Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Boris and Zelda

My mother now spends her life in bed, under a white duvet, with Boris and Zelda, her Siamese cats. Some afternoons when I peek into her room, all three are asleep, blissed-out, sort of here but not-here. I imagine the three of them on an Egyptian ceremonial barge, drifting smoothly along a sacred river. It's easy now to apprehend why our ancestors liked to have their canine companions buried with them.

          In this way, I'm repeatedly blindsided. As soon as I appreciate the comfort of an ordinary moment, it collides with the anticipation of horror and bereavement. Anticipation may be the wrong word. Once you know something is coming, it's already here. The moment of comfort, even as it occurs, conveys the anguish of memory.

          When she's in bed, my mother is not in pain. I know what she's not, but not what she is. What I mean by that is she no longer reads or watches TV. Every morning she asks me what day of the week it is, and then she forgets; she doesn't remember that my birthday is in three days. She's rarely hungry and long ago lost her sense of taste and smell. My mother used to sleep all day but now, quite often, her eyes are open.

          What does she see? Macular degeneration has taken away most of the sight in one eye and her central vision is severely impaired. She doesn't wear her glasses anymore; without them she can't see the vibrant bouquet of red-tipped yellow roses a friend recently brought for her. They are exquisite. A life-affirming burst of color. I place the vase of roses on a cedar chest right across from my mother, thinking of the pleasure they will give her.

          Instead, she tells me to take them into the dining room where I can enjoy them.

          "Aren't they beautiful?" I ask her.

          "I can't see them," she says.

          I bring the vase over to the bed and she peers, dutifully, into the pretty swirl of petals. "Do you see the colors?" I ask.

          "They're beautiful," she smiles. "But take them to the other room."

          I return the flowers to her cedar chest and she doesn't notice.

          Quite often, my mother pushes the cats off her now. Their constant weight annoys her; she says she can't even turn over without having to cast one off, and then they're right back again.

          Boris and Zelda find me in the dining room. They sniff around tentatively—all pointy chins, pointed ears, and high, inquisitive tails—before jumping up together to muffle the keyboard of my laptop.

          They annoy me, too, with their inscrutable blue eyes, demanding my attention. But all it takes is my index finger on Boris' chin to set him purring, heavy-lidded and content. Zelda is unhappy unless she is on my left shoulder with her nails jammed deep into my flesh, holding me tight. This has always been her favorite way to embrace my mother. Zelda's purring is so loud I can't help but smile. She sounds like a helicopter at take-off. We three are in the same boat now, purring, caressing, and already bereft.


  1. I was right there with your so-called anticipation which can never be beyond now, that is so true. It is a now version of expecting something to happen. No way can you know what it will really be like when Roxanne dies. How can you?

    I also love the engine like continuity of Boris & Zelda ... business as usual and comfort first.

    This is for me a very powerful little piece that is short and yet it gives me a feeling of time moving slowly, very slowly.

    1. Sis, it's you! I'm so glad you're here--isn't that funny?

      I keep thinking lately that I really should be savoring this blank, painless, calm period. Only there's this constant, panicky "what's next" worry nipping at my ankles.

      I feel like I've been living very much in my head (more than usual) and it feels weird to send this little, very private blip of life out into the world.


  2. After reading this, I sat down at my piano and improvised.
    Imagining a sick mother, accompanied by two cats called Boredom and Seldom, the music was serene with a slight undertone of sadness.
    Que sera, sera...

    1. Ah, Eduardo, you're with me, too!

      I can't stop laughing about Boredom and Seldom (thank you).

      I imagine your music captured this mood quite beautifully.

      Que sera, sera...exactly.


    2. Can I join Eduard's fan club please?

    3. Yup, absolutely. He's an original.

  3. Charlotte, how beautifully written and I am so sorry to hear about your mother! I still remember her from 40 years ago. I am blown away by your talent and so moved. I'm wondering if there is a way to share this on one of my professional websites, Psychologist in Long Term Care. I think that pieces like this are so needed.

    1. Betsy, I'm so touched that you remember my mom, and that you've taken the time to write here, on the blog itself, which feels very special. Thank you so much for reading this stuff and always being so supportive.

      I'm honored that you think this might be appropriate to share on a professional website.

      Much love and xxx