Mother’s Condition: A Caustic Experiment
by Laura Cooper
“They’ll kill me. Kill me dead,” Mother screams.
I awaken in the darkness next to her hospital bed. “It’s okay. I’m here.”
She gasps and says that people are suffocating her. I pat her stick fingers. Soon her eyes rest, but her body trembles. Dysphoria dribbles from her mouth.
I remember when she was on the move, growing a garden, feeding people who happened along. There was an unnamed tune gentle as a breeze that she hummed while she slaved. Although Mother tended to me, I fought against her. She provided for me until I believed that I could survive without her.
Today I glance at her scorched skin and look away. Gloom stumbles through our visit. If only someone else would step in; I am not her only child. Is that bad for me to say? I know it is.
On Tuesday, I show up after a late meeting and see Mother raising her hands to her neck. She chokes until she turns pale. I yell for nurses, who run into Mother’s room.
“What is it, dear?” they ask in patronizing tones.
“Poison! Poison … eating my insides.”
I watch two nurses exchange glances and then pour Mother some water from the tap. “Here, this will wash it away,” one says as she winks at me.
The nurses think I am apathetic. But I’m not, any more than they are. I sit beside Mother’s sickbed and briefly wonder if I could have prevented this. But I’m only one person. No sense blaming myself.
It must be the medication talking, because Mother never used to be paranoid like this. She used to be optimistic beyond reason, like a flower after a rain shower. Now she ignores everything around her except the laws of gravity and doom. I feel distant, yet I cannot separate from her. It is as if her infection is my infection; her death could be mine as well. Maybe that’s just guilt talking.
Doctors have provided multiple diagnoses. “She’s a fighter,” they say, “but a body can only last so long before systems start to give out.”
There are unexplained scars. I fear that the staff removed some of her organs and sold them to other users. Money. Money. Money. But how can I argue? I used to think she would live forever. Foolish. Even glaciers, once hard as stone, weep into the oceans. Solid to liquid. Life to death.
She gets worse. There doesn’t seem to be a cure. I can’t keep watching Mother decline without acting myself; nonetheless, it seems unnatural for me to be the one caring for her. I take her home, and she looks out the windows for hours, admiring the clouds and the moon or maybe something beyond.
I open the window; I close the window. I prop her up; I remove the pillow. I bring her juice; I bring her whiskey. None of it matters.
“Do something,” my sister yells into the phone.
I pour used motor oil into Mother’s I.V. bag and pesticide into her hot cereal. Just a little at a time. With no immediate effect for the better or the worse, I continue the experiment. I give her a drop of arsenic with her fluids and blanket her with trash. She looks warm, if not comfortable. I bathe her in phosphates and fill her room with barrels of radioactive waste. Mother seems immortal.
I can’t hear any reaction through the closed bedroom door, so I proceed. What can it hurt now? It is cheaper than the hospital bills, the prescription drugs or the alternative medicine treatments. It is all I have the time or energy to do.
To my surprise, I come home to find the pantry and cupboards empty. Food packages have been ripped open and thrown into the trash. Mother had fed me as a child; now she leaves nothing edible in the house.
I set the alarm clock to have an early start on my day. Both business and pleasure distract me from the thundering prognosis. It has gotten hard not to think about Mother, but I manage to sleep.
A deep, apocalyptic groan awakens me. I could rush to Mother’s aid, but I feel helpless and tired. I roll over and clutch my pillow to the side of my head. Like the feverish winds that swirl around her, Mother’s ailments do not diminish when I turn my back. If only I could take a rocket ship to a distant place.
As I drift off, I grow hot, unimaginably hot, as if my skin will burn. Stop. I just want to sleep, but frustration wrestles me into a full nelson.
I awake in the night and see Mother standing over me. Her eyes are pools of melted ice. My own reflection sickens me; I retch.
“Have a drink of water,” she offers. Her voice sounds like a weak breeze through drought-baked reeds.
I gulp the water and feel the acidic fluid eating my throat, my esophagus, my stomach. How could Mother do this to me?
She picks up a pillow and slowly lowers it; I turn and try to flee, but my muscles have atrophied. I try to scream, “Let me be,” but my garbled gasps come out as “leth-ar-gy.” Dry winds burst through the windows like a firestorm.
Why me? So my hypothesis was wrong. The semantics of my misconduct: Did I commit outright abuse or simple neglect?
Crash. Gnash. Moan. My last words come in a strangled whisper.
“Help! Mother Earth is — killing — me.”
Laura Cooper writes and recycles in Nebraska. Her work has appeared in Flashquake, Cafe Irreal, and Weeds Corner, among others..
Art Director: Bonnie Brunish