by Dick Cockson
I hope my English ain't too bad
There's a great future ahead of me thanks to Mr. Westford.
You have to know that my mother has died.
A sad thing of course, not just for her but also for my sisters, who watched her.
She was old, very old. I'm not quite sure how old exactly. She wasn't really sick, but thoroughly worn out.
My eldest sister, whom she lived with, took good care of her. She prepared her dinner, helped her stool and gave her potatoes she would peel as a way to keep her busy. She peeled and peeled, as for an army. We all brought our potatoes to my sister and then she'd receive those of the Jewish lady upstairs and some other neighbors as well, 'cause when they once tried to hand her a bucket of already peeled potatoes for her to peel again, due to lack of stock, she noticed and promptly said:
'Those are peeled already.'
When she could no longer peel, because her hands and eyes stopped cooperating, my sister gave her a fake cat to pet and sit on her lap.
And so it went on, day and night: dozing, petting, dozing, petting, and now and then a smile, God knows why.
She completely forgot about my dad, who'd died a couple of years earlier. He never had existed in her mind, even though they had been married for 50 years and had 6 children.
When I visited her I sometimes talked about about him, to try and stir up her vital spirit.
I would ask her if she still knew Chris, because that was his name.
She fought to comprehend what I was saying. She seemed to understand that she had to understand something, leaned towards me in her chair and stared at me with a tensed face and swelled veins on her temple: like an over pressured boiler on the edge of exploding. After a short fight the pressure built off and then she'd gave that smile that went through bone. If I kept insisting she would get scared.
No, the past no longer existed for her. No Chris, no children, just her cat.
One thing still haunted her mind, a small mortgage on one of her houses she never paid off, but she had no way to pay for it.
My honest sister spoke about her as if she wasn't there:
'She ate well. She was very difficult today.'
When she no longer understood her cat, she sat down for hours with her old lady's hands parallel on her lap or touching her chair as if she found a new pet to stroke.
She couldn't tell yesterday from tomorrow, both just meant 'not now'.
Was it Alzheimer or was she haunted by evil spirits? Whatever it was she also forgot the difference between day and night, stood up when she needed to lie down and slept when she needed to talk.
If she held tight to walls and furniture she could still walk somewhat. At night, when everyone was asleep, she'd get up and floundered to her chair in which she'd start petting a cat that wasn't there, or she spent hours looking for the coffee maker, as if she wanted to make coffee for some bystander.
And that black hat on her gray scalp, at night too, as if she was ready to take off on a broom stick. Do you believe in witchcraft?
Finally she lay down and when she let us take off her hat I knew she would never wake up.
That night I watched television on the coach for hours and drank four fancy ales, so I was in top form to sleep through the night in a breeze.
I tried to undress as quietly as possible, because my wife was already asleep and I don't like her nagging.
When however I tried standing on one leg to take off my first sock, I fell with my head against the nightstand which woke her up.
'You should be ashamed,' it started.
And at that moment the doorbell went through our silent house, which made my wife sit straight.
A doorbell is used for serious occasions, especially at night.
We both waited until the resonance faded away, me with a beating heart and my right foot in my hand.
'What could that be?' she whispered. 'Go look through the window, you have your shirt still on anyway.'
As usual I hesitated.
'If you don't go and look out the window right now I will do it myself,' she threatened.
But I knew what it was, what else could it be?
Outside I saw a shadow standing before our door who called that he was Oscar and requested that I would go with him to my mother immediately. Oscar is one of my brothers in law, a guy who is essential for situations like these.
I told my wife what was going on, put my clothes back on and went downstairs to open the door.
'It's happening,' my brother in law guaranteed. 'She's slowly passing away. Put on a scarf, it's freaking cold.'
I did what he told me to do and went with him.
Outside it was quiet and clear and we walked on quite a pace as if we were late for the bus.
Arriving at the house I automatically reached for the bell, but Oscar stopped me, asked if I was crazy and quietly knocked on the door.
My cousin opened it, Oscar's daughter. Quietly she closed the door behind us and said that I should go upstairs with Oscar.
My brother, my four sisters and the Jewish lady from upstairs all sat in the kitchen, next to the room in which she still laid. Where else could she lay.
An old nurse, a cousin of ours, quietly walked in and out the kitchen and back again.
All looked at me as if I did something wrong and one of them greeted me.
Should I sit down?
Standing, it would've looked like I was planning to leave anytime soon. Sitting, as if I didn't care about the situation, or about mom dying. But because they all sat down too, I took a chair and sat down in a corner, out of a lamp's light.
Tension could be felt through the kitchen. Perhaps because they turned off the radio?
It was irritatingly hot, and then those women with teary eyes, as if they were peeling onions.
I didn't know what to say.
Asking how mom was doing, was out of the order, 'cause everyone knew she wouldn't be around for long.
Crying would be the best option, but how should I have started doing that? Suddenly letting off a snob? Or grabbing a tissue to dry my eyes, teary or not?
Those fancy ales only started working now, probably because of the heat, which made me sweat like a pig.
Just so I had something to do I stood up. 'You should have a look,' said my brother, who happens to be a doctor.
He talked in a calm way, not too loud, but loud in a way that assured me my night-walk had a purpose.
I followed his advice, because I feared I would get sick from the heat, the ale and the awkward situation. Imagine if I had vomited there, I don't even wanna think about it.
In her room it was a bit cooler and almost dark, which felt a lot better.
On the nightstand there shined a dim, old fashioned light that didn't lit my mother so I didn't have to look at her dying. Our cousin, the nurse, wasn't doing anything.
When I stood there for a while my brother came in, held up the light as if it was a torch and illuminated our mother.
He probably saw something, because he went into the kitchen and asked everyone to go into the room.
I heard the pushing of chairs and there they came.
After a while my eldest sister said she passed away, but the nurse said she didn't.
It took another hour, me still struggling with that ale, but then she was pronounced dead.
And they were right, because no matter how much I commanded her to sit up right and drive everyone apart with her redoubtable smile, it was to no avail. She lay as still as only a dead person can do.
So it happened quite soon and it hadn't taken much or I would not have been there on time.
I felt a bit awkward when the women started crying and I couldn't do the same.
Where did they find those tears? Happily my brother didn't cry either, but he's a doctor and they all know he's used to things like this, so I still felt uncomfortable.
I tried to make up for the fact that I wasn't crying by hugging the women. I thought it was outrageous for my mom to die when a moment ago she was still alive.
After that I no longer felt the effects of those fancy ales, which I think proofs I was at least as heartbroken as the others.
And suddenly my eldest sister stopped crying, went to get water and soap and started washing her. An odd thing to do if you ask me, I thought there were professionals for that, but we went back into the kitchen and when she was done with her my mom actually looked a lot better than when she was still alive, smiling to no one while peeling her potatoes and petting her fake cat.
'She's truly beautiful,' said our cousin the nurse.
And if anyone knows that it's her, 'cause she's the kind of nurse that deals with really old people on their death bed.
My young cousin made coffee and we gave Oscar permission to leave the funeral to some friend of his who, according to him, was just as good and cheap as any other. 'Okay Oscar,' my eldest sister told him with a tired hand motion, probably not worried about the price.
I saw how everyone was getting tired but I was afraid but I didn't quite dare to leave because I was the last one to arrive.
One of my sisters yawned while she was still dropping some tears and my brother put his coat on, gave everyone a hug and left.
'I'll go with Dave,' I said.
I think those were the first words I said. It could leave the impression that I went with my brother to comfort him, because even doctors would need that sometimes.
And that's how I got home.
It was 3 AM when I was in our bedroom taking off my first sock again.
I fell in my bed from being so tired and just so I didn't have to explain anything I told my wife that nothing had changed.
There's not much to say about the funeral. It was just like any other funeral, but that's where I met Mr. Westford.
Like how is custom we said bye to the coffin before it was taken away. Distant family, friends and acquaintances now went round, all shaking hands quietly stating their condolences with straight faces. A lot of people came, too much actually, because it didn't seem to end.
My wife gave me a mourning-band to wear because I didn't want to buy a special black suit, since there's no use for it after the funeral. And that annoying band was probably too wide, because kept sliding down. Every three or four handshake I had to pull it up again.
And then came Mr. Westford, a fiend and client of my brother's. He did what the others did, but in a more fashionable way. He went with us to the graveyard and when everything was done I sat next to him in my brother's car. That's when I got introduced to him and he invited me to come over some time. That's what I did.
Mr. Westford is part of an old, rich family. He's single and lives alone in a big house in one of the most expensive neighborhoods.
He's never short of money and all of his friends are wealthy too. Most of them are lawyers, big stock owners or entrepreneurs. Every one of them owns at least one Porsche, except for Mr. Westford himself, my brother and I. But Westford could have a Porsche, if he wanted to, or any other expensive car.
That's not the case for me and my brother.
As a doctor, though, my brother is still stylish enough to be in the company of Mr. Westford and his friends, because In Westford's bubble there shouldn't be anyone without money or titles. If his friends come in and see him with a stranger, he introduces him in such a way that everyone thinks 200 percent more of him than what he actually is. He calls a shop owner a CEO, and a soldier a general.
With me however it's more difficult.