Ben had forced her to eat something; made her a cup of coffee, and handed her one measly piece of toast with smashed banana, even though she hadn’t felt like eating in days. This was the longest she’d been home in…what was it? Seven? Ten days?
The mirror told her this morning what Ben had known—she needed a shower, she needed to really eat something, and she needed to be someplace other than the hospital, even if only for a couple hours to sleep in her own bed and have a few moments respite. He’d told her he would stay with Samuel until she got back. This wasn’t the way she wanted to spend the time; cleaning vomit and the perfect home-brewed cup of coffee she didn’t get to drink from the microfiber, from her still damp hair, from between the floorboards, from between her toes.
Lynn sighed; continued to survey the mess, without really seeing it clearly.
Poor tiny Samuel. He hadn’t vomited in days, because he’d finally been placed on a feeding tube.
She missed the sound of keys jingling in the lock.
“Yoo hoo! Anybody home?” Her mother’s voice shattered the dim stillness.
“Mom?” The word croaked out between dry lips.
“Hello, Dear…what the…?”
Betsy quickly surveyed Lynn’s dim look, still outstretched hands that shook slightly, trace of spittle on her lip and in her hair, and moved to the mess on the floor.
“Oh, Lynnette, what’s happened to you?”
She deposited her things in a nearby chair, after checking to make sure it wasn’t dirtied, and guided her daughter to tiptoe just enough away from the splat. She rushed to the kitchen, searched drawers for a dish cloth and waited as long as she dared for the water to warm slightly. She hurried back to Lynn and gently wiped her face, her hands, and down the length of her honey-toned hair. She bent with effort to wipe the tops of her feet, wiggling the cloth between her toes. Betsy took her elbow and guided her to sit at the dining room table, all the while, her lips pursed and eyeing her daughter from time to time over her glasses.
As she watched her mother go about wiping up the floor and scrubbing at the couch, she waited for the onslaught to come. This was, in fact, the perfect situation for her mother to get all worked into a pissy frenzy and let loose, Lynn thought dully. Clean and bitch, clean and bitch.
“You’ve probably caught something from that damned hospital,” she finally half mumbled, while she scrubbed vigorously. A clump of hair escaped from the heavily sprayed helmet she wore, and bounced to the effort.
“Why on earth did you have to take this on, Lynnette? With everything you’ve been through, what were you and Ben thinking? He never should have allowed it. I told him there was no way I was picking up any more pieces with this fixation of yours, and here I am, cleaning up this goddamned mess.”
Lynn watched as her mother hefted herself up off her knees, her face reddened with effort and anger, and lined, perhaps, with worry. With years of worry, she supposed, though the often stilted or merely absent communication in recent years left Lynn wondering whether she did care. She couldn’t imagine what, in fact, her mother was doing here.
“Mother. Why are you here?”
“Ben called last night. He wanted me to come. So I came.” She gestured around the room, then hurried to the kitchen to dispose of paper towels, broken crockery, and to rinse out the dish cloth.
Lynn watched her squirt it with soap and work it into a lather before rinsing it again and again. She looked back at the couch and could see a swoop of clean area where the dust had been cleared from under it. Her arms felt like lead, and as badly as she still wanted a cup of coffee, she couldn’t seem to muster herself to get up.
“Could I have some water?”
“What? Oh yes, yes of course.” Cabinets opened and closed until she apparently found the one she needed.
Lynn didn’t know why she had to look so hard. Her kitchens were laid out exactly like her mother’s had always been: spices and hot mitts near the stove, silverware, dishes and glasses nearest the dishwasher, cleaning things under the sink, and at least one junk drawer nearest the phone. Even though she hadn’t exactly gotten to know the home her daughter shared with her husband, she ought to have been able to figure it out. Maybe she was making a point. Lynn wouldn’t put it past her.
“No, Mom. Not from the tap. There’s a pitcher in the fridge.”
Exasperated, Betsy made a dramatic gesture of dumping it into the sink and schlepping to the fridge, wrenching it open, and sloshing water into the glass. She handed her daughter her glass of water and then made another dramatic gesture of getting her own from the tap.
Betsy drummed the counter for a moment, then rolled her eyes and brought her water over to sit with her daughter at the table. She placed an uncertain hand over her daughter’s.
“So, what’s going on with the little boy, Lynn? Is this it?”
Lynn could see her mother trying to be sympathetic. But she couldn’t quite let go of the weeks of silent treatment that easily. She pulled her hand away.
“You mean, what’s going on with my son? He’s days away from death, Mom, that’s what.”
“Oh, Lynnette, how can you call that boy your son? You’ve only known him a few short weeks. How could you let yourself get so involved in this madness? You’ve set yourself up for nothing but a heartache. It’s insane. You look horrible; clearly you’re sick yourself….”
“I don’t expect you to understand any of this, Mother. I certainly can’t explain to you, of all people, the connection I feel with Samuel. He simply is my son, was already my son, before we even made it official. He was my son from the first moment I began reading to him in the hospital. I don’t understand it fully myself…it just…IS.”
“Why couldn’t you have adopted a nice, normal child who you could actually be a mother to? Just holding court in a hospital, waiting for a child to die, is no way to be a mother!” Betsy stood suddenly, rocking their half empty glasses.
Lynn stood to meet her fiery eyes, “Being with him as he dies is the only way to be Samuel’s mother! He’s seven years old, Mother. How could he possibly die alone, with no one ever having loved him? Even after he dies, I’ll be Samuel’s mother forever, which is better than being no mother at all. I didn’t know whether I had the capacity to love another child. Not until we did this. Ben has wanted to adopt, but I wouldn’t even consider it. Yes, my heart will be broken, but it will also be full; full of the realization that I can love a child who isn’t biologically mine, even an imperfect one. And that is a beautiful thing, Mother, whether you agree with the methodology or not!”
Lynn’s tears were flowing freely now. Wrenching sobs shook her shoulders, as Betsy stood there, frozen and stiff.
“I didn’t choose this. I didn’t know this would happen when I rode the elevator up to the Peds floor that day—when that little boy looked at me with those eyes—I, I couldn’t look away… I certainly couldn’t walk away. Oh, Mom. However will I finish this?”
Betsy’s arms engulfed her daughter roughly, and her own tears mixed with her fresh shampoo and awakened it’s orange blossom scent. Several moments passed before either of them could speak.
Betsy pushed away from her daughter gently, brushed hair and tears from her face and cupped her cheeks in her cool hands, forcing her to look up.
“You’ll just do it, that’s how. Because that’s what mother’s do, Lynn. They clean up vomit, and they wipe tears, and they hold their children while they sob, even if they’re mad as hell at them. And if we’re lucky enough or cursed enough, we get to be there to hold them when they need us most. I’m so sorry I haven’t been here for you, Dear. But I’m here now.” Betsy took her daughter’s hand, “Now where are your shoes. We need to get you back to the hospital.”
By Kimberly Jorgensen Gane, © 2012, all rights reserved.
[Our prompt this week was the beautiful photo above, by Diana Gonsalves, which fit a scene I needed to write perfectly.]