“Étude pour Poe” by Leonor Fini
Grab your book and sit down, kid. You’re not going anywhere any time soon. They’ve got you practically locked up with Grandma at home. And you didn’t understand what was happening at first, but the truth is slowly showing its hideous face.
And they’re not doing anything to stop it. Not only that – they’re “helping her” to die faster. They’ve got her stashed away in the coldest, darkest room in the house – the one with no windows. And they’re not feeding her, anymore. They do it to you all the time – send you to your room with no dinner. Just so they can “teach you a lesson.” If they can do it to you, they can do it to her. Nothing to eat. Nothing to drink. Starve. Dry out and shrivel like a snail pulled out of its shell and slammed on the pavement.
Your. Mom. Is. Killing. Her. Mom. And you wonder if you’ll have to do the same to her, one day. Kill her by starving her. I’d never do that, I hear you thinking. But never say never. Life has a way of making us do the unspeakable, kid. If push comes to shove you’ll do it. And push will come to shove when your future wife tells you she’s had it with wheeling your mom around everywhere and taking her out to the park and taking her out to the clinic and taking her out so she can fill her prescriptions and cleaning up her shit and yadda yadda yadda. You’ll be up against the wall. And you’ll know your mom will be gone soon anyway, and that she’s nothing but a bag of bones with a persistent heart, so you’ll figure you might as well take everyone out of their misery and pull the plug. Not that you’ll literally pull the plug. Or maybe you will. If there’s a plug to pull, you’ll pull it. Like I said, life has a way…
But that’s not the problem, right now. The problem is that Grandma is confined to her bed and you know she doesn’t like it one bit. You know she can hear them whispering about her in the hall. She breathes through a tube and pees into a bag but she can still hear like a barn owl. And most of the time they don’t even bother to step out in the hall and do their talking. They just stand right in front of her and talk about her in the third person like she’s already dead. The will and the estate and the dwindling health insurance and the deed for the house and so on. And she can’t talk back because she’s got that damned tube stuck down her throat. And you always happen to be in the room when they do that. And it spooks the hell out of you when they start with it because Grandma always sticks out her little hand that looks like onion skin speckled with brown polka dots glued around a handful of bones and clutches your wrist. And she looks at you with a tear beading in the corner of her left eye like she’s saying You won’t let them do this to me, will you, Mikey? Remember all the good times we had when you were a little boy? Remember when your mom had to pack you out of your house because you were moving and you stayed with me for ten days and I baked for you and we sat out on the porch and had cookies and milk?
And sure. You do remember. You remember Grandma’s house that looked like an illustration out of a fairytale book with her white lace curtains and her French windows and her rose bushes and the sound of the straining hinges on the swing on her porch and the ladybugs that liked to hang out at her windowsills and mushroom quiche for breakfast. And you remember Grandma tucking you in at night because you were afraid of the monsters under the bed. She’d tucked you in without making fun of you and told you she was going to sit right there until you fell asleep. No monster will ever come near you as long as I’m alive, she’d said.
But, nothing lasts forever, kid.
Sometimes we have to make tough decisions about people we love, they tell you. It’s one of those hard facts of life. And they always make it a point to add, Grandma can’t make decisions for herself, anymore.
You’re only fourteen but you know all the hard facts already, because you’re always the one that ends up with Grandma while they’re all out "taking care of business." And it’s not like you hate having to babysit Grandma, because you do remember all the times you’d been a bad boy and Grandma had never said a word to your mom. So you don’t mind it in the least. You don’t even really mind the smell of disinfectant that’s supposed to mask the smell of human waste but ends up smelling like disinfectant trying to mask human waste. It’s just that when you’re hanging out with Grandma, you always feel like you want to try and explain your mom’s behavior, or justify it, maybe. Or something. You know. Just to clear your conscience. And maybe help Grandma to feel a little better. But you know, deep inside yourself, that your grandma knows everything that’s going on, already. That Alzheimer’s may be creeping in and licking away small slivers of her mind, and she may be as ancient as a mummy, but her gut is as alive as it’s ever been. And your grandma’s gut is telling her some pretty evil shit about her daughter. Your mother. That woman who lectures you about morals. Ha – what a laugh! She lectures you about doing your chores so you can "earn your allowance," and then she turns around and starves her mother so she can get on with her own life. Sometimes we have to make tough decisions about people we love.
And so you sit there with Grandma. And you wet her dry lips with a damp sponge because you know she's thirsty but they tell you she can't drink. And sometimes you read to her from Kidnapped while she stares at that right angle that connects the ceiling to the wall in front of her. And you don’t know if she’s really listening to you, but you keep reading, anyway. I’m doing my part of the deal, you say to yourself. And while you’re reading to Grandma, they’re at the bank or at the store or at the attorney’s office. And sometimes they all decide to go out and "do something social." Together. Your mom and her one sister and her one brother. And their spouses. And this is what happens today.
They decide they all want to go out and eat. And they decide they’re taking you with them. And you start to protest and make excuses. I’m not hungry and Who’s going to take care of Grandma? But they’re not listening to you. As usual. And you’re seriously worried about Grandma, because you know that she's terrified of being alone. But they’re worried about the fact that they’ve let you watch them for too long without stepping in and trying to explain what’s going on. And this lunch is their way of ganging up on you and “presenting the facts” in one whopping session.
They’ll start with the usual Sometimes we have to make tough decisions about people we love. And then they’ll move on to Grandma can’t make decisions for herself, anymore. This will be followed by Grandma’s going to be moving on to a better place. And then they’ll start to explain about God and Heaven and all those other words that you never hear them say except when someone’s pissed off at someone or something and they say Goddammit! or Oh my God, I can’t believe this! or Good Heavens! Yes. It’s always exclamatory. But this time they’ll speak calmly. And they’ll tell you Grandma is unhappy but when she dies she’ll be happy again. And they’ll expect that to make you feel okay about what they’re doing.
So, you’ll all go to a burger joint. And everyone will place their order. Mom and Dad and Aunt Lisa and Uncle Brad and Jim and Alice. And then it’ll be your turn. And you’ll think about saying you’re not hungry, again. But you might as well order yourself a burger and some fries and keep them quiet. You’re going to have to learn to be wiley around wiley people if you’re going to make it in this big jungle, kid. The rules of the game are simple: Order burger and fries lunch with ice-cold coke. Make small talk with family members while awaiting order. Make eye contact with each person with whom you speak. Speak with confidence. When food arrives, pick up burger. Take one bite and chew well. Swallow down with ice-cold coke. Eat French fry. Make small talk. Take another bite of burger and chew. And so on and so forth. And then when they start talking about the whole Grandma business, which will probably come around your second or third bite, once they know they’ve got you stuck, you’ll want to tell them, “Grandma might smell like decaying skin and concentrated urine. But you guys stink to high heaven!” But don’t! Just nod your head like you’re saying, “I understand what you’re saying completely.”
Play the game, kid. And don’t let on. You haven't learned about Newton's Third Law yet, have you? The one that says that for every action there's an equal reaction? It's about matter, but the truth is, it works for humans, too. So just think about that every time you consider not going with the flow. These are some pretty messed up people. And you already know that they’ll do to Grandma what they do to you. So the opposite should be no news – they’ll do to you what they do to Grandma. And you sure as hell don’t want them thinking you can’t make decisions for yourself.