I remember Mum. I’m small this time. She wets a tissue and wipes my face, it smells stale. It’s thin and fluffy from her bag, and there’s the hint of a sweet softening polo-mint that must be hiding right down at the bottom.
I think of the fusty bits that get under my nails when she tells me to fetch her car key, deep in her cavernous bag. But I let her wipe my face. She wants to. To be useful.
To make it alright for me to go outside on my own.
So now I hold her hand, and it’s still soft. So thin though. I let it go again. ‘Just be with her now,’ the doctor said. But I want those old memories. I want new ones. And the old ones. Any but the ones she’s making me now.
As she lies there in her nightie in the ward, I’m turning over my memories; a disintegrating tissue really. I’m trying to keep the bits from falling apart. ‘Cause I still need them. If I see her now I’ll cry again. Getting so thin. Those memories.
Because this is Mum. Purple dots where the tubes go in, and purple where they did. And I don’t know how to touch her. It’s the crisp white beds. And I know they don’t take care of her. Not like she needs. I feel bad.
She’s staring silently, breathing heavily. Wetly. The ward is so empty, her sound fills it out.
I pick up her bag and rummage. I want to hide inside.
‘You’ve got no polos, Mum… Do you want a polo, Mum?’ Of course she doesn’t. ‘What do you want?’ She must need something I can give.
Her eyes move to meet mine but don’t tell me anything. And I’m glad. I feel I’ve nothing for her. What would I do if she needed me?
And sitting here’s no good.
‘I’ll be right back, Mum.’
I get my handbag and make myself useful… Down the corridor at the little shop, the kiosk with the magazines and teddybears. Someone’s buying ‘It’s a girl.’ When I come back Mum’s taking a shaky sip of water from a plastic beaker, like the ones they used to give us in school at lunch time. The tubes move in her hands when she holds it. I don’t want her to hurt, so I try to take the beaker, help her sip, but she doesn’t like that.
‘No, darling’, comes weakly.
‘Ok, Mum, ok…’
I take the beaker from her when she’s done and I wipe a few spots of water off her chin with a clean tissue.
She lies back on her cushions, exhausted.
‘I got you polos, Mum,’ I tell her. I drop them, and the tissue, into her bag.
I sit now too, on the tall-backed vinyl chair, and listen as the air escapes it in a long, stale ‘fffffff.’
A moment later she reaches out. ‘What is it Mum, did you want one?’ I say. I raise my hand, ready and urgent.
But she guides it back down onto the arm of my chair. She puts her hand on top of mine there.
She smiles a little, weakly. I guess she just wants me to be with her, so we sit together like that.
I watch her. I look at the sky outside the windows. Feel her hand resting on mine. And I think, that I don’t ever want to go outside on my own.
Originally Published here in ‘Eleanor’ Issue 4 of Literary Orphans in January 2012