My mother's body was tiny, she was by now extremely thin, her skin so very pale, smooth and translucent. Her head was turned to the right at an odd angle, her eyes seemed to be staring into the distance and her chin had dropped, leaving her mouth open. Someone had tried to close it with a strip of muslin dressing but it must have slipped when they pushed her bed into the small storage room. Here, in this quiet stuffy windowless corner, without the feeding tube stuck in her throat, she looked strangely restful. Finally.
But I was not there. My brother told me all this. Or maybe he did not, maybe he mentioned some of it and I have fabricated the rest over the years. He was trying to sound calm, his voice on the phone going on and on, about the dressing, the eyes, the cold room. About the one arm hanging off of the side of the bed, almost touching the rubber wheel. He apologised that he waited until sunrise before he called us, his sisters. He could not bear to stay in that room which in my imagination was crammed with the spare things of a hospital ward, stainless steel things stacked on a trolley, drip stands in the corner. He sat on a bench by the car park, smoking and waiting for the first light before he made the calls. But even that I don't know for certain. When I asked him, some weeks later, he could not remember.
I did not see any of this, her lopsided body, her limp hands, the room stuffed with clangy metal. The last time I saw my mother, maybe two weeks earlier, she was very agitated. At least that is how it seemed to me watching her shrunken body strapped onto the bed, with the humming noises from the monitors, the quiet hissing from the respirator. It had been months since my last visit, when my sister had picked me up at the train station and we had started to argue straight away. Not in so many words, of course. But in the best family tradition of snide remarks, little patronising gestures, tripping each other up. Look, I can hold her hand so gently, almost the loving daughter. But I brought a tape of what I guess is her favourite music. Wait, smell this gorgeous massage lotion I got her. And so on.
And again, that last time I wanted to be the one who really understood her, who could finally read the urgent messages that I thought I could fathom in her eyes, darting here and there, staring at the ceiling. But I could hardly speak, afraid to say the wrong thing. As always. So instead I sobbed. Knowing that in her good days, she would have been disgusted with me. When I did freak out, it was purely for my own benefit.
I left the room, her bed, in tears, furious. By the time I had calmed down we were already on the motorway. Four hours later I was home and she was once again out of my life.
Sometime last year when I realised that I had forgotten not only what year but also what day she had died I found out that it was actually the same date when I met R, twenty years earlier. It never registered. But then I am not big on significant dates.
Right now, I don't seem to feel any of the old anger. We had abandoned each other long before. But I feel curious, when did it start, when did we stop being mother and daughter, when did the space between us become this dark and ugly distance.