May 15, 2018 by Sarah Van Goethem
In The End
The mirror lied. She knew it without the gift of sight.
You’re still the fairest.
Maybe it was a good thing she could barely see anymore, her eighty year old eyes would tell her the deceit, with wrinkles drawing paths, indentations of a falsehood that wasn’t her. Instead she saw shapes and purple blobs, and shadows of memories.
“Do you know who this is?” she had asked her granddaughter last week, maybe a month ago, it was hard to tell, days were mostly the same, and she had shoved her wedding photo into the waiting hands. “Of course,” was the reply, tinged with a melancholy, and it was the truth, of course she knew, but she needed to know again. The flawless skin. The shining hair. The smile that had been her.
I know what you are about.
All those children.
Her mother. With the dark chocolate eyes, and the almost black hair, her nails worn down and her skin scrubbed red. Sacrifice. Thirty-two children. Not all at once, but through years of fostering, years with her heart entwined with ropes, knotted in every direction and pulled taut. Not just her mother’s babies, but hers too, her hands to hold, her love to give. Her loss.
Her father. Her ears ringing with the sounds in the street and her bare feet cold on the cement, the ominous feeling of knowing before you possibly can, the crushing of her chest, her own heartbeat reminding her she was alive and her father wasn’t, his motorcycle lying on the ground just down the street. Her eyes. They saw back then.
I see you still.
Freedom. The pond. Those were the days. The air hanging on her thickly, her short bobbed curls twisting into her neck, wet with perspiration. Her cousin’s dress and her own flung into the bushes and the sweet coolness of the water, the absolute serenity, the bareness of soul with body. And then rustling in the bushes and male laughter. And stolen clothes.
Is this what’s it like when you’re ready?
Had she been ready to marry him? Her prince. Tall and lean, his blue eyes clear, proposing a future of possibilities, her potential, his promises. Their life. Yes. His foundation, for over half a century, sometimes crumbling, sometimes rebuilt, always there. Yes. She wanted him. She wanted him then, her tiny figure engulfed in his strong arms, with the delight of young love, with pure abandon, with no thought of conclusion. She wanted him later with his thinning hair, with his sunspots, with his fake tooth that clicked in and out, with a deeper love borne in conscious thought of an ending.
You still wear the glass slipper.
She kept giving away items, trinkets, furniture, clothes. “Take it,” she’d say, “I no longer need it.” And maybe she would tell them the story behind it, where it came from, whose it was, and hope they would remember, because that’s all that really mattered in the end wasn’t it? Not the cross-stitch hanging on the wall, but the fact that someone had taken the time to intricately embroider each thread into place, to take tiny pieces of colour and uniformly group them onto the evenweave and somehow make a whole.
You are still whole.
The first baby came early. Eight months after the wedding. She had the big chocolate eyes, just like her grandmother’s, and the circle closed in a bit. There were three more after that, over the years, tight little fists clutching her apron, days that seemed interminably long, years that blinked and beckoned as they fluttered by before the house sat silent and the apron hung on the hook in both relief and retrospect.
And then the grandchildren. One after another. Gingersnaps and creamsicles and ice cream floats on the front porch. More pieces of the puzzle, each fragment fitting into place, revealing more of the overall image. Resemblances revealed once more, similarities unfolded. Familiar mannerisms and recognizable eyes and noses. The story continued.
They always came to her in times of need. They always thought it was their own need, to talk to her, to receive some advice, to have her listen. But she found that she would undoubtedly find herself sitting across from one of them, pouring out their hearts in hopes of enlightenment, to find that it was actually her need being fulfilled. Silently she would nod in acknowledgement. The signs were there. But you had to look for them.
“Time to turn the page,” is what she would always tell them when things were tough, when life didn’t always give you what you thought and expected. “It’s a new chapter.” But at some point…there is an end to the book. Isn’t there always an ending?
Yes. Happily Ever After.
Her liver. A betrayal, like her eyes. The word transplant, it dangles on her cracked lips still, her dirty word and her victory. Her nightmare while waking, her scars a reminder, never again. An organ not her own, a whole body no longer hers, rejection follows her everywhere, she stays only slightly ahead of it and sometimes even throws it breadcrumbs now to mark the path.
She walked to the forest not long ago. All the way to the back of the field, down into the valley, amongst the pine trees. Her granddaughter’s husband’s ashes are buried there, she likes to put fresh flowers on his stone. How is she still here? How was he taken so young, and here she is, forcing her weary bones to move on? Faith. She survives on faith and she knows it. She walked to the river next, lost in thought. Or maybe just lost? The summer heat didn’t bother her, nor did the mosquitos. Her blood wasn’t good enough for them anymore. Somehow time got away from her and when she blinked again there was a police officer escorting her back, and a search party and concerned family and friends. Anger engulfed her then. Loss of independence makes the other losses seem less somehow.
She was glad she had gone. Turned out it was her last walk. Not long after, her bones gave up on her too. She had known the osteoporosis would catch up with her. A fracture in the fifth lumbar they said. The morphine made things seem less real, or maybe sometimes more real, it was hard to tell. Her bones had never been good, she remembered breaking the same leg twice as a young girl. Always wishing the days to go faster as she laid on the sofa waiting to heal. Would she heal this time? Or was this it? Was this life now? Lying in her bed, in what used to be the den, but was now her bedroom since she couldn’t climb the stairs in the old farmhouse.
The turret was lonely anyway.
Her daughters would help her into her nightie and tuck her into bed now. And she would tell herself that the den was fine, she liked the rose carpet and the lace curtains, she had decorated it herself after all. But it wasn’t enough. She wanted to go upstairs again to her bedroom. She wanted her life back. Or did she? She pulled the blankets up to her chin and tried to be brave. She would cry on her own time. When it was dark she would have her moment, lying in bed by herself. And though she couldn’t see, she knew all the pictures on the wall above her by memory. All the black and white photos of those who were no longer here, of those she loved, of times long gone. She could always feel their presence. Sometimes closer now.
Such betrayal. Her body.
You still have your mind. Wherever it takes you.
They told her that her short term memory was going too. But that was okay, they said, her daughters, the ones who kept coming over. They didn’t mind telling her things again. But it wasn’t okay, not to her. Her memories sustained her, like a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale slowly. Say thank-you that you woke up this morning (that’s the advice she always gave them.) Because someday it will be your last day.
Or the beginning?
A circle has neither.
A story has both.