A thumb war with death



I keep thinking I should break the pattern. You know. Write about circumcision. Or those wacky attachment parents. Or how vegetarianism is the handshake drug of complete moral breakdown.

But death is here again. It keeps asking, sheepishly, for fresh tea. It drinks half, then misplaces the mug. The bottom half always cools.


I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, rattled. A roller coaster with bright orange rails. A row of empty cars except for the front one, which arrives at the endstation with Evan on the left-hand side, screaming hysterically.

Where is Ben? My god! Where is Ben? He fell out! He fell out!

The tape rewinds like in an editing suite. It makes that zipzipzip rewind sound. And again the cars arrive with Evan wailing, and a blank space where Ben had been. Horror. Horror. Horror.

Motherhood makes you nuts.



On the way to the hospital I stop for flowers and sushi, the same place as always. I glance across to the table by the window and I see me there, pregnant with Evan and staring terrified at a newborn in someone else's stroller. Zip ahead. It is my newborn, my stroller. Zip ahead. I am newly unpregnant with Liam and Ben, walking through those doors in a daze.

"Congratulations!" the woman says. "When are you due?"

Betrayal by empire waist.

"I'm not pregnant," I am too tired to be merciful. "I had twins a month ago. My babies are in the hospital."

Zip ahead. I scan the case and choose swedish meatballs, chickpea salad, a block of mac and cheese, strawberries, yop. I bring them to my grandmother's apartment and lay out a plate for her, then for Evan and Ben.

"Oh!" she says, watching me change Ben. "I haven't seen him since he was a baby."

We saw you last week. I smile. "It's been a long time, Gram."

Nothing has ever been so good as this Fentiman's Victorian Lemonade. I sip and grimace. Victorians were sour. I don't think I like it. I sip again, and grimace again. Victorians were sour. I sip again.

I look across the atrium at other people and feel more gently towards them than I have in the past. Instead of cruel obliviousness I see, right there, twenty-three journeys. Twenty-three burdens of fear and defiance, each of them different and identical.

I leave a little in the bottle, a beer drinker's habit. I start off for palliative care and imagine wearing a radioactive suit that makes me invisible to the hospital's insatiability. It's not about me or my history. I am there to sit with my grandmother. But still. To abide with someone in their death is to abide with yourself in your own.


I wonder if she can see the clock. I hope not. I don't like the way that clock stares at her. But I do appreciate how it reminds my mother to pass the honour of mothering her mother to the nurses. That she should go home to her kitchen to stir something that smells delicious, to smile through glass as cloud biscuits rise.

Cloud biscuits will always rise. They make home into home, a warm and buttery scent that embraces you the moment you walk through the back door. Cloud biscuits are my mother.


I stroke her hand and tell her she doesn't need to stay awake. I'm not going anywhere, Gram.

She sleeps, heavy but haunted. I wonder what she sees. She answers, her eyes fluttering open.

"They're dancing in Italy. They're dancing in the streets."

"Are you wearing a pretty dress, Gram?"

"Oh, of course."

And she is away again.


Please don't express condolences. It doesn't feel quite right. I'm sad, and we all are. She's the last of four grandparents, all of whom were fixtures my whole life. We can only hope to have such a life as she has, both in length and quality. Death is work, and waiting, staring at clocks, and replaying all we might have done.

Please do this instead. Tell me memories of your mothers. Doesn't matter if they're still here, or if they're estranged. Tell me stories of ghosts and cloud biscuits. Tell me the opposite of arbitrary. Tell me what you'll always remember so that I'll know, and my mother too, that motherhood, as nutty as it makes us, endures through everything.

Even death.