Mother with Alzheimers
I barely recognized Mother. She sat upright in her wheelchair, a tiny bird with feathers plucked.
While she folded and refolded an imaginary serviette on her lap, Mother’s silver hair seemed to float, like little downy feathers. “Send those lawyers home. No more questions.” Her eyes lit up. "Thank God you're here.”
“Did you come to feed my birds?”
“We came to see you.”
“Who are you?”
“Ben … your son.” The word choked in my throat.
She puckered her lips and made bird-calling sounds.
“Would you like to go for a walk? I’ll take you.”
Mother narrowed her eyes.
Other patients sat, babbling. Some drooled, open mouthed. One woman beckoned to me. “Allo. Allo. Allo.” She was tiny, sweet, and ancient. She brushed imaginary cobwebs from her face. “Quel heure est il?” What time is it?
I turned back to Mother. “You know me, Mom. I’m your son.”
She sounded annoyed. “Of course I know who you are. I’m not ... I’m not”... She lost her train of thought and gazed off into space.
“I know, Mom. I know. Let’s go for a walk.”
I pushed her out into the courtyard. Mother watched a robin on the path. For years she’d kept a budgie and fed the wild birds that came to her garden feeders. “Allo bébé. Pretty bird.”
I looked at my mother’s knees. Tucked over sideways beneath the blanket, they looked all bone and wrinkled flesh. The eggshell skin on Mother’s bird-boned wrist glistened with large, blue veins. Her body’s hunger signals no longer connecting with her brain, she was slowly starving herself to death.
Mother had gone. Soon her tired old body would catch up. There in the sunshine, I spoke to the mother I knew, the mother I loved and hated and loved again.
She gazed past me into space, farted with a groan, and smiled. Like a baby relieved of her discomfort.
The next day, I again visited Mother. While folding and refolding the imaginary serviette on her lap, she scolded her fingers.
“Get out of that puddle.”
“What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be in school.”
“Talk about your rocky road to ... to ... to...”
“There’s no milk. The cow is dead.”
“You’d better get ready. They’ll be here soon.”
“Mustn’t be late.”
Then, after gazing up at a painting on the wall – “Why did they send him to spy?” – she made a sensible request. She asked to go to the toilet. No nurse was available. So I helped her into the bathroom, helped her get seated, and stood by. When she finished, I wiped her shrunken bottom.
We had come full cycle.
from Secrets Kept / Secrets Told – Libros Libertad, January 2012
© Ben Nuttall-Smith