funny to hear these words.
Well, tell her to start breathing again.
I felt my limbs. My toes curled as I swung each leg down from the bed. When I went to bed it was 12 a.m. on July 9, 2010. Now it was 12:24 a.m. on July 9, 2010. I wiped the sweat that gathered on the soles of my feet into the carpet and put a sweater on. Strange, yes. The July heat was bad enough but there was this chill, and it ran right through my skin. I felt each hair stand up on the edge of my pores, while goosebumps slightly rose right before them.
Walking down the stairs I felt my father right behind me. My mother had been positioned in our living room. It was the only room the hospital bed could fit in, the room with the most sunlight, and a room that came to be known as my family’s sleeping arrangement, which was taken in shifts. My father mimicked that persistent ‘crick-crack-creak’ after me as I raced down the stairs. I stopped on the landing: I saw my face in the mirror. Then my eyes were drunk in by the salty scent of my hands.
“That’s MY mom. That’s my MOM. THAT’S my…”
And my hip clung to the railing for both moral and physical support, and huuuhhhh, big BREATH, huuuhhhh aaahuuuhhhh catch. catch. catch the breath. That was when I dropped. At the bottom of the stairs I dropped to my knees, my hand now clutching at the railing to give me the support I needed while my father let the undertaker into my home.
“Can’t you check one, you check, just check one more time,” my aunt said, stumbling on words of disbelief.
The coroner walked in and checked for a pulse.
My aunt went first. Then my father. All I can remember is sitting in the aluminum chair next to my mother’s body. I weaved my hand into hers and pressed my forehead against her stony wrist with my hair covering her like a blanket to keep her forearm warm. My saliva gathered in the corners of my mouth and snot ran down and collected at the top of my lip and I wasn’t crying I wasn’t crying I wasn’t crying, until all I found myself doing was sobbing.
Sobbing while rubbing her arms, hands, cheeks and neck, and gently panicking when I took her into my arms, trying to give her warmth with a slight shake. What if she is just sleeping? I didn’t want to break her. After laying her down I kissed her forehead and had the taste of a sweet perspiration stay on my lips, until I finally had to kneel down when they ziiiip! Out the door she went.
They had a van. I saw it the second my foot left the bottom step and hit the living room floor after the shock finally settled in and I knew what was going on. It was still and calm, just like any other summer night. My Uncle Bobby was there that night too, and he said I should have left the room when they zipped her up and took her away. I didn’t. Sometimes I wish I had, though.
There is something to be said for the stillness that the dead bring, even after they have left. It is an odd stillness: not a “and then all time stopped” stillness. More of a sprinting stillness, a moment so still one anticipates movement, a jolt of adrenaline. That adrenaline never came. It was a stillness that still clung to a presence, as if you can feel someone but you just can’t place your eye on the spot they stand in. Once all was over, the furniture still stayed where it was, saluting the blank space in the hardwood floor where the hospital bed just was minutes ago.
“Let’s go to bed,” Aunt Roe said. She is, or was, my mother’s sister.
I woke up the next morning and walked downstairs to say good morning to my mother. This was the only time I wished that images, scents, noises, my vision, would all falter. There are just some weights that can never be shook off the shoulders — and the mind.
I buried my mother on July 12, 2010. It was an intimate funeral. No viewing the previous night, no procession of cars with orange “funeral” flags sticking out of their windows. At the graveyard we put roses on the site after the ceremony was over, although I forget who I got the rose from. I placed my rose last, atop all of the other roses that were placed on the tombstone. It took all my might to finally walk away and get in the car to go home. It took even more might to eat the Sicilian pizza with ricotta, spinach, and tomato my mother’s friend ‘Aunt’ Maria brought over from Caesar’s Italian Restaurant, a Bristol Borough hot spot, that I usually devour on Christmas Eve when we go to her house to celebrate. That day it had no taste.
Dominique Wagner studies English Literature & Creative Writing, and currently resides in South Philadelphia. Dominique can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.