Settled for Fitful

“There are three kinds of socks. If you wear red, you can’t leave your bed. Yellow means you can get up, but you must be assisted. Green means you don’t need anyone’s help. That’s what I got.” My mother smiled down at her stocky legs and green socked feet. “Want to feel my calf muscles? Go ahead, feel ’em.”

I leaned over her hospital bed for an obligatory squeeze. “You do have strong muscles.”

She nodded with obvious pride. “That’s because I exercise. When I had my knees done, the physical therapist told me to do 20 reps. I thought, hell, I can do 60. Doctors can’t believe what good shape I’m in.”

This was nothing new. My mother had always been far stronger than me. I had flown across the country to Naples Community Hospital in Florida to be at her bedside, because of her heart and lung failure, arriving on her 84th birthday. Since it was her fourth time in the hospital in a month, I expected her to behave like a normal sick person with me sitting at her bedside reading, crocheting, and having deep thoughts, while she quietly slipped away.

My mother frowned. “Your sister called and had the nerve to say that maybe we’ll die together. Really shook me up. Why the crap would she say something like that?”

I sighed, not wanting to be in the middle of another of their squabbles. “Tansy’s so sick with Lyme disease; she might not make it.”

“Well, I’m sure as hell not in the hospital to croak. I’m here to get better!”

She coughed, then launched into a graphic description of the procedures to remove fluid from her heart cavity and lungs. My eyes glazed, trying not to visualize yellow pus and bodily fluids. Time passed with a parade of doctors, nurses, and technicians visiting the room, filling her with drugs. Yet, my mother never took a nap.

My snowbird parents had purchased a small trailer in the fishing village of Goodland, Florida to spend their winters. While my father socialized, fished, drank beer, and made folk art, my mother sat inside reading. He had died four years ago. She still read a book a day. Their trailer, named the “Tin Condo,” was where I crashed after a day at the hospital. Not wanting to sleep in their familial bed for phobic reasons, I stretched out on her uncomfortable sofa, which sloped at a 45% angle. Falling sensations forced me to move to the floor. Once there, the sofa’s two cushions separated under my butt. Outside lights gave the room a gloomy glow. I gave up on sound sleep and settled for fitful. 

Within a week, the doctor signed my mother’s release. “I thought I was headed for the crematorium,” she said as she buckled her seatbelt for the hour drive to the trailer park. 

“Hmm,” I said, knowing she didn’t want me to comment on her possible demise. I started the engine and backed out of the parking lot.

“Did I tell you that they took 800 CCs out of my lungs the first time, then 400 the next?”

I nodded. “Yes, you told me that.”

“The doctors here don’t know what they’re doing, not like the ones at the Cleveland Clinic. How would you like to drive me home?”

My hands tightened on the steering wheel. “No way, I’m not driving to Ohio.”

She frowned. “Why not?”

“Mom, it’s only a two and a half hour flight, but the drive would take two whole days. Maybe a week, since it’s freezing February. Besides, you’re sick.”

“The drive’s not that bad. Plus I don’t want to leave my car down here.”

The argument continued. If she was well enough, my brother in Ohio would arrange for her to fly home and deal with her car. She fumed, while I did my best to ignore her theatrical snorts and take in the landscape. Black-headed vultures hopped around what looked like the flattened carcass of a possum. A wild panther darted across the road. An osprey flew overhead, carrying a large fish. Groves of dead trees testified to saltwater seeping into the freshwater table. The road we traveled on needed to be raised five feet because of the rising sea level.

When I asked my mother about her source of drinking water, she said she didn’t know and didn’t seem concerned. People who embrace the party atmosphere of Florida aren’t receptive to talks about climate change. 

Once we returned to the trailer park, neighbors stopped to commiserate and spout cliches about health. One told my mother, “Ruth, you need to fight the devil who made you sick. Like the Bible says, the devil is the source of all illness.” I excused myself before I caught the name of that encouraging parable, though a while later I enjoyed another neighbor’s story about a seagull shitting on a woman’s head. Any poor woman who’s afraid to eat outside because a bird will shit on her head, but is coaxed outside only to be shit upon once again, is battling one sick devil. 

By some stroke of luck, friends from my mother’s hometown were visiting Naples and planned to fly back to North Canton in two days. If my mother was well enough, she could take the same flight. She reluctantly agreed. I didn’t make my own flight plans for fear she might relapse. Now that she was out of the hospital, I expected her to act like a normal sick person and sleep, not keep me up all night. 

Around midnight, I heard her get up and stomp about. The trailer’s thin, uninsulated walls seemed to amplify sound. The noises grew louder. Dog tired but curious, I got up. “Mom,” I wailed, “what are you doing?”

“I had a blowout,” she said, scrubbing her soiled nightgown in the sink. “Had to change my clothes and the sheets. Damn medicine doesn’t agree with me.” She hung the nightgown in the shower, moved past me with a side-arm whack to my midsection, and proceeded to the kitchen table to read the labels of her medications. “One of these must be the culprit,” she said, putting on her reading glasses. 

I watched as she perused her medications lengthy disclaimers. 

“I knew it,” she said, slapping the table. “This damn pill causes diarrhea. Why the hell would the doctor prescribe that?”   

I shrugged. “Medicine affects people in different ways.”

“Well, I’m sure as hell not taking these anymore. I’ll show them to my doctor back home and see what he says.”

That settled, we went back to our sleeping quarters. I drifted off, but was soon awakened by the odd repetitive sound of a machine: click-clack-ring. I rose from the floor and staggered to my mother’s bedroom. “What are you doing?” I groaned, opening the door.

She looked up from her old fashioned adding machine. “Paying bills. I have a stack of mail to go through and I need to pack my suitcases.” This she accomplished in a very loud manner until daybreak. Then it was time for breakfast, visiting neighbors, and the TV’s morning news.

Exhausted, I sleepwalked my way through the day. The sunny weather and ocean breeze lured me outside. Exotic birds flew overhead. Scattered throughout the island were my father’s lighthouse sculptures, which he gave as gifts. I was amazed to see baby stingrays swimming under a dock. Along the waterfront, bars and restaurants overflowed with partying seniors. They danced to bands blasting country music, while wearing martini-shaped sunglasses, visors with attached hair, and racy leisurewear. I was flabbergasted to see fake dreadlocks atop a red-faced senior, wearing a t-shirt with large boobs printed on the front, stretched over a beer gut and holding a gigantic neon-colored, plastic glass with a sippy straw. When Bob Marly sang about crazy-bald-heads, did he realize how truly crazy, and that these same crazy white men would appropriate dreadlocks for laughs?

My senses needed a rest, so I shuffled back to the Tin Condo. I began to watch a gorgeous nature show about Africa on TV, but it didn’t interest my mother. “I don’t give a shit about dumb monkeys,” she declared. “I want to watch bull riding. Change the channel.”

That evening, when I placed the sofa cushions on the floor, I muttered to myself, “Please, oh please, let her get on the plane.”

Once I drifted off, my cell phone rang. I fumbled to find it, got a nasty rug burn on my knee, found it, the line was dead. I groaned and collapsed back onto the cushions. Noises emanated from the bathroom. I drifted back to sleep. The overhead light flicked on. My mother loomed above me like a giant ready to stomp on my head. “Wake up and find me something to read.”

“What?” I replied groggily from the floor.

She threw up her hands. “I’m going bananas. I returned all my library books and I don’t have anything to read.”

“What?” I repeated, trying to gather my wits. 

“Didn’t you bring magazines with you in your suitcase?”

“Sure,” I said, sitting up. “But don’t you have magazines from the hospital?”

“I read them twice. Never mind.” She grabbed a National Geographic from the end-table. “I’ll read this. Go back to sleep.” 

I tried, but within an hour she changed her mind. The lights flicked on again, she loomed over me. “Wake up and go sleep in my bed, I want to watch TV.”

Like a brain-dead zombie, I rose, returned the cushions to the sofa, made her tea, and staggered back to the bedroom. 

Deaf in the left ear and partially impaired in the right, my mother turned the volume to full blast. I longed for earplugs as I crawled under the covers, too exhausted to bother with my revulsion at being in her bed.

“Are you going to sleep all day?” she barked, looming over my sleep-starved carcass.

My eyes popped open like a lab rat receiving another electrical shock.

She shook her head and made a “sheesh” sound. “You sleep more than a normal person. I sure don’t need that much. I’ve got a lot to do before we go to the airport. I need you to drive me to the bank and the drug store.”

I knew that if she wasn’t so sick, she would have driven herself. I threw off the covers and attempted to rise. “Do I have time to shower, or should I wait until after?”

“After,” she snapped.

At the drug store’s check out, my mother placed all her various drugs, magazines and miscellaneous items on the counter, then slapped down the divider, so as to not pay for my lone pack of gum. Nor did she offer to pay anything for my flight to Florida, which had meant me missing out on my planned vacation with my husband. My mother had plenty of money and the personality of Ebeneezer Scrooge. 

Much later, as we said goodbye, she did thank me for coming to Florida to take care of her and I wished her a good flight home.

“It’s only two and a half hours,” she said with a tinge of nervousness in her voice. “Hell, I waited that long for you to wake up this morning.”

My composure gave way to hysterical laughter, waves of which overwhelmed me long after we kissed goodbye. Thankfully a friend offered me a place to stay at her condo, which is where I crashed, as if dead, for three glorious days and nights.

Aron Lee Bowe
Personal Website | Noyo Review Pieces

Aron Lee Bowe (aka Sharon Bowers) is an artist, writer and graphic designer. Her graphic novel, Journey to the Anthropocene,tells the history of human existence to our present planetary dilemma. She published two humorous graphic memoirs, Alpha Ding and Amazed & Elated, Depressed & Deflated,which won an Independent Publisher’s Medal for humor.