by Deidre Robinson
You ascend the stairs in reluctance, and, leaving Uncle Alex and Aunt Carole with their near lifeless mother, head toward your mother’s room. There she sits at her large, ancient computer screen fussily rearranging words that would be Grandmom’s obituary. Mom had typed and deleted, typed and deleted, typed and deleted the details of Eileen’s full and rich life for days on end. She’d long resolved that this act, this labor of love, would be her final act of honoring her mother. Their mother. Everyone’s mother.
Your throat suddenly clasping shut, tongue unfamiliar with language of any kind in that moment. You sit silently on the edge of the bed rubbing your temples in vain. Mouth opening with a soft pop as a bubble emerges between your cracked, darkened lips from smoking Newport 100s back to back to back until your lungs remind you with a haggardly cough that they do, indeed, exist. Mom is speaking in a forced, cheerful manner about her progress with the obituary. It is all you can do to move your muscles to a quarter smile in acknowledgment. Your eyes cannot bear to meet hers.
You both know why you sit in apprehensive silence in her room. Her incessant babbling and your mindless nodding are the only indications that you’re alive. Not living. Seeking solace, your fingers absentmindedly play with a loose piece of thread on the quilt haphazardly thrown over unmade sheets from a night of tossing and turning by your mother. At some point, Mom sits back down in front of the screen click-clacking the backspace button. Your head is still throbbing, but now in time to the heavy, slow footsteps from the carpeted staircase. Before seeing the top of her curls, you know it’s Aunt Carole. You know why she’s coming. You wish you didn’t.
Dispirited eyes vibrate each nerve ending like a requiem for love as your eyes lock with your aunt’s. A requiem for life. A requiem for ‘The Grandmother’ ensues as you and your mother proceed downstairs – a desolate march of wooden darkness toward her hospital bed. Her mute physicality decaying the heart space in loved ones whose disbelief in sight and silence crash unfamiliar waves in the only fixed presence in your life. In the family’s life.
The whirr of the oxygen machine pushing air into emptiness compressing those gathered around the rented hospital bed. The impermanence of the medical provisions on the dining room table turned caregivers’ station a mocking chimera of the continuum of time and space. You knew this moment was coming but walking the River Jordan with arms outstretched hasn’t been an experience you can recall in this life. Eyes rouged with dry pain while inelastic faces thrust rye remarks as deadpan is the defensive strategy in this family. Works. Every. Time.
The family circles around their beloved looking for signs. A slight rise and fall of breast tissue. A gasping inhale. Or, darkened digits sprinkled with liver spots giving a twitch. The same hands that gave those twisting pinches in church when you wouldn’t sit still in the pretty dress your mother bought for you are still. Mouth slightly ajar. Eyelids placed shut.
Who will keep us all together now?
With an amplified click, you stop the whirring. You halt the hum of the air mattress designed to provide comfort in the last days of Eileen. As silly as it seems, you refuse to lower the bars on the side of the bed because abuse of a corpse is a thing, and she endured enough in her lifetime as a Black woman, you think. The death of the matriarch magnifies the infinite thought fractals screaming for attention in your mind. You muffle them long enough to make the three essential phone calls – the on-call nurse with the hospice to mark the beginning, the trusted family undertaker, and Rev. Trevor Williams.
Leaving the house to make a call on your cell phone that could’ve been made indoors on the landline, like the other two, is the perfect excuse to escape from the heaviness. The weight of the unknown sags your shoulders. Your fingers quake while lighting your cigarette. A migraine and bleary eyes are to blame for picking the wrong number three times under Trevor’s name in your iPhone.
A luminous new moon provides unwanted light as you finally settle on calling his home in hopes you don’t disturb his wife and children. It is 1:33 am. His daughters have school in the morning. As much as Grandmom preached the importance of education, especially for Black youth, you’re sure she would hate to be an interruption in that process. In these remaining days of winter, March has come in like a lion and left lambs slaughtered. The shepherd is no more…
A Philadelphia, PA native, Deidre Robinson recently received her MFA in Writing at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY, where she completed work on her first fiction manuscript, several creative non-fiction essays, and works on short stories and poems. She graduated from Arcadia University in PA, with a Master of Arts in English in 2013 before teaching at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania for two years as an Adjunct English Instructor. A former lineman with a semi-professional women’s tackle football team, Deidre enjoys watching sports when she’s not delving into writing poetry, short stories, and creative non-fiction. You can find her on Twitter @deelite1111.