Dreaming of looking out a different window, he inhales the pungent smell of the alcohol drenched swabs tossed carelessly into the waste bin, so that some remain scattered on the floor oblivious to the potential hazards. The once immaculate threads tinged with crimson specks serve as a constant reminder of the cold, indifferent master, whose plastic grip chains him to this bed. The snakelike tube connected to his veins exacts the gentle, probing fluid that promises relief.
He wonders about the end.
Is this what I had bargained for? Is this the picture she will carry of our last days? A helpless body strapped to a bed while the warmth of the sun teases its way through a cobwebbed hospital window...?
Mother was a believer. And everybody knows you can't keep a believer back. Nights, she'd prowl hospital wards, skulk into rooms, peek around doors. I am sure she wanted to believe no one saw her, with her dusty Birkenstocks and cordoroy skirt, her thick grey braid tied at the nape of her neck with pink flailing ribbon. What do they know? she once told me, those days when she still made some sense. "Everybody needs a little blessin' every once in a whi-i-ile."
You should know that Mother wasn't from the South; she was Southern Californian, raised on The Grateful Dead, sushi and soy. Somehow, after Dad left, sometime in the early 80s, she adopted a long drawl, as if she'd grown up on plantations and mint julep, as if it were part of the job description. Witch. Healer. Curandera, one of the nurses called her, lips breathing the word over coffee. Long ago, the nurses gave in, ignoring Mother as she tiptoed squeaky white floors with her hippie shoes and sports socks, her hands clutching a fat arsenal of herbs, her pockets full of camphor squares. I befriended the sympathetic nurses, usually late shift RNs, the ones who were single or whose kids were old enough to stay at home. I rolled my eyes at Mother's antics, explained that she was uncontrollable, complained about my life and all the disappointment and loss. They listened, cooed, felt moved to let her play "healer" at the home. See, she was their lost candy striper. My mother knew when people needed food, when they were cold, when the sheets needed changing. So what if she dripped rose oil on their foreheads, sprinkled daisy petals in their hair? No harm, they said at first.
All that changed after Mother almost burned the place down while burnishing the end of a sage stick.The nappy end of the brush lit on a prison-green nursing home curtain, the kind that never gets drawn to let in the sun. In a lickety-split the smudge turned torch and lit up the curtain candy-orange. She watched it blaze, calling a kiss from "Jezuuuzzz." They didn't let Mother back in. Even after weeks of my prodding, then begging. After the drastic weight loss, the pulling out of hair. She'd taken to scratching at herself, deep gouges. And the tears and the night screams.
But that was then. Now I caress her hair, I know when she needs rest, when to eat. She lets me string rue around her bed, nods when I place camphor squares at her ears to keep back the noisy spirits. Now the nurses speak of me in whispers, they way they did her, when she was touched, danced around hospital beds, doused mattresses with Florida water. Hers is not the only room that carries her yarrow and smells like Cresso, but it's more woman than devil or angel. Dancing around her room, my thick socked feet moving towards the hall, I realize you just can't keep a believer back.
Sólo cuando ha terminado la hora de visitas y cesa el parloteo de parientes y enfermeras, llega la paz. En el oscuro silencio de olor a desinfectante y gotereo de suero, hace su obra de caridad. Abraza con sus manos de tela los cuerpos dolientes, mientras consuela con el sueño sus quejidos febriles. La cama.