When the East Wind Comes published in Months to Years Literary Journal, summer 2021
Every second is missing words. She wants a mirror. And lipstick. I’m taking her on a verbal tour of the aisles of CVS. The list of things she needs is shrinking. The list of things she wants is growing. Some decent food. To leave this place. To not be alone. To maintain some dignity. To wear earrings. The pearl kind. She also demands that I get her rings for her. She really wants her rings. Somehow, we get past my inability to acquire rings. To be someone or something is to be inextricably bound with what’s other. Ordinary consciousness needs there to be a clear distinction between the knower and the known. The distinction between the world and my mother-in-law is fading. I pace the room as I question her about deodorant, hairspray, and toothpaste. There’s nowhere to escape from things suddenly not hidden. From the main gathering room, the sound of row, row, row your boat wends down the hallway, where it crawls into my throat and invades my chest and chokes me. Not all words are useful. “I know just the lipstick to get for you,” I quip. She tries to stand up from her wheelchair and walk away. This is the third time in twenty minutes, so I strap her in. She’s sharp in her accusation that it’s my fault she can’t go to CVS. “You just don’t want to lift me into that SUV of yours.” Things are always at their most vulnerable when they’re changing, ending. She fumbles uselessly with the strap around her torso. She swears. “Fuck you.” The swearing is new. I know what she means, though. She means, “I know this, so fuck off, because it’s just me and this.” Not every word is exquisitely magnificent. Fucking swear. Then swear some more. Curse the world holding you here and the awful fluorescent green paint on the hallway walls. Curse the chemical targeting of disruptive behaviors, the dry mouth, and the sedation. Curse the sudden injuries that are taking you. Curse those years and years of empty bottles that wouldn’t even speak for you, take care of you, or love you. Drinking takes all of the essential words and all of the worst words out of any reasonable order. Drinking is the tragic epilogue that’s pointless and true before you’ve even lived the chapters. “You can’t get out of your wheelchair.” Who created THOSE words? She swears at me again. To be this kind of god is to commit these small violences as necessary checks on her abridged body. Any refuge at all would lie in awareness, but she is not aware that she is limited by failing memory and recently broken bones. She doesn’t know that she ends through her own being. She stares at me, her dark expression utterly untranslatable. Maybe she has remembered to be scared instead of ragey. An unreasoning fear fills me and I imagine that my face betrays that I am just an ambassador of death here to make it easier for a small moment. I change the subject. “I love that picture of the lake house.” She glances at the framed picture of her beloved lake house and nods as if she’s just found some missing words. Her fingers slide off the Velcro straps around her middle and she settles back in her wheelchair, her sweatshirt bunching around the straps. “At the lake when the east wind comes, the flies will be biting,” she laments. These words are as beautiful as the whispering, slanderous lie I was crafting that everything was going to be just fine. She’s right, the flies will be biting when the east wind comes.