My Mother, at 107, Mourns the Planet
The world's last astronauts gave her a comfortable chair and cleaned all the windows so that she can watch Earth break in half. She sits calmly and waits for the end. She's not crying. For years, her eyes have been dry as glass.
When my mother was seventeen, her hair was bright red. Now it drifts into white fog around her, making the astronauts cough. Her skin, too, is turning into fog. Her nails are already vapor. This is her form of dying.
Is there anything you need, ma'am? She smiles at the young astronaut's ludicrous question. She has never before been so thoroughly, so luxuriously, taken care of. She's perfectly safe, well-fed, and sitting in the most comfortable chair of her life. When the earth breaks, she'll feel only a slight rocking, like the dream of a horse race or a boating accident. She's lightyears away from the blinding stars that were gunshots, the sunset pink clouds that were poison, the four children, sitting so politely at her dining room table, so upright and quiet, the four dead children sitting around her dining room table. She's lightyears away from the sorrow that wrecked her spine and sent her husband careening off the edge of a cliff, hallucinating only his own tears. She no longer has to scuff dirt over her children's graves, thinking over and over, This is how my mother's mother also lived. The young astronaut has given her a little mug of hot chocolate. There is a pillow behind her neck. She doesn't need a thing.
Except—she'd like to stand up. Move a little closer. Press her hands against the glass. The astronaut sees my mother struggling and helps her stagger over to the window. It's not easy to watch, the earth spinning in sad little circles, bleeding out its oceans.
My mother has begun to realize that she may never die. She'll sit in this comfortable chair, spinning through galaxies, until she vaporizes into cloud, and then into rain, and then into a puddle on the floor that the astronauts will mop up, wondering aloud, “Did she spill her water glass? Is she sleeping? Did somebody check her room?” She'll never understand the sudden blackness, the enfolding finality of now I am dead, now I am—.
Beneath the glass floor of the spaceship, earth bucks and trembles. It doesn't want to end. It's clinging to so much. And maybe it's just the empty howls of space but my mother presses her ear to the window and she can hear it, actually hear it: creation groaning like an animal. She can't cry but she can remember exactly what it feels like to cry. Her whole face stings. And with that familiar feeling, memory floods her skull, like two eyes opening deep inside her brain.
But she doesn't think of us.
She doesn't remember the time my father first kissed her, all flushed and sticky by the bicycle racks. She doesn't remember the dampness of my baby brother's fuzzy new head, or the way I used to wake from nightmares, screaming for her. It's not the memory of my baby sister, with her collarbone in a cast, that grabs my mother, though my sister was adorable then, trotting down the sidewalk like a tiny queen in nothing but a diaper.
No, my mother remembers a memory that's not her own. She remembers something that happened very early, before anything was ruined by a name. In the beginning. The first lovers, playing at romance in the garden, reaching to touch each other's faces for the very first time. She was there. How has she forgotten so much? She's been there all along. (Under the spaceship, the planet shudders and screams.) Everything was new and desperately confusing. Birds were just learning how to push out their throats in song. Flowers hid their faces from the sun, embarrassed to find themselves so beautiful. (Beneath my mother's feet, the first lick of flame surrounds the planet as it begins to split along its ancient seam.) Yes, the water was so sweet then, like drinking honey. Everything unnamed. And this. What do we call this? Kiss. Kiss. A kiss. A kiss.
Telfer | 19