.

 

Talking With Mom

Funerals, free meals, and nagging.

“I've been cleaning all day. I've been to 4 funerals.”

“Who?”

She listed the four: three in their 80s and 90s, one in her late 50s who just dropped dead.

“At least you get a free meal,” I said.

“No, I just go to the viewings. How's your eating?”

“Shitful.”

“Really shitful?”

“No, but not great. I just eat crap. Not a lot of crap, but crap. I weight 8,000 pounds.”

“You need to do something about that.”

“I know I do.”

“I mean, Jesus.”

Trust me, I am fully aware.

“I mean, how long are you going to let this go? I'd rather see you healthy than anything else, you know. I mean, to hell with the writing career.”

“It's not writing that makes me fat. It's snacks.”

“I didn't mean to make you upset.”

“It's okay.”

“I'm just tired of cleaning.”

“It's fine.”

“No, don't get upset.”

“I'm not upset.”

“You're upset.”

“I'm fine.”

“You get upset.”

“Oh, God.”

“Let's talk about something else. ”

“Yes.”

“It's a lot of funerals.”

“Sounds that way.”

“I hope I'm not the next to go.”

“Well, I'd send flowers.”

“I like baby's breath.”

“How about delphiniums? They look nice on a coffin. Or maybe some lichen.”

“Remember, I'm giving my body to science.”

“I thought you already had.”

“Of course on the one side it's the heart, on the other it's the brain that goes.”

“Please. On Dad's side it's cancer, so I hit the genetic trifecta with you. I'm going to come down with Alzheimer's, then die of a tumor on my heart. Thanks.”

“I wouldn't be surprised if I was next.”

“I would. The worst pains in the ass are always last to go. It's the mothers that everyone says, 'she was always so nice and gentle' who die first. Your kind of mother, they last forever.”

“So you think that it's nagging you keeps me alive?”

“The ones that make it into their 80s are the ones that drive you absolutely insane.”

“Well, good. I'd better not stop being a pain in your ass, then.”

“I think we'd all be really worried.”

“I have to go pick up Ella from the hairdressers.”

“How's she doing?”

Ella is a young woman, 20 years old, who is living with my mother after coming out of foster care; my mother helped her get through high school, and now has put her up in the spare room and found her work at a salon; she is “trying to bring her up to the middle class.”

A month ago, I traveled to PA to visit, and learned then that Ella had moved into the guest room. This meant that I was going to be sleeping on the floor of my mother's room, by her bed: a situation that, given the choice, I would only barely prefer to having my lips sewn shut with rough twine. After rising from the floor sore-necked (being brought out of sleep shouting “get away” when my mother brushed my forehead and murmured “wake up, my darling”), and eating the requisite eggs and toast, my mother said: “Talk to her, Paul, because I'm sure she needs to complain about me.” Ella did need to complain. Love and kindness are baffling things.

“I think she's making slow progress,” said Mom. “Slow.”

“But progress.”

“Yes. She's out there waiting for me to pick her up. I should go.”

“Tell her I say hello. And Gram.” My mother lives right above my ailing grandmother.

“You know, you're terrific. I love you.”

“All right,” I said. ”Goodnight.”


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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