‘No, darling.’

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.

‘Stop fidgeting.’

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.

‘Stop fidgeting.’

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