You lose your way, just take my hand
I watch her mother die in Sacramento. In a hospice bed in the rose-walled living room of an old Victorian collapsing like an ornate cake. Frasier edifies in the background. My friend sits in a rickety chair on the wraparound porch, face obscured by a big, black hoodie. Hands, white-heat tremors, blotting out the full moon. Her mother is the second person I’ve watched die this month.
My strawberry pale ale loses its cool, and the end is inevitable. It'll feel like nothing. A void revealing itself.
Don’t look too far, right where you are, that’s where I am
I sponge the ridges of her mother’s mouth, drip morphine onto her tongue. It absorbs but does not receive. I’m the one with experience. The one with a morphine-addicted mother who was in at-home hospice care. She died young. Lucidity in the dying marks the vestiges of hope. No hospice nurse or Google search or relative can offer comfort. Death mocks the living's prayers. Caregiving is the careful act of letting go.
I clean the fridge. Old jars containing moldy, curdled somethings, once a moment of pleasure, tossed into a scented garbage bag. Masking abandonment's stench. I swipe items from sauce-crusted shelves and produce-slimed drawers. The bag heaves with could-have-been family dinners. I heft the decay, not caring what breaks or spills, leaving only our six-packs.
They mistook my kindness for weakness
I check my text messages.
How you holding up?
You can’t do this again.
You’ve seen enough death.
Take care of yourself.
Catch a wave and take in the sweetness
I stare at the haunted house across the street. A mansion with gargoyles, lit up like Exorcist vomit. All these haunted houses that aren’t mine. Death makes mothers out of daughters. Anyone can switch places, switch realms, switch lives at any time.
The oxygen wasn’t working. My mother was on oxygen, hooked to those green squat tanks that reminded me of helium voices and clowns. I was familiar with the knobs, tanks, tubes. But knowledge failed me, and her mom was gasping, pleading. I panicked. I could kill this woman and I beg my friend to call 9-1-1. Handsome firefighters show up. Fix the oxygen. Compliment the house. Ask if it was built in 1901.
Kiss the sky and whisper to Jesus
Days hover and blur. A sunrise gloom. People come and go, whispering to themselves or God or both. Clutching her mother’s frail wrists while crying. I continuously make food.
I slice an avocado into crescent moons. Someone remarks that I plate food like a chef. I beam at my perfectly thin wedges. I toast bagels. I serve melon. I load the dishwasher. I dispose of medical waste with a family friend. We talk about our succulents, how they keep dying. Underwatering or overwatering? Who knows. Frustrating because it’s in our control.
Think about it, the darkness, the deepness
Her mother dies before dawn. My friend is a ball of distress on a velvet settee. Her mother’s mouth is an oval hollow inhaling final mists.
Hospice comes, removes the body. I’m holding her mother’s purple, piss-soaked pyjamas. The indignity of death bunched in my incapable hands. I don’t know who touched my mother's soiled belongings. I wasn't there.
I throw the pyjamas in the wash with other things: towels and ratty, beloved t-shirts. The smell of piss still lingers in the air, on my hands. The machine tumbles away the filth. My body feels empty. I want to cry. I think about donuts.
All the things that make me who I am
I make the 15-minute walk to the first donut shop that shows up on Google. An old-school place. Pink boxes. White aprons. I take two of everything.
How'd you know that was our mother’s favorite donut shop?
How'd you know she took us there when we were kids?
Our angel. My friend ruffles my dirty hair.
But I’m not, I want to say. I’m just a body taking up space. Trying to understand what's left.
I smile, embrace my friend. Feel her pulse against me. Feel her quicken, warm and flush with hops, gratitude, need.
Was it coincidence, a spiritual revelation? Just fried dough hunks, growing stale in a box? Could be anything. I can be anything. Because I’m still here. Unknowing and waiting. Like everyone.
I’m here for everyone. I’m here.
I’m your man.
Jillian Luft currently lives in Florida. Her work has appeared in XRAY, Expat Press, Hobart, Rejection Letters and Vlad Mag. She is finishing up her novel about dirtbag romance in the Sunshine State. You can read more of her work at jillianluft.com and find her on X @jillianluft.