Proselegy and Coda
By Gary Presley
She sits in a chair that rocks, reclines, and rotates. She sits still. She is my mother, dressed to meet the day, sweater surrounding shoulders, scarf a vibrant crown. She is bald, wavy dark blond burnt away. She is cold, too thin, joints visible, her chin and cheekbones prominent, sallow, all hints of once robust, even Rubenesque, figure cancer-consumed. Kill her cancer. Soon.
"I don't want to die, Gary," she says, from the border of a country I fear to explore. There is no map I can offer to help her find her way home, none to chart a tranquil journey.
"I know ... " but I beg – pray – for words to chase the fear from her eyes, fire blue eyes, flickering, hollowing, at her glimpse of the specter slinking.
A day. Another. A nurse. "She's gone," kindly said. Falling into the void, my father and I enter the house. I trail behind him to the bedroom. My mother is dead. Dead because the cancer-beast once more squandered something good. Dead because the cancer-demon moved to her brain. My mother waits for us cancer-dead on her marriage bed – arms covered, eyes closed, face toward heaven. Beneath the cover she holds infinity in the palm of her hand.
I leave my father alone with her.
I have nothing to say. Not even "I know" when my father begins to cry.
My brother sits in an arm chair, his back to the north window. One day. Another. A third. Each day I watch the spare clouds lurking behind sparkling glass as I finesse my way – once, twice, again, once more – along the narrow space separating hospital beds from the wall. One bed is empty. Waiting. The other cradles my father, racing toward sunset.
One breath. Ragged. Flutter. Silence. Space. Another breath. Rattle. Jaw flap-heave.
Another day. Twenty-three before. Dry-burnt grass. Heat. My father, erect and bone-thin. Rock-hard. Cane-pinned to earth. Kneeling, above my mother's stone, white roses in hand. A "sentinel of the grave who counts us all."
Another breath calls me back from grave-memory. Broken. Jagged. Silence-space. Reaching further toward eternity each minute, hour, day.
Jon stands. "We best go." I nod.
Another breath. Flutters. Silence. Space. Words. Clear.
"This is the hardest part," my father says. Eyes closed. Legs move. Another step toward the precipice in the fading light.
"I know ...
" I say. At last. Empty. Alone.
Gary Presley's essays have appeared in venues as diverse as Salon.com, Notre Dame Magazine, and The Ozark Mountaineer. His memoir, Seven Wheelchairs: A Life beyond Polio, was published by the University of Iowa Press.
Gary Presley discusses the genesis of this essay on the Brevity Blog entry Pressure: Air
photo by Dinty W. Moore