This morning I awoke to the sound of a harsh winter wind against my bedroom window. I felt, almost in a mad panic that the window would shatter and the shards would lay on the hardwood laminate floor where I would most certainly step on them, my blood pouring from the soles of my feet. But it was all in my imagination, I have a tendency to be dramatic; those in my life find it intolerable to hear the words that come out of my mouth. The window is solidified in its place, the wind challenges its frame, its structure, but in the end, I have faith that it will hold strong.
The same cannot be said for me however. Years of misbehaviour has resulted in abandonment. I have few friends. No one close enough to share all of the thoughts that gather furiously in my brain every minute of the day. They took off long ago, after my endless betrayals. There were too many incidences of being caught red handed leaving department stores or pharmacies with items I didn’t pay for. Followed by phone calls to anyone who would answer, begging them to bail me out, to release me from jail, from my life, this endless deplorable life of mine. Too many drug-fueled days where I either lashed out at people for reasons I can’t even remember. Too many times I failed to appear at scheduled parole meetings. Eventually, they slowly began to fade away from my life until I never saw them again. My only companion these days is my dog, Oliver, a pug whom I regret ever getting.
I am obese. My lumpy flesh hangs from my body, and I feel heavy, like one of those pumpkins that grow so large they become impossible to move. Once, while watching the news on television I caught a segment featuring Martha Stewart at one of the world’s biggest pumpkin contests in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and I thought, yeah, that seems like me. In all these years I’ve allowed myself to grow into what’s before me now. I will get older, so I don’t really see the point of trying to maintain a body that is decaying. My eyes are too close together. I have a long, narrow nose and my black hair has begun to develop those wiry, curly grey hairs Mother once told me that women got as they grew older. Men can age and be handsome, she would tell me, but women, well women get old and tragic. Mother was afraid of aging. But here it is, today she is an old woman. I’ve simply resigned myself to the fact of advanced age.
I am an addict. Right now, I am staring at my reflection in the mirror, my teeth rotted. I grimace at how ghastly I look. I grab some of my belly fat, lifting and dropping it over and over again, like an obsessive compulsive, watching it jiggle upon landing. It’s not a gut but a ‘gunt’ — impossible to lose. I take my dry hands to my freckled, wrinkled, droopy face and pull the skin towards my ears desperately searching for that childish face I know I once had. Sometimes I wonder if I was destined for this life. I’ve never been truly happy.
Today is January 30. I am 48. No one ever wanted me. No one has ever loved me. I turn on the tap at the washroom basin and splatter water over my face. Then I take the soap and lather it on my forehead, my cheeks, my chin and nose, rinsing several times. I pat my swollen face dry and then comb my hair, pick up my dentures in the glass next to the sink and carefully put them into place, turn my back to the mirror and look through the door to my bedroom. If you were here you would see that there are clothes thrown about, paper and magazines lined to the ceiling and garbage bags used as carpets. I simply don’t have the energy to clean it. Nor have I done the dishes. On my bed is a long black dress that I have selected for today’s adventure. I put it on carefully over my head and allow it to drop to my ankles. I also put on a pair of tights and select a pair of black boots to wear underneath. As I enter the shallow foyer of my apartment I walk towards the closet and select a Canada Goose jacket and put it on. I wrap my neck in a scarf that Diane bought me several years ago and a knitted hat she made me for my 30th birthday.
I feed Oliver and then open the fridge. I pick up a peach and bite into it, the succulent aroma spills through my mouth and the juice runs down my chin. I take the sleeve of my jacket and wipe my chin clean. The citrus from the peach tingles my jaw, it’s almost painful so I put it back into the fridge, half eaten. I then select a chocolate cake I bought from the grocery store a few nights ago, and with my hands fastened around the knife I cut out a large slice and then bite into it. The crumbs fall from my mouth but the icing tastes really good. My tongue swirls in my mouth lapping up every grain of sugar it can devour. I sit down at the linoleum kitchen table and with my bare hands tear into the cake until it is gone. Then I wash my hands, find the torn up green couch in my living room and sit again, in the ashen lit room, to wait.
The wind is whistling from the window behind me and I can feel the draft as it breezes past my cheek. It sends a shiver down my back but I shake it off. Oliver has finished eating and sits beside me. I lament with an irritable sigh; I forgot to take him out to pee. Begrudgingly, I get up off the couch and grab his leash from the side table near the front door. He scampers merrily about and I buckle the leash to his collar and open the door to the stairs in front of me. I take them up to the garage of the house I live under and open the side door to the outside. It is bitterly cold, so I encourage Oliver to do his business as quickly as possible, taking him to the front lawn where he sniffs.
“Oliver, go pee!” I say sternly. “Come on boy, go now.” Sometimes I think that when I say the word ‘go’ he hears ‘no.’ It would explain why he always looks back at me confused, as though he’s being admonished for doing what comes natural to him. But that pea brain of his quickly forgets and he saunters back to his routine, pisses and poops and then, just like me, quickly rushes back inside the house for warmth. l close the door behind us and he runs to the couch as well, curls up into a little ball and stares at me following him, back to where I was earlier. To wait.
I sit there a long time. It is now 11:00 a.m. and Mother is one hour late. So here I am. I’ll lay it bare. I am an obese, single mother of a grown-up son. I live on disability. I don’t work. I can’t work. I am a recovering crystal meth user, a current food addict. And today I am preparing for Mother to arrive at my apartment so that we can visit Margie, an old friend that I know well, at Sunnybrook Hospital.
I sit long enough that eventually my eyes fixate on the wall in front of me. I look at it undisturbed, for a while, until there is a knock at my door.
“Coming,” I declare with exasperation. I get up, still wearing my coat, hat and scarf that have left my body trickling with sweat and open the door.
“Hi,” says Mother.
“Hi Mother.” I have always referred to her as Mother. She is standing in front of me with her hair perfectly combed, dyed the colour of eggplant that women her age are so fond of. “How are you?”
“Oh dear, the traffic on the way here was horrible. I spent most of it bumper to bumper. Sorry I didn’t text you, I was too afraid to take my eyes off the road in front of me.”
“It’s okay,” I reply. “I had time to eat some food and take Oliver out for a walk.” Mother peers into my apartment. She immediately grimaces.
“Oh Stacey, what is this? What is this all about?” It is the first time she has visited me since I moved here, and she doesn’t like what she sees. “Oh dear, this is awful, you have to clean it. Do you want me to get you a cleaner? I’ll get you a cleaner.”
I roll my eyes, “It’s okay Mother, I’ve been meaning to clean, I just haven’t had the energy lately.”
“You can’t live like this. It’s filthy in here. What will people think?”
“No one visits me.”
“I can see why. Oh dear, you have to smarten up, this is not right.”
“I know Mother.” It doesn’t help that she looks flawless. She isn’t dressed for the weather at all. Her nails are perfectly manicured, and her fingers are adorned with a sparkling diamond engagement ring that Gabriel bought her moons ago and a gold wedding band. She is wearing a silk scarf, and a fine, black wool jacket that ends at her waist. Her ironed black slacks have been strategically selected to show off her red pumps.
“No wonder you’re single Stacey. Who would want someone who lives like this?”
Right, I think to myself. Not to mention the obesity, the mental illness, the lack of teeth. The real problem here is my hoarding.
“Well, I’m not going to step inside any further. This is too much for me so early in the morning. My nerves are already shot from the car ride to this awful place. Come on, let’s go.”
I wave my hand to the stairs and walk behind her, locking the door. She grabs hold of the railing and slowly takes one step at a time. When we’re finally outside she scampers in quick steps to the car that is parked in the driveway of the house I live under.
“It’s a Cadillac,” she says with pride. “One of the newer models. Gabriel felt I should have it, and who was I to argue? I deserve it. I raised five kids, you know!” She opens the doors briskly and we get it in. My body swells over the seat, I can feel my love handles pressing against the door and the midsection. I attempt to buckle my seatbelt but it doesn’t reach, so I hold it tightly in place with my left hand near what used to be my waist. “The seats are heated,” Mother continues, “so I’m going to turn yours on. Let me know when you feel it.” She turns on the engine, blows the heat to max and reverses the car onto the residential street behind us. “Do you feel it?”
“Not yet,” I say. And I don’t. It takes another couple of minutes until I tell her that it’s too hot.
“There are settings dear, here let me put yours on the lowest one. It should feel better soon.”
I hate Mother. After years of trying to get her to notice me I simply gave up long ago. I realized that nothing I ever could do would make her proud. Before I became an utter disappointment I was already an utter disappointment. A reminder of a life with a man she would rather forget. A mistake. Anyway, she never really cares about anyone but herself.
“Now dear, I want to warn you,” she begins. “Margie doesn’t look her best. The morphine they have her on has swollen her face and the chemotherapy has left her bald, so she’s wearing the most god-awful wig. But I don’t say anything to her about it. I mind my own business.”
“Mother, she has cancer. I know she won’t look her best.”
Margie has had cancer for ten years now. It began with a diagnosis of breast cancer, stage 2. She had a double mastectomy, then was fitted for implants that looked ridiculous on her, but she was happy enough to have survived with a more youthful figure. Not soon after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Again, it was caught early and she was recovering when she began to experience violent seizures. She ignored them for a bit, but one day while shopping at the grocery store she broke her arm in a fit and was soon diagnosed with a brain tumour. Her prognosis was grave and her health has been on a downward spiral for months now.
“The hospital has admitted her indefinitely. I don’t know if she’s ever going to be released. So, let’s be positive. And dear, don’t take off your coat. I don’t want her to see how large you’ve gotten. Just keep it on, because most likely we will go outside with her so she can smoke.”
“Okay, Mother.” As though you could hide my build from anyone.
She drives through the side streets and I notice how steel the air is. It’s no wonder I can’t keep a plant alive. This country is inhospitable to me at times. It looks suffocating, I wonder why anyone ever settled here, it’s such a cold life. The trees are bare of their leaves. When I look up they look painted on the sky above.
“How’s James?” Mother asks.
“He’s doing well. He’s still in Barrie working as a bartender.”
“I’m glad to hear it. It’s a real testament to his character that he ended up on the straight and narrow. Having you as a Mother wasn’t easy for him. Thank goodness your father took him in and gave him a good life.”
She is goading me, as she likes to do. “Yeah, dad and Diane were great. They really stepped up to the plate.” Two can play at this game.
Mother looks at me with mild irritation. “Now Stacey, you can’t blame me and Gabriel for that. We raised our kids, we had five of you! I’m sorry, but James is your son, it was your responsibility to take care of him. I didn’t want that many kids in the first place, and I certainly didn’t want to take care of any more.”
“Yes, I know Mother, I failed my son.”
“Well you really did. You put too much energy into your drug habit. I mean, he doesn’t even know his father! And then the gay thing! I mean, look at what that boy had to contend with. Disgusting.”
“You made that clear Mother when you called Children’s Aid on me. Oh yes, being a lesbian is far worse for you than being a drug addict.”
“And that woman on the other end of the phone laughed at me! I said to her, ‘a gay person has no right raising a child!’ She laughed at me. Can you believe that? Well, I set her right, I told her I’d save my grandson no matter what I had to do!”
“Which was nothing,” I retorted.
She didn’t like that I reminded her of how little she helped. She scoffed, and said, “I pray that one day you’ll find a man to settle down with, but I’m not going to hold my breath any longer.”
“Mother, let’s not talk about this. All you need to know is that James is fine.”
“No thanks to you.”
“And no thanks to you either.”
I lost custody of James many years ago. My father became his legal guardian while I went to jail, and then rehab, then homeless shelters several times. I’m not proud of it. But it’s there now, in the past. All I can do is live with my choices. James has forgiven me and our relationship is what it is: pleasant. I guess that’s all that matters.
We remain in silence until we arrive at the hospital. Mother circles and circles around the parking lot until she can find a spot close to the main entrance. When she finally does, we enter the facility and take the elevator in silence to the oncology unit. I stare at the walls, the floor numbers, to avoid having to talk to Mother.
The door of the elevator swings open and we face a narrow hallway lined with medical equipment on either side. At the end is a reception desk.
“I’m here to see Margie Kemper,” Mother says. “She’s expecting me.”
“Me too.” I reply curtly. Mother looks over her shoulder at me, her eyes flicker up and down at my body, my clothing. Then she returns her attention to the receptionist.
The woman behind the desk, with her permed blonde hair and finely wrinkled face looks at us and instructs, “Okay ma’am, I’m going to need you to sign in, and I’ll get you both a visitor’s pass.” As Mother signs our names in the visitors book the receptionist rifles through the drawer for our passes. “Ah hah, there they are,” she exclaims and hands them to us.
“Look at this,” Mother says to me. I look at the visitors’ book and witness that Margie Kemper has signed in and out of the hospital several times this morning.
Noticing, the receptionist remarks, “Margie signs in and out every time she goes for a smoke. She doesn’t have to, we’ve told her, but she still does it. She’s in room 524. Just go to the end of this hallway here and make a right. She’s with two gentlemen right now.”
“Thank you, I know where to go. I’ve been here before. Come on Stacey, let’s go. Remember, keep your coat on.”
I follow Mother down the corridor and to the right until we arrive at the room. Mother stops abruptly and takes a deep breath. She’s readying herself.
“Are you alright Mother?”
She smiles slightly, forced and says, “Yes, of course. Come on, let’s go” She opens the door and at the centre of the room is Margie, flanked on both sides by two handsome gentlemen, possibly in their 50s. “Oh dear! Look at you,” Mother exhales, crossing the floor. “You’re looking so much better than the last time I saw you.”
Margie lights up. She reaches out her arms to embrace Mother. “And you look as beautiful as always.”
“You’re radiating!” Mother is lying. Margie looks weak, tired and her face, as Mother warned me earlier, is indeed bloated from her treatment. Her body is a skeleton, and the wig, brown and shiny, well, Mother was right again, it’s awful.
“You remember Darcy and Larry, don’t you?” Margie points to her two male guests.
Mother coos, “I do! It’s so lovely to see you both again. What’s it been? Oh my goodness, it has to have been a decade at least.”
The two men smile and nod. They are smartly dressed, Darcy in a white-collared checkered shirt that is neatly tucked into his dark blue jeans, complemented with a black belt. He is wearing a pair of red New Balance shoes. Larry is dressed similarly in style, with a light blue collared shirt, also neatly tucked into a pair of khakis, white belt and black dress shoes. Their clothes don’t look much suited for this weather. I’d think a sweater at least would be acceptable, but then they would have to hide their taut bodies. They have dark hair, parted to the right, sort of like a gentleman would stye his hair in the 1920s. They are attempting to look trender than their age permits.
“I think the last time we saw you was at your house in Brampton, at one of those buffet dinners you and Gabriel used to throw,” says Larry. “It was a wonderful evening.” He is strained, I can tell he doesn’t like Mother anymore than I do but he’s putting on a brave face for Margie.
“Oh yes,” Mother retorts. “We mustn’t let so much time pass without seeing each other again.”
“Certainly not,” says Larry. He’s really good!
Darcy however looks unimpressed. “Margie, it was lovely seeing you again,” he says, rising from his seat to collect his coat. “But Larry and I really must go. We have lunch plans with his mother downtown in about an hour and I’m afraid we’re going to get caught in traffic.”
“Oh honey, what a shame,” says Margie. “I was hoping that we could all spend the afternoon together.”
“We’ll be back, I promise.” Darcy motions to Larry to pick up his coat from the back of his seat and they both prepare to depart. Each bend over to kiss Margie on her forehead.
“We love you,” says Larry. “We always have.”
“I love you both too!”
They stand before Mother and in unison nod their heads. “It was pleasant seeing you again,” says Larry.” He then looks at me. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“This is my daughter Stacey,” replies Mother. “Don’t mind her appearance, she works as a social worker and today is her first day off in two weeks!”
Darcy and Larry know this is a lie because I look down at my boots in shame, which tips them off. Or maybe I’m being paranoid. Mother tells everyone that I’m a social worker. She never reveals the truth about me, never really has, appearances mean too much to her. It’s a cruel joke though, one she’s blithely unaware of: I have a social worker but I am not one.
“Well it was wonderful meeting you Stacey, albeit briefly” says Larry with a smile that swarms with concern. He passes me en route to the door and then stops, turns around to face me and says, “Funny, I never remember you at any of the buffet dinners. Hmm.” And with that, they both leave.
Mother’s smile turns to a subtle frown. She can sense the dig, and it hurts.
“Katherine,” says Margie, her voice lingering. “Let it go.” Mother turns around to face Margie and replaces her frustration with an open tooth, strained grin. “You never got along with them. I don’t know why.”
Mother shrugs her shoulders. “Because they’re fags. You know Gabriel could never abide by such a lifestyle. I still can’t believe you invited them over to my house, or that it took several visits for me to learn what they truly are.”
Margie’s eyes lower to the bed sheet in front of her and then they turn to me. “Beautiful Stacey! Oh honey, come here and give me a kiss.” I do as she instructs. Her arms reach out to mine and she says, “Let me get a look at you!” I pull back and her hands slide down my arms until we are holding hands. “Always so worried you are. It’s not a good look! It’ll age you.”
“A little too late for that,” I chuckle while saying this. “How are you Margie?”
“Oh honey, you know, things could be better. This damn cancer. But at least I’m medicated. Look at my hands honey, they still look gorgeous!”
I could never stand the sight of nail polish, yet Margie and Mother love wearing a bright, bold red colour on their fingernails. I lie and tell her I like them. “You’re still so beautiful Margie.”
“Liar!” With that exclamation she laughs, and then she begins to cough. It goes on for some time.
“Stacey, can you get her some water?” I do as I’m told. I bring the plastic cup to Margie and she sips it, slowly recovering.
“Thank you, honey. You were always such a sweet girl.” Margie sits back in her bed and takes a deep, rattled breath. “I’m better now.” She smiles.
Mother looks disturbed. I can tell she’s a bit stunned about Margie’s appearance, perhaps it’s gotten worse since they last saw one another.
“Don’t look so upset Katherine. I’m fine. Just a little set-back, that’s all. It happens to all of us.”
“Of course, I understand.”
“Ladies, I need a smoke, would you care to join me?”
“Anything you want,” replies Mother.
Margie nods her head rhythmically and sits up at the side of her bed. An IV line runs into her left arm and she grabs the metal IV pole to ready herself. “Honey, can you grab my coat from the back of the door? I’d get it myself, but since you’re here I might as well make use of you.”
Again, I do as I’m told. Margie stands and I carefully slip her coat on and button it up for her. I look down at her feet which are covered with white fluffy slippers. “Your shoes?”
“Don’t bother. It’ll take an hour to get them on and another hour to get them off. I’ll be fine like this.” She has on a pair of white tights under her hospital gown. “I do it all the time. I’ll manage.”
With her left hand she holds the IV pole. I take hold of her right arm and she begins to shuffle to the corridor and then to the receptionists’ desk where she signs out. “When I’m gone, this is all that will be left of my existence,” she confesses. “The fact that I wrote my name. Oh, and my sons, I suppose.” She giggles.
Mother and I glance at one another, and we proceed to the elevator. Eventually, after some effort on Margie’s part, we are outside in the cold again. “Don’t worry,” she tells us, I know of a good spot.” She leads us to an abandoned bus shelter at the end of the sidewalk which rests on the edge of a forest. The shelter is impressively protected by the branches of some bushes and nearby trees. We enter and she sits on the bench. Mother and I sit opposite her, where we’re more exposed to the cold wind. The branches bristle against the glass from time to time. I find it irritating.
Margie takes out a packet of Marlboro cigarettes. “My sons bought me some cartons a few months ago,” she says with pride. “Good boys. I brought them with me when I was admitted, thought it’d be for the long haul.”
In all the years I’ve known Margie I can’t tell you the names of her children. She’s either never said their names aloud, or I’ve never paid much attention. I haven’t seen them since I was young, a child, and even then, I rarely laid eyes on them. They were always in and out of trouble, still are, judging by some of the stories Margie shares. But then again, so was I.
She lights her cigarette and takes a puff, billowing out a messy plume of smoke that fills the shelter. Mother hates smoke, she quit years ago but in this instance she stays mum, allows her friend the pleasure to do what she loves. “ You know,” begins Margie. “I swear they don’t make these the way they used to. In our day, remember Katherine, they lasted longer. Now you take a couple of drags and they’re done. It’s something about how they make the paper, they burn quicker. It’s all to make a little bit more money.”
Mother does manage to get in a tiny lecture. “You shouldn’t smoke Margie. It’s bad for you, especially in your condition.”
“It’s probably all a little too late for that now Katherine.”
“Don’t say that,” says Mother curtly.
“Working. He still goes into the shop a couple days a week to feel useful.”
“Always a hard worker that one.” Margie turns her head sharply to me, “Do you know I set them up? Your Mother and Gabriel? Forty years later and they’re still together. Pretty good job I did there. Wish I had a matchmaker like me!”
We laugh uncomfortably. Margie continues, “You know, I had a few men propose to me through the years.”
“That’s good,” I manage to utter, half-heartedly.
“There was one, Richard, I turned him down. Sometimes Katherine, I think I shouldn’t have. Maybe my life would have been easier if I said yes. He was a good man. Seemed to love me.”
“It’s too burdensome for you to worry about things like that,” Mother says. “Just focus on now. On getting better.”
“I want to go back home to St. John’s. That’s where I want to die.”
Mother whispers, “Don’t talk like that.”
Margie continues to inhale and exhale her cigarette. I watch as it flares hot red upon inhale, then to ash upon exhale. I watch her wrinkled lips wrap around the filter, her thin, veiny fingers holding it in place, the smoke cascading down on to us.
“That’s life. We die. Never thought like that when I was a young woman, but now, it’s all I ever think about.”
“What else do you think about?” I ask.
She mulls this question for some time. “That I should have told more people to fuck off.” Then she waves her hand. “But why bother? Not worth the breath. Stacey, how are you these days?”
“I’m good Margie, can’t complain. My dog keeps me busy.”
“Your mom never tells me how you’re doing. I have to pry for a morsel of information. Are you still a dyke?” She laughs, knowing it’ll irritate Mother.
I chuckle too. “I am. Though, no partner, nothing. I pretty much keep to myself these days. It’s easier than having my heart broken.”
I had a girlfriend for many years. But like most things in my life the relationship was abusive. Her name was Evelyne, and we met through an AA meeting. The thrill of a new girlfriend didn’t last long though. Within a year of dating, Evelyne got MS, and her health quickly deteriorated. There were signs in the beginning that I ignored. She was clumsy, would slur her speech. I would excuse it, normalize it, thinking maybe she had a relapse and was using again. Thought she’d get over it, sober up again.
Sometimes, angry at how life had treated her she would take her frustration out on me. She would throw books, plates — whatever was in reach — at me. They’d hit me in the arm, sometimes even my head. All the while she would be screaming and crying and wallowing in self-pity. I never really told anyone about Evelyne, not even mother. Since she called and visited me rarely, I didn’t really find it valuable to share this part of my life with her. She’d only judge me and tell me how much I was fucking up my life. That’s the thing with Mother; she knew I was fucked, but wouldn’t ever really acknowledge that I was to anyone else but me.
Evelyne died last year, but by that time we were estranged and she was in hospice. I didn’t even go to her funeral. I didn’t see the point. By the end we hated one another. She hated me for being healthier, and I hated her for getting sick. It was a reminder that in this life I had been dealt an unfriendly hand.
“Women are fucked,” Margie declares. “Can’t imagine dating one. Men are poor bastards. The shit they have to put up with.”
Mother and I sit silently and watch as Margie lights another cigarette. “You know,” Margie starts again. “I always thought about what it would be like to eat out another woman’s vagina. But whenever I did, my mind went somewhere else.”
“Where?” I laugh.
“I thought about men. Their dicks. Then I thought about how dicks mean power, you know?”
“Margie,” sighs Mother. “This is inappropriate.”
“Oh shut up Katherine and listen.” Mother rolls her eyes and stays silent. “Your Mother acts like we used to never talk like this. Then she got married and thought she was better than everyone.” Mother focuses her gaze on Margie, but remains quiet. “I thought about how we all think about men’s dicks as the source of power, but what if vaginas got their revenge one day!? I imagined a huge juicy vagina coming out of the sky, raining blood over all the men. Not all men, just the racist, misogynist fuckers.”
I let out a belt of laughter. “It’s the medication talking,” says Mother.
“No, I’m clear. Okay, maybe it’s a little bit of the medication but it’s what I thought. I guess I still think it.” She looks up at the grey sky. “Anyway, I wouldn’t ever eat a vagina. I can die not regretting it.” She waves her hand flippantly at this admission.
“Good to know,” I chuckle.
We each feel the silence for a few minutes. Margie isn’t even shivering. She’s keenly focused on her cigarette, determined to relish its intoxicating powers.
Then she looks up at me with a loving, comforting smile. “Must be hard that your Mother and Gabriel haven’t supported you that much, especially about the gay thing?”
This leaves me breathless. I can feel the warmth inside my stomach permeate throughout my body, into my fingers and toes, into my cheeks and I began to perspire profusely.
Mother charges, “Margie, really! Have you lost what’s left of your mind? We don’t talk about such things. Gabriel and I have done what we can.”
“Bullshit,” Margie shoots back. “You and I, and Stacey know that isn’t true, so stop with the lies. If any of your so-called support was true, why the hell is your daughter so fucked up?”
“We had nothing to do with it!? Did we make mistakes, of course we did. What parent hasn’t?”
Margie persists, “What mistakes did you make?”
“Mistakes! Like all parents, we made mistakes.”
“You can’t even give me one concrete example of what you did wrong as a parent.”
“What’s it to you anyway?”
“She has no fucking teeth Katherine! She’s obese, she can barely walk through the fucking door. She can’t work, ever, because she’s so fucking lost in the head. And you want to pretend none of it even exists! She needs your help, and you’ve never given it to her.”
“That’s not true, I did the best that I could do. But I had another family. It was up to her father to help too.”
“He did,” I replied. “Diane and Dad were good enough to me. You and Gabriel ignored me, you still do.” This was the first time in my life that I ever so bluntly told this to my Mother. In the moment it is how I feel, it is how I have always felt — I’ve never had the courage until now to say it.
“Stacey, you’re a grown woman. Stop blaming me for everything bad that ever happened to you. It’s not my fault you became a drug addict. It’s not my fault you got fat. It’s not my fault you got knocked up at 24 by some one-night stand who then wanted nothing to do with raising James. Who wanted nothing to do with you! It’s not my fault that you became a thief. It’s not my fault that you’re a lesbian. It’s not my fault that you can’t keep a job.”
Mother is defiant. I have learned through the years to accept that she will never take any responsibility for how I was neglected. For how selfish she is.
“See what you started?” Mother is talking to Margie, her eyes wide, full of anger. “We were having a nice time and then you had to go and ruin it.”
“Katherine, I didn’t try to ruin it.” Margie’s voice has calmed to a purr in an attempt to defuse the bomb that can erupt any minute now. “That wasn’t my intention. Your daughter is almost 50. When will you love her the way she was always meant to be loved?”
“That’s ridiculous. I won’t respond to such silly accusations. She’s a grown woman now. She can grow up. Change the topic!” Mother crosses her legs and turns to the left, away from me, folding her arms. She is now looking out of the glass shelter wall to the forest ahead.
Margie and I look at one another. I manage, with my eyes welling with tears to mouth ‘thank you’ to her. She replies by miming ‘you’re welcome.’
“Hell,” Margie goes on. “Who am I to talk? I was a shit mom too. My sons hate me as much as Stacey hates you! I guess I should shut my stupid mouth.”
“They don’t hate you,” I insist.
“Well they certainly don’t care. I’ve been here for what now, a month? They’ve never visited. Your mom’s the only one who comes every week.”
“Well, that’s because you both have a special bond.” This is my attempt to mend the broken fence that’s been created.
“We do,” affirms Margie. “Always have and always will.” Mother is listless, refusing to acknowledge our peace offering. “Right, Katherine?”
Mother turns her head to face Margie, clutching at her arm, Margie clasps back. “Right,” she relents. Parroting she says “Always have and always will.”
“Damn right, you stupid cunt!”
Mother’s frown slowly drifts into a full throttle laugh. They clasp hands; all is right again.
“Well, ladies. It’s time to get back inside. Will you help me?”
“Of course we will,” my Mother says as she stands to help Margie up. First, she throws her cigarette to the ground and my Mother stomps on it with her red pumps. Then Margie begins her journey. She does so slowly, painfully, shuffling in her slippers from the sidewalk through the main entrance, to the fifth-floor oncology unit to the sign in book, to her room and then to her bed where Mother covers her body with blankets.
It is 1:00 p.m. “Stacey come here,” she motions her hand for me to approach. I move closer. “Come here honey, listen to me.”
“Yes, Margie.” I hold her right hand and sit on the bed to be close to her.
“You’re a loving woman Stacey. You care too much. You’re an open nerve honey, and people like you get hurt easily. But you’re here, you hear me? You’re here and this is your life. I don’t have much of one left, but you do honey. Try and find happiness. Let it go. Let it all go.”
The best I can muster is a nod. My throat is filled with despair, I can hear the rivers of tears rushing to my eyes.
“Promise me honey, promise me you’ll try.”
“I’ll try Margie. I promise.”
Mother stands on the other side of the bed, motionless. I grab some tissue from the night stand and wipe my face. “It’s time to go Stacey, we should let Margie get some rest.”
Margie is tired, that’s clear but I doubt she’d admit it. She says to Mother, “I’ll see you next week, okay?”
“Yes. I’ll be here. Like always.” Mother kisses Margie on the forehead and with that we leave. “I love you,” she says before the door closes. We don’t wait around to hear Margie’s response.
On the trip home Mother and I are quiet, allowing the heaviness of what recently passed to wash over us. I know in my heart that I will never see Margie again. I allow myself to imagine her back east in St. John’s, on the lake, basking in the sun’s rays, the waves of the ocean soothing her pain. She is young again; she is that woman I watched many times in my youth gossiping in her living room with Mother, smoking cigarettes with her carefully painted manicured fingernails. Laughing. Mother and her so beautiful, free and frightened.
I mull over what she told me. I question whether I can be happy. But I think I can try at least to get there. Depression is home. I guess it doesn’t have to be.
The Cadillac pulls up to the driveway and Mother turns off the ignition. “I’d like to come into your apartment,” she declares.
All I can do is nod my head, pretend to unbuckle my seat belt and open the door. She follows me to my front door, where Oliver greets us happily.
Mother manages her way into my apartment, and to my kitchen. She takes off her scarf and coat and says, “Right, well, I’ll wash your dishes.”
“You don’t have to.”
Her eyes dart at me, they are red, misty. “Yes, I do.” She turns her back to me, faces the sink, clogs the drain, adds dish detergent and opens the tap; here I watch as a rush of searing hot water fills the sink. She soaks and scrubs them individually, rinses them and then places them on the drying rack.
Still dressed in my coat, scarf and toque I watch Mother. This now old woman whom I have so much anger and rage for, so much animosity. Some days the rage blinds me, leaves me catatonic. But now I’m watching her as her hands gently move from left to right. She’s 73. What does her life mean? One day she will be here and then suddenly, without much warning she will vanish to the ether.
I stand motionless. Inside of this moment there are things that I wish I could know. Like my ring size, her ring size the hour that I was born. Her favourite song. My middle name. Were her darkest hours, as dark as mine? Will I always be that little girl with a forgettable face?
I suppose none of that matters now.