: Wake :

by Kent H. Dixon 

(Originally published in our Summer 2009 issue)                     

For Renée Barat Fannon (1916-2006)

            One last gasp like she was catching her breath and then she altogether stopped.

—Wow, Mom, that’s it, I said and wiped her lips a final time. There’s this foam that gurgles up from their throats and oozes out with the snoring rattle. They call this the active dying phase.

That phase was over, dead she was, and it’s hard to think past death when you’re smack up against it, so I stepped out to call the nurse, who, the dear, cried a little, produced some papers for me to sign, and then sent me back in:

—I know you’ll want to spend some quality time with mom, she said.                         

I sat there. Very still. You could feel the room in flat-line. I looked out the window, walked around, and then came to stand over her.

I closed her eyes. (They don’t have to shut simultaneously; that’s dolls.)

I closed the door and got out my cell phone and started taking pictures. I posed Woofie—her stuffed animal sheep dog—alongside her. But after several takes, repositioning him each time, I gave up. Couldn’t get either of them to relax.

What to do. I lifted her out of the bed and gingerly placed her in the armchair, afraid I’d break her. I let her just lean in it like she didn’t quite want to sit. My idea was to have some sort of tea, though for mom the dainty finger would tangent off a martini.

   Tanqueray or Earl Grey, no matter, in sum it’s a unique brew, for I ask you, who among us has fussed around to scratch up an afternoon tea with his just dead mother? It’s never been done—well, maybe Norman Bates in some outtakes somewhere, but in real life? But if somebody doesn’t do it, the universe will be incomplete.

I did jam a chair under the doorknob, for privacy, but then almost immediately I needed it for our tea party. So.

Her gown was open a little. She’d shown me her first mastectomy scar back when she was fifty.

     —Here, you want to see?

     —I don’t know, not really, mom… but, flip, there it was, a sort of a bar sinister across her chest, smack where I’d rooted for a nipple once. But now, at ninety, there were two slashes—like cancellations when a cartoon critter is knocked out—making her, with her frail rib cage, very lithe and boyish.

Then I did something really weird. I arranged her to sit a little more comfortably, straightened her gown, and began to pat her down. I don’t know what else to call it. I was taking in her whole body, through the palms of my hands. Blotting her in.

One of her eyes had crept open now, as if curious, or maybe to join me finally, and Woofie was flat on his back on the floor looking deader even than she…when the damn door opens.

Enter my nurse, who just stands there and doesn’t withdraw politely and I don’t say  ‘Give us a little longer’ or ‘Quality time, you know,’  I just keep patting, taking my mother’s measure, feeling her ribs hip bones femurish thighs. Nurse had probably seen it all before anyway, though maybe not; maybe this was a first for her too; at any rate, she didn’t leave.

So, nurse at the door, respectfully watching; Woofie on his back, kick him aside; me feeling up my mom as if this were a reverential thing to do. I squeezed her toes, like a custom hand-grip, and then I was full.

Take my hands if you don’t understand: you can feel it. You’ll need to do it for me someday. Otherwise, the ghost escapes, lost, grieved, nowhere to go. You have to take it in, through the ticklish portals just below where stigmata would be.

As I write this now in my study, one eye in each palm is peeking down at the home keys, Woofie’s perched in his own oblivion behind me on the window seat, and my tea is slowly, ever so slowly getting cold.               

[  ]

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