art by Seth Alan Bareiss
My Mother's Body
by Christie Yant
***Editor's Warning: Brief adult language, and graphic details of dying and death live here.***
I never saw my mother's body after she died. The man on the other end of the line asked me if I wanted to--whether they should delay the cremation so that I could make the two-and-a-half hour drive up the coast to where she lay in storage. Pale and spotted with bright red cherry angiomas, her sides striped with purple scars from multiple kidney surgeries and her arms mottled with worn red gashes where the tremors had caused her to scratch herself, I had seen enough of my mother's body when she had been alive.
It's different now that it's my own body. I find myself fascinated and curious as I'm prepped and marked. Striped, as she was, but with markers and dotted lines. It makes me think of a butcher's diagram describing different cuts of meat, and that makes me laugh because it is so close to the truth.
My mother's feet were blue and cold, as if she were dead already, and the thick yellow nails of her big toes always had a "v" cut in them, to keep them from becoming ingrown. They were ingrown anyway, more often than not, toes swollen red and white from the infection. My grandparents would ask me to rub her feet sometimes to try to bring the circulation back to them. I hated touching those half-dead things. It seemed to me that if they were dead then they must not hurt, and I was afraid that rubbing them back to life would cause her pain.
My own feet are cold and the nurse brings me another warm blanket, tucking it carefully around my feet with almost maternal care as she thanks me again for what I'm about to do.
"You're so brave," she says. I murmur words of appreciation because I know she means it, but she couldn't be more wrong.
My mother's eyes were blind, the sclera a dingy yellow, and the right one turned permanently up and outward in such a way that was always looking half at me and half into her own skull. Her eyes rarely closed, even in sleep, and even knowing that she was blind, I superstitiously stayed out of the line of sight of that one eye when her breathing slowed, so that my movements would not interfere with her dreams.
My own eyes are blue like hers, and my vision is perfect. It pleases me to know that corneas are always in demand.
Toward the end, my mother's body had a flexible rubber tube protruding from her belly. The nurses would ask what flavor she wanted: chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry. They would laugh as they said it, not maliciously, but trying to make a joke, trying to evince a smile. "Pink," she would struggle to say, partially choking on the "k" sound (before the disease robbed her of her speech as well). She was beyond humor then. There was nothing funny about flavors she could not taste, but she knew cheerful pink from waste-brown and pus-white.
All of the pleasures of life: the sight of something beautiful or beloved, the taste of something sweet or tart, the satisfaction of standing or stretching or rolling over in your bed unaided, all of them were taken from her, until my mother was just a body, covered in bed sores and skeletally thin.