I hold her hand, transparent parchment, and trace the thin blue veins with my forefinger. The beep beep of monitors behind me go about their business, signaling life in blood, lungs and heart.
I look at her face, a sea of wrinkles, the eyes closed. For how long now? A milky gaze, even when they are open. Everything is slack, the skin, the mouth, the forehead, the chin, even the eyebrows. The neck is leaning to the left. Should I move her head? Will she notice? Does she care?
I get up. I fluff the pillows. I put her head straight. I do it for me, not for her. I’ve been here a month, visiting every day.
“Hey, how is she?” The door opens and Barb, my older sister walks in.
I shrug. I look at her, bustling in, with a big bag of food, crossword puzzles, books. Ever the practical one.
I came with nothing and stare at the body that is my mom. I grit my teeth to say, “is.” I am so tempted to say “was.”
“Where is she?”
“Huh?” Barb turns around after putting the pen on top of the crossword puzzle.
“She’s there. I know she’s there. I just can’t see it. I want to see it!” I sob.
Barb holds me close, rubbing her right hand up and down my back, saying nothing. Like when we were little, sporting pigtails.
I pull away gently and give her a weak smile.
I walk towards the window. It is raining. The drops make rivulets on the pane like tears. Tears I cannot, will not shed. I can still hear my mom saying, “What’s the use of crying?” She was never one to give in to tears. She’d do, do, do instead. I will be a good girl now. Dry-eyed.
I sit by her bed.
Barb says, “It’s ok. Go ahead and cry. She won’t know.”
I shake my head and look at her and we burst out laughing, tears running down our faces.
“We cheated, Mom,” I say and look at her pale, sleeping face on the white pillowcase.
Barb smiles as she wipes the tears from her eyes.
“You remember what she said, about how she wanted it to end?”
“Yes, I can give it to you word for word. She said it so many times, waving the wooden spoon she was baking with or the rag she was dusting the shelves with, or the pen she was holding. How could I forget? She said, ‘We all have a beginning and we all have an end. Is it because we make so much of beginnings - all those baby showers and hugs and congratulations and oohs and aahs-that we no longer know how to make beautiful endings, that we hide the drooling, the incontinence, the vacant stares, the smell of disinfectant?’ She said that about having an end but she never said how she wanted it to end.”
Barb looks down at her hands.
I look up at the blinking machines.
We look at each other. A long time. I see the corners of her mouth lift. It echoes mine.
Published in Kaleidoscope, Writer’s Abroad Anthology 2015 (Oct. 2015)