The dark bedroom enveloped a mother and her three children. Mom lay in a coma under a light blanket, mouth open, a slight movement of her chest the only sign of life. A night light cast a shadow across her face, accentuating the pallor. My brother David sprawled across the empty half of Mom’s king size bed while my sister Anne reclined in a rocker, feet tucked up like a little girl. I snuggled under an afghan in Mom’s favorite armchair. I heard a click and tiptoed to the cassette recorder on the night table. Anne’s sleepy voice punctuated the midnight hush. “Franny, that you?” “Go back to sleep. I’m just fixing the tape.” David’s light snore told me he’d dozed off. I flipped the cassette and pushed “play,” looked down at Mom, and stroked her frizzy hair with my fingertips before curling up on the chair. Gentle ocean sounds permeated the silence, waves breaking on rocks. My mother grew up on the Jersey shore and loved the sound of the sea. During her two year battle with cancer, the ocean became part of her daily guided meditations. She pictured powerful waves cleansing her bones, scraping away the deadly cells. I found the tape in a music store and bought it to help her sleep. Now we hoped it would ease her passage as she drifted away, cradled by the sounds of childhood. I wondered what Mom heard. The hospice nurse said that even in a coma people could hear and to be careful what we said. After the nurse called that September day, we gathered to spend the night, as this might be her last. No spouses, no grandchildren, just us, a mother and her three children, the way we started out over forty years ago. Our presence comforted my father, exhausted and asleep down the hall with a bad cold. Mom belonged to us. The ocean sounds soothed me. I relaxed into sleep and dreamt of a sailboat, Mom at the helm – not Fair Lady, the boat she and Dad loved, but a trimmer craft. David, Anne and I nestled on the beach, watching our mother through binoculars. At first she faced us, smiled and waved, almost flirty, turning on the charm. Then she pulled hard on the rudder, turned her boat toward the horizon and moved away, deliberately and inexorably. We called out, “Mom, don’t leave, we need…..” but she steered a true course until the boat became a speck and vanished. I awoke, stiff and cramped, to see one faint star through the window. My mother’s eyes were open, lips parted, as if she’d seen a vision. My fingers trembled as I touched her icy forehead. The tape clicked, time stopped, and the waves hung in midair.
Karen Reynolds "At the Helm"
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