Janis, at 34, had still managed to retain
gift of patience
and forgiveness all her years. This
rare capacity for altruism
she keeps is a true feat
recently seemed to be shoving fat
vigorously into the spokes of her copen blue
with a disturbing sort of frequency.
For five years now she'd been pedaling at least
every other day from her apartment to the nursing home
where her mother Cora rested, sans even slight
comfort, on butter cream sheets. She breathed
incessant ssiisss rasps in her anguish. The bones in
her body had been disappearing now for a number of
years, and Cora herself had to witness, totally
cognizant of each and every pain, this flouring of her frame into unseen dust. The piercing aches more and more often could not
be quashed with even heaping doses of medication.
Twice in the last month she had mumbled for Janis to
go ahead and attach gold handles along the sides of
her bed for easy pallbearer access. The third mention would be on that Sunday afternoon
shortly after Janis walked in.
"But have them be real gold. And etch beautiful little
phrases on each handle-- some of the lovely ones
you've made up before. That would mean so much to me."
Janis helped to adjust Cora's brittle frame, and
both of them shuddered as the torturous crackle sort of
noise-- light but crisp like gold leafing being
crushed-- went through the air. Janis ostensibly ignored
her mother's maudlin comment du jour, but was at the same time imagining what sort of phrases she might etch in the
gold. Verbal snippets that would make her mother smile
eternally. Some would be hers and some borrowed from
"What is lovely never dies,
But passes into other loveliness."
--Thomas Bailey Aldrich
She would love that, Janis thinks while singing
low, smoothing out sheet wrinkles futile and brisk
with the back of her own small porcelain hand. Her
mother coughed. Comparable to the sound of four or
five browned leaves fighting each other within a massive
wind gust. Janis wasn't aware that Cora was admiring
her daughter's hair-- brown chin length locks dappled on
the tips by mandarin colors and beets. Cora's hair
once looked like this too. Like best day in autumn.
"What are you singing?" inquired Cora.
"I forget the name. A Peter Gabriel song."
Cora nodded, not familiar with the singer of
course. Janis sang a few bars from an old Billie
Holiday song her mother adored in attempt to get a
smile. The absolute dreadfulness of her voice actually
made Cora laugh, however, and although she winced
somewhat with her gales, Janis beamed at being able to
bring joy to the dying woman. Cora expressed her
undying appreciation for her daughter's care all the
time through the emotions in her face, and she doted on
Janis right then with that love. The bond between the
two kept firm, understood and unspoken, and the beauty
of their connection was prized by both as one of those
peaceful wonderfuls that kept them fighting their
Her gentleness soft as ermine,
Had always been and will ever long be.
Mother and daughter began talking on chair and bed
as they'd been doing for years, and Janis vigilantly
worked to keep their topics of conversation upbeat:
the good family memories, entertaining current events
and more recent moments of amusement Janis had
experienced. Not too many funny things happened for
Janis as of late, considering she'd virtually
sacrificed five years of any actual living to provide
Cora constant care. Though looking after her mother
was emotionally draining, Janis could not imagine it
any other way. Her two older brothers and younger
sister had not visited their mother even once in
almost a decade.
Every unlocatable sibling was brimming with their
own problems and mentally unable to cope with Cora's
decay. They also still resented the poverty they'd
grown up in. As though Cora did it on purpose. Their
father had skipped off when Janis was seven, so Cora
was the only one left to blame. For some reason they
needed that ability, thought Janis. She was sure they
had been blaming mother for their despair over a tough
childhood for so long that it simply became the truth
to them. Something they believed was deserving of
their eternal rancor. Janis would flare her nose at
times if she thought too long on them. Her empathy for
their viewpoint could dissipate easily. She once
crunched blue glass in her palm, sharded bits of a
discarded bottle she'd found near a gutter, out of
helplessness. Janis could barely attend to her own
health problems. Her fluctuating ailments, though,
were confusing to every doctor she'd visited. Muscle
pain, insomnia, rashes and hair loss were the primary
on and off afflictions. Although every test indicated
nothing concrete, watching her mother gradually leak
out all her sinew was obviously the only thing left
culpable for her bouts of illness.
"And one had breathed death like incense
In an aura of saintly flame."
Janis sat beside her mother for three hours this
particular day. In the final hour Janis managed to
pull a crumpled piece of paper, cauled in a yellow
dinge, from a back pocket. She blushed while reciting
an enigmatic poem she had written 12 years back. Her
mother relished the sound of it, especially the words
in the final stanza her daughter spoke ... and it dawned
on the vagabond that the children were exaggerations,
all dulcet eyed and waiting for asphyxiation. The
crisp lives of that bleak house are going to become as
dead as he is-- they will dive into the vast blank tank
of afterdeath milk as fast as water...
"That was beautiful," her mother responded, stolid.
"What in the world is that poem about?"
Janis burst into laughter. "I have no clue. Blame
Baudelaire. All I recall is that he somehow inspired
Although her writing was not always oozing the perfection of a fantastical Kafka work, she liked reading occasional snippets to Cora, because Cora constantly had an
honest reaction of enjoyment and adoration for her
daughter's work. This particular mash of words had
actually been rediscovered by Janis three days before.
Tears misted her vision when she found the paper,
which had been sitting in a ball at the bottom of an
old box of school junk, for as Janis looked it over
she recalled the poem's year of birth. A time which
felt like centuries ago, before mother and daughter
were doused with hardships. The all-consuming vicious
kind of hardships that alter people into somber
distortions of who they once were. The ones that don't
fleet. Finding the paper sent Janis into one of her
rare bursts. The kind of anger bursts that had to be
flung out from within her-- where she must kick a strong
door or slug a smug-looking pillow, understandably
reeling in her chomp bit. That familiar chomp bit.
This human finish means her artful beginning as a
During her final minutes of visitation Janis headed
into the hallway for a quick run to the restroom. Before
reaching it she encountered her mother's primary nurse
Sarah. The nurse had turned an upcoming corner quickly
and gave a small oh as the two halted prior to
Janis gleaned from the woman's unconcealed smirk
that the old hounds tooth vest she wore was
more than slightly unappealing. Janis still had not
struck a career of gold, and it had been years since
she'd bought any new clothing. She took the little
diss in stride. Sarah just didn't fit into any current
concern. The nurse was soft-spoken and very loving to
Cora, which meant the most to Janis. She admired Sarah
and looked at her as an example of where she might get
to be sometime again soon. Captured in a midst of
worlds pulsing all alive and intoxicating. Those
unaware of depressions as encompassing as the one
miring Janis could easily take their ability to live for
Sarah was hoping to speak to Janis this day. The
nurse hated what she had to tell her. The latest on
her mother's fade. She gave it to the daughter quickly
and simple. Her voice remained mild even though the
actual words were not.
"Her fingers will completely disintegrate by the
end of the week."
Disintegrate. Muscled word with a tough punch and
no, nothing could be done. Janis knew this well, but
she naturally formed the tired question again. Her
inquiry was spoken while she adorned a calm facade.
She'd discovered that appearing calm outwardly served
as a sort of protection device, creating a needed
balance with the chaotic emotions engulfing her
within. Janis, for the last few years, had been
swimming full-time in an array of complex imaginings
and inner dialogues. She succumbed to complete
self-absorption because her depression drove her to
shut out others. Her fortitude, however great, was not
unbreakable, and something must always go lacking when
total attention was needed for keeping it intact.
Janis required it for survival.
Sarah walked towards her remaining duties,
understanding Janis's silence as her need to be alone
then. Janis swam. Since Cora's bones were more
bashable than fine china, Janis likened her to a
distortion of Cora's own old English tea pot: Though
decorated with a lovely delicate floral pattern, she
envisioned the nine pale pink Tiffany roses puddling
on a table because the critical, coconut-hued china
that had held it up somehow dissolved. Janis was
disgusted by her mind's pitiful images. But that was
where she was then. Feeling her own pain along with
Screw, thought Janis, make her laugh too once she was put to rest.
"Around, around the sun we go:
The moon goes round the earth.
We do not die of death:
We die of vertigo."
She would scrawl these various bits and pieces down
that evening across a ripped back of envelope, noting
that the proposed gold casket handles would have to be
During this last year for Cora, Janis thought
numerous times about ending her mother's suffering
herself. She always backed off from these thoughts,
but the possibility of a mercy killing took over her
mind more virulent than ever shortly after hearing
about the disintegrating digits. She shook violent
temptations out of her head again.
That night she would awake from sleeping and swear
she saw a demon grinning pearls at the end of her bed.
She'd watch him bust up her antique cedar chest, which
sat at the bed's foot, and then the demon would
suddenly flit gone. The chest was where Janis kept her
cherished items once belonging to her mother. Sundries
in the form of crocheted blankets, wonderfully
age-scented books, and jewelry and silverware passed
down for her daughter to hold onto. Seeing this demon
would fail to shock Janis. It's energy wasn't real
enough to carry out any actions. She knew the thing
was easily conquered. But Janis would drift back into
sleep and there find herself surrounded by blackness
and shredded scraps of cedar.
Janis returned to her mother after bathrooming for
almost 15 minutes. She masked her despair and reminded
herself just a few more weeks. Cora and Janis knew
well she had approximately two more weeks to endure.
She understood the strength of her mother as
daunting-- pleasingly abundant considering her physical
lack of power. Made sense. Energy does not die. It
simply changes form.
Janis made a point to focus on the felicitous. She
looked forward to hugging her mother's human form
tightly once her spirit was released. She wanted to
press close against what remained of Cora's powdering
frame once more. Janis hadn't been able to do that in
"Here comes the flood
We will say goodbye to flesh and blood
If again the seas are silent
in any still alive
It'll be those who gave their island to survive
Drink up, dreamers, you're running dry.