Sickbed Revisited(With apologies to Evelyn Waugh and, of course, all of you.)
She talked to herself, because hers was the only voice she could trust, when it assured her that she was still alive; what she said was not for the children, nor for any ears but her own.
"Better to-day. Better to-day. I can see now, across the expanse of the living-room, the fibers of the carpet, faded and grey, where yesterday I was confused and took the floor for a repository of broken toys and stuffed animals. Soon I shall see the tabletops and couch and know where it is that the ants get in.
"Better tomorrow. We live long in our family and talk early. Three is no age. Julia is only two and can remember where her candy is hidden and how much of it I ate, her 'tandy'; that was the name they had for it in the nursery and in the back-yard where unlettered girls have long memories. You can see where the big weedy shrub used to stand: the corner of the yard where the fence is uneven and half the grounds are waste, nettle and brier in hollows too deep for filling. We dug to the roots to hack it out and lay the foundations for the rose-bed planter. Those were our roots in front of the new house when the men in the orange truck came to cart them away to the dump .
"Julia knows about dumps, toys dumped on the floor, books dumped from the shelf, media scratched and worn from the loving touch of little fingers smeared with grime and orange juice. We were cultured then, purchasing old volumes and new music and bathing in the flickering light of the cinema. They came for the books first; later they scaled the sturdy cases and found the vases, the decanters, the Italian glassware. The family decends in the female line; Julia's son will page through the books his mother tore and mutilated in the days of the small house and the hair-shearing and the wall-patching; my daughter drew on the walls, her sister added the dents. Julia watched me set up the bookshelves and paint the kitchen; the paint was old before it was two months settled. Soon the linoleum will be tattered and pitted till the concrete foundation shows through and the baseboards rot away. Better to-day.
"Better to-day. I have lived carefully, sheltered myself from the cold winds, eaten moderately of what was left on the girls' plates, drunk lukewarm tea, slept with children tangled in my own sheets; I shall go grey soon. I was twenty-two when I was sent to the line for the battle; most women took the epidural, so they said, but my midwife said, "You're a textbook model of delivery." So I was; so I am now, if only I could breathe.
"No air, no wind stirring under the cotton sheers; no one has opened the door since we put the chain on it. When the autumn comes," said Mother, oblivious of the falling leaves and the dying rose-bush and the late heat, "when the autumn comes I shall leave my bed and sit in the open air and breathe more easily. God take it, why have they dug a hole for me? Must a woman stifle to death in her own living-room? Eleanor, Eleanor, turn on the fan."
"The fan is already on, Mommy."
"I know it. I re-built this house. Some days I want to blow it up with gunpowder; bore the foundation, cram it with powder, trace the fuse, crouch under cover round the corner while we touch it off; we'll blast our way to daylight."
Thus, til mid-November, Mother lay dying, prone on the recliner with a box of tissues and a glass of ice water. Since there was no immediate change, Father went to work and the small girls watched videos till their brains ran out of their ears
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