The conversation is not one of a grief-stricken mother but a burdened one.
“I don’t know what to do with her. I don’t know what to do with her stuff. I don’t want it here. I don’t want to look at it. I don’t want to see any of it. I just want it gone. I can’t do anything for her. I’ve got no money to help her. I’ve got nothing else. I’m not sure what else to do. I’m tired. I’m so tired,” and she laughs—a bogus sound like the broken chant of a stodgy antique car panting its last gasps sputtering and dying. This response in total contrast to the lines of strain souring the down turned corners of her mouth.
I watch her sit down slowly, highlighting her decline, on a grungy grey loveseat, placing her head in her hands. Aggravation deepens the lines on her face and hands showing her age and overall misery. Her long grey hair falls around her like silver holiday tinsel. The glitter of strands float in the air landing on the fake laminate wood flooring amongst the unswept specks of dirt collecting in the corners; like the excessive shedding of pet hair, the finely coarse pieces coat the furniture.
Familial love needs sun, like fertilizer, because it’s full of shit. The microbes propagate and the fools replicate; good and bad and all in between, progress abridged, if not empty; pools of petals float pass the row of windows and I sit gazing beguiled by the shimmy of shine and the latent fondness dressed in the onus of concern.
Have you ever thought about the biology of love between family? I have. Nurturing doesn’t necessarily mean love and affection and all those positive emotions that ooze into benevolent virtue; oftentimes can be testing grounds for a spawn of antagonism and apathy; a toxic mass of goo that corrodes a person at the core.
“I have her books, her journals, her photographs, and paintings—” The mother releases a loud breath of air. “I can’t leave mom here alone. Hospice stopped coming thanks to the president and the changes in Medicare. The government isn’t helping us old folks anymore. I can’t leave mom. She won’t let me, even if I wanted to. She’s a stubborn old woman and so am I.” More fake laughter. “The government’s cut our social security. I’m barely surviving as it is. Food’s so much more expensive. Prescriptions are outrageous. I get no help from family. I don’t know what I’ll do when mom’s gone. She pays the rent. I only get $900 a month and rent is $850. My daughter warned us not to vote for that man. Said he would bring disaster down on us all. I guess I should be thankful to him for not taking it all away from us. I’m sure he knows better than I do with him being such a brilliant businessman and all,” and I wonder if she’s being ironic or proudly parroting the state propaganda network. “I don’t know who’s gonna take care of me now that she’s gone.”
And there’s that laughter.
She’s the agreeable elderly white woman that says hello and smiles and talks too much and ends all her sentences with inappropriate plastic laughter. I can see the thinly veiled shell that covers her affectation. Heartbroken and miserable, her back and shoulders heavy with the weight of a repressed past; of concerns not voiced and confrontations skirted; of love and enlightenment unexplored. Forged falsely in a sea of nays, insincerity has no mask, it hides in plain sight.
The small narrow mid-eighties puke-green duplex sits on a dying golf course cul-de-sac along with a few other duplexes and townhouses. The high white ceilings do nothing to hide the pale dusty cobwebs that dance in the corners to the tune of a rusty old fan that swings creaking and groaning in the center of the room. The annoying tap, tap, tap of the chain pull bounces against dirty frosted lights in the unnerving silence. The muffled sounds of an old game show vibrates the walls from behind a closed bedroom door and I detect a strong smell of cigarette smoke from that same area. I sit opposite her on the matching sofa covered with a multicolored sheet to camouflage the same grey grunge. Piles of paper and magazines sit under a small end table; on top: a laptop, dirty bowls, glasses, tissues, and chewed toothpicks. She keeps snacks close to her: a couple bags of chips, and a bowl of peanuts. The corner is her comfort, her safe place. Her back to the world, she stockpiles her emotional void with empty trappings to shape her existence.
The distant hollow rings of a bell break the cone of somewhat silence and I realize that the noise coming from the bedroom has been muted. In its place are the resounding paroxysmal sounds of a cowbell. The mother releases a loud and frustrating sigh and makes her way towards the room not bothering to excuse herself. Upon opening the door, a billowing cloud of smoke rushes forth making my eyes water and throat itch. I cover a cough. The television unmutes and mutes again along with an irritated tone from the mother. What she says, I don’t know and I’m not sure I wanna. She stomps from the room slamming the door returning to the loveseat with another indignant audible discharge of air.
“I try not to lose my patience, but it’s so hard. I have no help…” She continues describing her compassion fatigue in the most distinct details.
The toxicity of this place is stifling. I smell it in the air and taste it on my tongue. Synapses spark with memories long forgotten tightening my gut and shortening my breath. I want to leave. I need to leave. Impressions of my childhood suffocate me and I feel the pressure of a long-forgotten time take my breath. The stained mirror of my past closes in around me. I hone in on the memories and trample them with contempt, destroying them, hopefully never to return, knowing they will eventually leak from lingering infected wounds.
I interrupt her non-stop narcissistic self-recriminations: “I’ll take it. I’ll take care of her and everything. I’ll have a truck here within the week and please don’t worry about her. I’ll take care of her. I’ll send someone by with papers for you to sign and to pick it all up.”
The mother looks at me with a saint-like relief. “I want—she wanted her body donated to science or cremated—no service. She’s not like me or the rest of our family. She was … different. I believe in God—she didn’t, but she had a good heart and she cared about black people and Muslims and gay people. She fought for them. Especially for women. I don’t believe she’s here anymore. I think she’s moved on. The Lord will take care of her,” and more of that odd phony plastic laughter that bounces loudly and awkwardly off the laminate wood flooring.
It’s as though she laughs purposely knowing it’s one of the most grating sounds she can produce. It is her pièce de résistance, her culmination of a life unlived, her rebellious and petulant ‘fuck you’ to an otherwise indifferent world. The monotonous drone is her trademark born of heartache and blood and diffidence. It made me wince each time it landed. It smothered me with angst. It struck me with artifice gone awry.
It was an odious sound.
I’m dubious of her claims and those of the local medical professionals and willing to explore other options. I have other plans for the unconscious woman beside the road.
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins