Inspired by a true story.
The ventilator was off. This time, Ma looked a lot better. Her dentures were sitting next to her on the side table. Their absence made her face look collapsed. It wasn’t odd because we’d been looking at the same face for seven years now. Those were seven years of adult diapers, bed sores, emergency trips to the ICU and a lot of shouting. Sometimes there was so much shouting that we didn’t realize who the voice belonged to. Every voice had changed into noise. All because Ma wouldn’t give in. She wouldn’t let go.
Ma had lived seventy whole years. It was her birthday eight days ago. We spent it by tying her hands to the sides of her bed so she wouldn’t rip her drips out in the middle of the night. Some days she was really powerful. She would cry and swear at the nurses. Other days she struggled to breathe. And once in a blue moon, she stopped breathing all together and we’d have to put up the ventilator.
The fluctuations in her condition were the worst. When she’d be OK, we would scream at her, threaten to throw her out of the house. It was easier to blame her for our collective misery when she was able to stare back at us with contempt. But on days she couldn’t breathe, it was harder to hate her. It was difficult to accept that she might actually die and then there wouldn’t be anyone to blame for our misery. Then, we wouldn’t be in collective misery.
Today, Ma looked better. Peaceful. The ventilator always made her mouth look twisted from where the tubes were inserted into it. The strange hissing sound of her breathing and the abrupt movement of her chest gave me the creeps. With all the artificial breathing out of the way, Ma looked like more like herself. I had brought out her dentures from her dresser even though she hadn’t used them for ages. I wanted her to look like her real self today. I placed the dentures in her mouth and her face regained some structure.
She looked pale like people are supposed to look in death but her mouth wasn’t twisted like she was scowling or in pain. It was open, like she was sleeping and having a wonderful dream.
I knew this made me a murderer but it had to be done. Stifling her by turning off a machine was better than killing her slowly with the hatred that festered in our hearts on a daily basis. The woman hooked to machines and bottles of colorful drips wasn’t my Ma, anyway. It was just her body. Ma died seven years ago. We were just delaying a funeral.
No more. The garlands were ready.