The woman sits up all night, listening to it rain. The woman has often sat up all night waiting for one thing or another to either leave or arrive: bandaged fingers, whooping cough, her own lookalike grandchildren. When she can, she sleeps next to her dying mother in the king-sized bed; she bangs her own shins on the high rails, climbing in. Her arms and hands are able to lift the wasted body of her dying mother with amazing ease.
She watches & waters the great rack of African violets in the living room; grows wheat grass for her mother’s cat. Other times, she sits in a high-backed wooden chair, needlepointing forests in wool, chain-smoking for hours. Her mother will die very soon; then the daughter will put on her navy dress with a large, elaborate organdy collar and fail to draw a deep breath for several days. The woman’s several brothers and their children will fly in from all over the country, and flower offerings will dwarf the grave itself.
After the burial, the woman will pack all sorts of mementoes into her mother’s old cedar “hope” chest: yearbooks, diaries, photographs, diplomas, invitations, programs, baby booties, baby spoons, baby cups, even a rather grisly alligator purse, complete with the head, legs, tail & feet and sharp black claws. When she has nightmares, more often now, she sits up all night, her fluffy gray tabby queen on her lap like a hot-water bottle. The cat’s purring leads the woman away from the perilous mountain passes & rocky cliffsides inside her head and back to level ground, so she can help her mother die properly. That is what proper love looks like, she thinks.