Sunday, April 29, 2012

Regarding Death and Dying


When the call came, I did not hesitate. 

"Come now," my mother-in-law said, and I did; got in my car and got myself to the hospital, where I joined my husband and his family at Uncle Jim's bedside.

We had expected the cancer to get him, but on some far and distant day. What we weren't prepared for was the pneumonia that turned into a coma in less than twenty-four hours. There was supposed to be so much longer for us to say goodbye. There was supposed to be more time.

The doctor promised that Jim would go quickly, once taken off of life support.  He would be sedated and shot full of morphine, and would not feel a thing.  The same could not be said for us though.  We, the ones who would bear witness, had nothing with which to numb our pain.

The tube shoved down Jim's throat pushed air through his failing lungs. The force of each regulated breath was enough to extend his neck, head bobbing up and down as though endlessly nodding yes, yes, yes while we all whispered no.

The nurses came.  It was time. One by one, we took his hand and kissed his cheek and whispered our goodbyes, then stood back and waited for what came next.

First, the monitors at his bedside were turned off. We can see at the desk, they said. Then, he was cut free from all his IV tethers, with the exception of the morphine drip. Finally, the breathing tube was removed.

I've never experienced a deeper silence than the one that filled the room when the ventilator was shut off. It slammed down upon us so hard and fast, my ears felt inside out.  But then, just like the way a sudden pressure shift can make them pop, all sound came rushing back again.

The first gasping breath through liquid-filled lungs ripped through the quiet, and we watched, helpless, as he began to drown.

I didn't cry until his daughter sobbed Daddy! when the next breath didn't come.

***
Today's MFM post was inspired by the prompt Growing Up.  At (almost) 39 years old, I thought I was done growing up.  This week, I learned otherwise. 
 
Please remember to visit Stranger Upstairs to read another take on the prompt, and come back next Monday, when we'll be writing something inspired by The Pest.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rivers and Roads


Mom goes up north with her best friend Nikki every spring and fall.  Usually, I have to stay at home with my dad and my little brother, but this time, mom says that since I’m almost twelve and not too much of a pain in the butt, I can come along.

Most days, mom’s tired and sort of grumpy.  She’s always telling me to clean my room or do my homework.  But today she is laughing and even her eyes are happy.  The further away from home we get, the more I like her.

When we get to Nikki’s dad’s place, it’s dark and starting to snow a bit.  Gord gives them both a big hug and kiss and we all pile into the little cottage where they start drinking wine and talking, talking, talking.  I have a Coke and sit quiet, hoping they’ll forget about me so I don’t get sent off to bed.

The next day we go hiking through the bush.  We push through tree branches that try and snag us, cross marshes, climb hills and stumble over tree roots.  Gord teaches me how to tell the difference between a balsam and a spruce, and I listen - even though I doubt I’ll ever need to know that.

Mom takes pictures of everything: the trees, the river, the birds, the squirrels.  She even takes a picture of the wolf poop Gord finds (he can tell it’s from a wolf by all the fur in it).

When the sun starts to set, we’re resting on the river bank.  There isn’t any sound except for the rushing water and every now and then, a bird.  I feel different here, and I sort of get why mom started to change on the way up.

It’s a good place, that’s all. 




***
Welcome to this week's edition of Mostly Fiction Monday. What's that, you ask? It's a little something Stranger and I cooked up, you can find the story here, however you've probably realized that I've gotten a little lax about the word count requirement.  Whoops.

Today's post was inspired by the prompt Childhood. I'm late with it because I was (hopefully) helping to enrich someone's childhood.  Now, that someone may not have had the thoughts I am attributing to him here (and that's where the fiction part kicks in), but I hope I'm at least close...

Don't forget to swing by Stranger Upstairs to read another take on the prompt, and come back next Monday, when we'll be writing something inspired by Growing Up.   

Maybe you'd like to play too?  We'd love it if you joined in.  Make sure you leave a link in the comments so we can come see, if you do.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Home

The highway whispers beneath the tires, the countryside slips by on either side, and I wonder at my dad’s ability to find his way along the twisting cloverleaf pathways that connect Grandma’s house to our own.

The car is stuffy.  My parents don’t talk much but they do smoke a lot.  I ask them to crack the window open and my sister chimes in with a well-timed cough.  Dad grunts and gives me an inch.  The air whistling by his ear gives him a headache, he says.  But it stays open, and I’m glad for it.

The setting sun is behind us, we hurtle towards home and our beds.  In the twilight, my sister and I play “I Spy” until it grows too dim to tell red from orange, blue from green, and everything turns to grey.

We sing songs with endless verses in order to pass the time.  “Found a Peanut” and “There’s a Hole in my Bucket” and our favourite, “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”.  I have to finish the last one on my own; my sister is still small enough to be lulled to sleep in the darkness of a moving car.

We leave the highway behind, and the pattern of left turns and right, stop signs and streetlights, lets me know we’re almost home.  I look over at my sister, her head lolling against the window, and remember the way it feels to have dad carry me in from the car. 

As we pull into the driveway, I slump in my seat.  Mom unbuckles my sister while dad tends to me.  I let my body go limp, become a floppy ragdoll in his arms.  He carries me up to bed and tucks me in, wishes me sweet dreams.

One journey is over, now the next begins.

I sleep.

***
Welcome to this week's edition of Mostly Fiction Monday. What's that, you ask? It's a little something Stranger and I cooked up, you can find the story here, however you've probably realized that I've gotten a little lax about the word count requirement.  Whoops.

Today's post was inspired by the prompt Long Distance.

Don't forget to swing by Stranger Upstairs to read another take on the prompt, and come back next Monday, when we'll be writing something inspired by Childhood.   

Maybe you'd like to play too?  We'd love it if you joined in.  Make sure you leave a link in the comments so we can come see, if you do.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Missing

I never meant to get a cat, I should tell you that up front.  I lived alone and I liked it.  But Cecil just showed up one day, scrawny and skittish, yet acting like he owned the place.  His tough-guy attitude impressed me, so I shared my dinner with him.  That was eight years ago, and he’s been around ever since.  

He’d slowed down some since then, preferring to sit on my lap in front of the fire over chasing the mice that lived in the walls.  He never did get the hang of the litter box though, so every night before bed, I showed him the door.

“Sorry, pal,” I said. “Out you go.  I learned my lesson.  No more stepping in puddles of cat piss for this fellow.”

Cecil shot me a scathing look and swaggered outside like it was his idea all along.  It was a cold and snowy night, but his fur coat and his wits would keep him warm, they always did.  He soon disappeared into the dark.

Most times, he’d be at the door looking for breakfast, bright and early, although once in a while, he still wandered.  When he didn’t show the next morning, I wasn’t too concerned, but as the days passed without a sign, I began to worry.

On a morning nearly two weeks after he'd gone missing, I headed outside to fetch some wood for the stove, scanning the yard more from habit than hope. Right off, I noticed the tufts of grey fur caught among the rocks of my gravel driveway.  My heart sank.  Had Cecil come home, maybe injured and weak, only to be caught by a marten or a fox?

I followed the traces of fur, the scuffs in the snow.  I figured I’d go back for a closer look later to get the whole story.  For now, I just had to know how it ended.

The trail led me to the shed, doors propped open just enough for a good-sized cat to find shelter in the night, should he care to.

I shoved the doors open wider, dreading what I might find inside.  Along with the fur, I'd noticed some blood in the snow, and was braced for the worst.

There, just a few feet in, was an unmoving lump of grey.  But it wasn’t Cecil. 

I let out the breath I’d been holding and moved in for a better look: a dead rabbit.  But who had done the deed?  Time for closer inspection of those tracks, I thought.

As it turned out, the answer came clear the minute I stepped back out into the sunshine - tracking skills weren’t even required.  There by the door, carefully washing his paws, was Cecil.

“Looks like you still got some tricks up your sleeve, you old devil.” I said.

Cecil just ignored me, and continued with his bath.  But he came right in when I opened the door, and we both had tuna for our breakfast.

***
Welcome to this week's edition of Mostly Fiction Monday. What's that, you ask? It's a little something Stranger and I cooked up, you can find the story here, however you've probably realized that I've gotten a little lax about the word count requirement.  Whoops.

Today's post was inspired by the prompt Missing.  There is one potential reader who might find the narrator and his cat a wee bit familiar.  I took a few liberties, but the story is pretty much told the way I had it told to me.

Don't forget to swing by Stranger Upstairs to read another take on the prompt, and come back next Monday, when we'll be writing something inspired by Long Distance.   

Maybe you'd like to play too?  We'd love it if you joined in.  Make sure you leave a link in the comments so we can come see, if you do.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Fever Dream


The sign on the front door pinned everyone down, completely:  Quarantine.

Nobody could come in and none of us could go out.  My fault, for having the bad luck to catch Scarlet Fever.

I lay unmoving upon my bed.  Everything hurt, even my eyeballs.  The dark was a blessing.  Mother sponged my head with a damp cloth, tut-tutting all the while.  I wasn't clear on exactly what she disapproved of.  Was it my fever?  My spots?  Or perhaps it was her role as nurse that was the source of her dismay.

The wool blankets were itchy and kept me over-warm, but I lacked the strength to protest when mother tucked them in tight around me.  I imagined that this must be how it felt to be buried alive, everything pressing down upon you in the dark.

With my eyes closed, starbursts of light danced upon my lids.  For a time, I strained to grasp the pattern.  The more that I followed the lights, the more distant my body became.  I began to lose track of my limbs, spinning weightless and alone in the twisting dark.

But not alone, for I heard the small noises made by mother as she moved through my sick room, though they seemed to come from a great distance.  I was drifting, moving from awake to fever dream, consciousness a gradually receding wave.

From far away, there came a whisper: It should have been you...

It was only when I felt a mighty push in the center of my back that I regained awareness of my body.  The force of that push sent me flying, pitching forward into the road and scraping my palms upon the rough surface.  Still in a heap upon the ground, I twisted round to look behind me for the source of the shove.

Mother was crouched at the side of the road, her arms were wrapped tight around Jack, who had buried his face in her breast.  Hard, flat eyes stared me down.  Before I could begin to make sense of this, a blaring horn sounded to my right.  Then: a flash of light and an explosive pain.

It should have been you.

In the morning, my throat was still as raw as if I'd swallowed a sheet of daddy's coarsest sandpaper.  The rash itched and my skin peeled.  But I was sweaty and the sheets were damp.  The fever had passed. 

Mother helped me to bathe and fed me chicken soup.  I searched her face for a sign, some hint to tell me how much had been real, how much had been fevered dreams.

"Rest, Helen," mother said.  "Stop staring about and close your eyes.  You're not well yet, so don't strain yourself."

She plumped up my pillow and tucked me into bed.  Still weak, I was unable to resist the pull of a dreamless sleep and soon, was drifting off.

I suppose I'll never know.

***

Welcome to this week's edition of Mostly Fiction Monday. What's that, you ask? It's a little something Stranger and I cooked up, you can find the story here.  
Today's post was inspired by the prompt Drift.  And I hope you'll forgive me, but I've been unable to leave the story of Helen (formerly known as Laura) behind.  Maybe next week...
Don't forget to swing by Stranger Upstairs to read another take on the prompt, and come back next Monday, when we'll be writing something inspired by Missing
Maybe you'd like to play too?  We'd love it if you joined in.  Make sure you leave a link in the comments so we can come see, if you do.