The Beginning of The End
I hold her balled up fist in my hands, one hand cradling the tightly clenched fist, the other gingerly prying her fingers loose, hoping to clip the fingernails that are cutting into the palm of her hand. It isn’t working very well. “Ouch!” she flinched and pulls back.
“I’m sorry Mom, but I can’t clip your nails unless we free up your fingers.” I cautiously pull her hand closer once again and very slowly pry loose each finger, one at a time, and clip the long nails. I can see where they have been digging into her palm. I know Dad would have gotten to it before long, yet this will be one less thing for him to do.
“Smells,” Mother declares with a wrinkle of her nose. She is embarrassed the stroke has left her with such a gnarled appendage, so useless and offensive. It’s clenched so tight the small amount of water that manages to seep in from a shower ends up stinking as no air gets in to dry things out.
I have a weak stomach and at that moment I hate myself for it. I breathe deeply, slowly, not allowing myself to gag. I smile at her. “It’s okay, Mom. It can’t be helped.”
I roll up a wash cloth and carefully work it in under the fingers, tightly against the palm, rotating it gently, doing my best to dry her palm and get between her fingers. “This should help. How about some powder? It will make it smell nice.”
“Y…yes,” she nods her head with a sheepish smile. I know she appreciate the time I am taking to make her more comfortable, yet she is sad today. I’m sure she is thinking we should be going for a walk and out to lunch and shopping, all the things we used to do. Instead, we will use the first half of the day for a shower and to fix her hair, clip nails, lotion her back, and brush her teeth. The second half of the day is for resting up from the events of the first half.
Suddenly, I want her to laugh. I want to hear my mother laugh and laugh, from the bottom of her belly like she used to. What can I do? My mind is racing as my eyes search for something I can make fun of, joke about, anything to bring her a few minutes of pure joy.
That’s when I spot it; a permanent marker on the counter in the bathroom. “Hey, Mom,” I get her attention. “Have you noticed I’ve put on a little weight lately?”
Never being one to soften the truth, her eyes widen. “Y…yes!” she exclaims wholeheartedly.
“Well, I did it for you.”
She squints doubtfully. “What…do…you…me…mean?”
“Yes, you see, if I didn’t put on these extra pounds around my stomach, I wouldn’t be able to do this.” I get up and leave her sitting in the wheelchair parked in the middle of her bedroom.
“Be back in a second,” I smile mischievously in her direction, then slide the bathroom pocket door closed.
Lifting my shirt, I use the permanent marker to draw a huge smile with voluptuous lips under my belly button. Next, two eyes above the belly-button nose with great long lashes, then a minute to rehearse in front of the mirror.
“Are you ready?” I call from behind my closed door.
“Y…yes,” she answers in her quavering voice.
I suck my belly in tight, open the door, lift my shirt and push my belly out. The face on my stomach is thrust forward. My mother’s face becomes a picture of astonishment.
The face on my stomach dances in and out, in and out. She begins to laugh.
I move around the room pretending it’s my belly talking to her, and she can’t quit laughing nor can she keep her eyes off the face my stomach has become. The face talks to her and the more it talks the harder she laughs. There are tears in her eyes she is so happy, laughing like I haven’t seen in years.
“Hey,” Dad calls from the kitchen. “What’s going on in there?”
“Nothing, we’re just goofing around.” I really don’t want Dad to see what I’m doing.
My mother’s eyes are sparkling in a way I haven’t seen in a long time and her smile is from her heart, a heart that for a moment is light and free once again. For a few minutes of ridiculousness, she isn’t a stroke victim. She isn’t wheelchair bound. She is Jackie.
“It’s just girl stuff,” I holler at Dad, thrilled with the joy in my mother’s eyes. “We’re just being girls, Dad, and you know, us girls just wanna have fun.”
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT TUESDAY