My mother died here.
Well, not really. In actuality she died in the converted front room, the one she decorated exactly as she wanted, waiting months for the right wallpaper, with the blue carpet installed just so and the gilded mirrors. The front room of a white house, changed from a room with illusions of grandeur, to one swallowed by the detritus of cancer. She died on a hospital bed, in our front room, early one morning. They threaded her heartbeat on the way to the hospital, her body forced open by machines so we could say our goodbyes stiffly a few hours later.
I had already said my frightened goodbyes as I stepped off the stairs that morning, allowing my father to run down the stairs, failing to stop the inevitable.
She had come home to die after all.
We had spent so much time here-weeks when she was admitted, teetering on the edge, that pale dark ridge to her eyes, the one I recognize even now in those so very sick with cancer, the almost. They might be listening to the whispers of the other side, the taunting of a mystery almost solved, the pleasure of existence without the pain. My mother had been that person for so very long that I adjusted and it no longer scared me-it shook me with the reminder that she was still alive.
After school, after work, my brother would drive my father and I to the hospital to sit with her through her meagre dinner, her ensure or jello. I’d sit in the backseat, sometimes doing homework, often just staring at the familiar trees down the 401 and my father and brother did whatever they could to not talk about the reason for our drive. That our mother and wife was dying, and we could do nothing.
“Tell her about school. Let her know what you did today-say something for Christ’s sake. Talk.”
I don’t know if my mother missed me. I imagine that she did-as I mother, I cannot grasp the idea of days lost to disease, to lying in bed, your family shattered and quiet when they arrive. She wanted to be interested, but what’s spelling and purple congratulatory dinosaurs when there’s a silent rot in your neck and they won’t be able to get it and that remission? We were wrong.
We were wrong. That Christmas? That was your last Christmas.
I’d show her my homework and smile. I don’t remember the last time she touched me.
I remember instead, walking in the old stone downtown of this tiny city, her hand and mine together as we rushed across the street, her lips tight and her purse close. Or the soft warmth of her hips against my head as I leaned close in the kitchen. The curve of her body beside me, lazy Saturday’s on the brown couch, watching Hitchcock, her arms securing me to her.
I remember what that house meant to her, how each inch was full of her, what she wanted, and the love my father built into drawing her world out for all of us. Somehow, the sunlight always warmed the rooms she walked through, the snow only framing her dreams.
But I remember more that room, above the tips of that tree, where they threw the switch, and a gaping swirling drain opening beneath me and sucked and swallowed and sapped memory and love and strength. Leaving us empty, a body on a bed, three people staring at one another in shock and blindness.
Memory is meaningless with no one left to share it.
The white house, tucked between two driveways, creaking old wooden floors, because any other white house, void of her, memory left at that hospital, with the priests who wept through her last rites, priests who were more friend than spirit, who loved her as we did. They couldn’t bring her back into that little house, shunt her memory to us for sweet tea relief.
Bereft, the house bent itself and wept. She had come home to die after all.