Category Archives: Stuff I’m proud of

Russian Dolls

 

She was using the circular saw, and she got distracted. It cut deep into her hand.

She watched it sinking into her skin and raised the saw free before she ever felt anything. Then the pain found her, searing the nerves from her hand to her elbow. She curled up reflexively around the wound and tried not to faint while drops of blood plip-plipped on the garage floor. After a full minute, she regained her equilibrium enough to move. The damaged half of her hand had already drained into an alarming shade of pale.

The hospital. They had to go to the hospital.

She went inside, wrapped her hand tightly in a dishcloth to keep the blood in, and called to her son.

“Alex!” Her voice trembled.

Normally he might have called back, but her uncharacteristic tone sent him running down the stairs. He saw her bloody, limp hand and almost gagged.

“Alex, I need you to drive me to the hospital.”

“God, mom. God. Let’s call an ambulance.”

“No… too expensive. I need you to drive me there.”

“Money doesn’t matter! Your hand matters! What if you pass out? What if I crash?”

She understood his lack of confidence. Alex only had his permit. But she wasn’t worried. “You’re a good driver, Alex. It’ll be fine. We’re going now.”

Her parental authority won out. He got the keys as she struggled into the passenger seat of the car. Her hand throbbed magnificently… at least, the parts she could still feel. The part of her hand above the pinky and ring fingers was so deeply severed, there were no connected nerves remaining. She couldn’t move them at all. Funny how she hadn’t even noticed the damage she was doing until it was this deep.

 

They waited for a long time before the doctor came in. He looked at her hand, cleaned it up, and declared that her fingers would have a fifty percent chance of functionality after surgery. The odds of them still working after healing on its own? Only ten percent.

“What will surgery cost?” She said.

“Tough to estimate,” the doctor said. “At minimum, several thousand dollars. But your insurance will help with that. The receptionist can get you started on paperwork and give you an actual estimate.”

“Right,” she said. She looked at Alex, who already knew what she was thinking. He shook his head at her fiercely.

“Thank you, doctor,” she said formally.

When the doctor left the room, she got off the table, fought back a wave of nausea, and headed for the door. Alex boldly intercepted, blocking her exit. Sometimes she forgot how tall he was getting.

“Mom! Don’t you dare.”

He sounded so much like her. She would have laughed if she’d had the strength.

“It costs too much,” she said firmly.

“It doesn’t matter,” he retorted.

“Just take me home,” she said. “He said it might heal on its own.”

“No way.”

“And if it doesn’t, I don’t need those fingers anyway. I’ve got others.”

“You’ll stay here and get treatment!” He said, fists clenched in frustration.

She looked at her hand. It was already prematurely aged from worry. Now it was a ghoulish rainbow of mottled purple, sickly blue, weak white, screaming red. No good colors there. She looked at Alex, his rich chestnut hair and intelligent brown eyes. 

She had grown up poor. The constant worry of her childhood, the deprivation her family endured, were bitter memories. He would have everything she never had. All the money she scraped together was going into his college fund. There was no way she was going to send him into adulthood saddled with debt and the weight of a poverty mentality. She was willing to sacrifice a couple of fingers for that. For him.

“We’re going,” she said. She gingerly made her way past him and through the door, leaving him no choice but to follow.

“God damn it mom,” he said. He was trying not to cry. “Why won’t you just let them help you?”

“Language,” she chided gently.

 

That night, after putting his mom to a fitful sleep with a freshly bandaged hand, Alex lay down in his own bed, but his eyes would not close. A throbbing headache expanded in his right temple, pressuring the backs of his eyeballs, forcing neon geometry across his vision of the dark ceiling.

He got up, went to the bathroom medicine cabinet, and pulled out a bottle of painkillers. It was light in his hand, nearly empty. He often got headaches like this. These pills had become a comfortable friend to him.

How much did a bottle like this cost, again?

He sighed, ran his thumb longingly over the cap, then put the bottle back. If Mom could take that, he could take this. Money was too tight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barriers

 

She was drunk, struggling to articulate

Lengthy pauses before each sentence

Halting, frustrated speech.

I’ve seen this before

 

She fights to be conscious, despite the sleeping pill

Her mind heavy

Her body stubborn

Her tongue a lead weight.

I’ve seen this before

 

She is deep in the throes of neurological degeneration

Lips uncooperative

Forcing thoughts through the thick walls

Of her solid-shrunk brain.

 

All of them demanding to be heard,

To be understood

Willing their selves past mental barriers

Deliberately balancing simple words

Like a child stacks blocks

With their fullest effort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

going up the hill to the house, we

 

going up the hill to the house, we
saw flowers that she loved, and picked them
black eyed susans, sweet williams, daisies, columbine.
we gripped them in our plump warm hands.
by the time we made it, panting,
having stopped for toads and all the small things,
we presented them to her half-wilted.
“ragweed gives me allergies” she would say, plucking one of them out.
the rest would go in a vase of honor on the kitchen table
a small token of each others’ love.

going down the hill to the creek, we
see flowers that she loved, and pluck them
dandelions, sweet williams, violets, asters.
at the bottom trickles clear water
over mossy gray rocks
and we tip her ashes in.
they are white
like her hair
pure white
like her devotion
white like the sugar in her blood
white
like the angels she adored.
they swirl the water opaque
atop it we scatter the flowers
a painter’s palette of Missouri colors
blackberry, butter yellow, sap green, slate.

the sandy ashes sink.
it takes a full hour for them to wisp away
grain by grain into the gentle landscape.
we’re used to waiting for her.
no matter how we tried to rush,
she always did move slowly,
tasting her fine wine time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

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