Just dust

Justine Landis-Hanley writes about losing her mother.

Justine Landis-Hanley writes about losing her mother.

Image by Kyrill Poole, used with permission under CC BY-SA 2.0. 


One day in March 2014, your mother stops walking.

She’s one of those champion do-it-all types. Single mother, business founder, part-time law student. So when she suddenly can’t get out of bed, when she can’t read the words of her book anymore, when you wake up to the sound of her screams, it doesn’t make sense.

Neither does the fact she doesn’t want to call a doctor, or anyone for that matter. She reassures you it is just a pulled muscle, no need to bother someone about it.

* * *

“I think I’m going crazy,” you confess to your lecturer one day during consultation hours.

The words are a whisper, spoken by a small voice that lives somewhere between your stomach and your right lung.

But that’s not what you want to say.

You want to tell them how that house isn’t your house. That you don’t recognise the gate or the woman who lives at number 19. How you wonder if you drove around the block one more time, whether the world would swallow itself and reemerge like it was supposed to, like it always had.

But you always go back there anyway.

And curl against her curled up legs
On your way to turn off the kitchen light
And wait for her breathing to steady.
And for the Holocene to end.

* * *

After four weeks of immobility.
Her screams became uncontainable, her conversation incomprehensible.
“What if it’s a tumor?”
“It’ll be fine, Mum.” You think it will be.

You choke on the stench of hospital-grade disinfectant
And the cries of a man from behind a blue curtain,
Until her bed reappears at 1:30am,
Along with news of a fractured vertebrae and a speedy recovery.

The phone rings at 1:35am.
The Doctor shuffles over to her bedside.
“Why did you think it was Cancer?”

It’s April Fools’ Day when the ER Doc, a British man with a limp, tells you your mother is going to die. The nurse behind the waiting room desk wipes her eyes and goes for a smoke while you sit in the empty room sobbing. The security guard drives you home at 3:00am when he finds out no one is coming to get you.

You end up watching Monsters University until you fall asleep because it’s the only movie you can think of that doesn’t have parents or death in it.

* * *

You can’t stand the Cancer ward. Or the colour pink. Or to pick up your book on T.S. Eliot because you can see in front of you that the world doesn’t end with a bang, but with a whimper.

You aren’t there when she dies nine days after admission. You tell yourself she would have wanted it that way. But you often lie awake wondering if that is the kind of thing bad people tell themselves to feel less bad.

One day the doctors will tell you that she had been sick for years. You’ll pore back over photos of her trying to work out how much of the person looking back is your mother and how much her disease. You’ll never reach a conclusion.

* * *

You slip past your bedroom door, slowly edging it back into place so that the click of the lock doesn’t shatter the floorboards. The darkness washes over you, swallowing you whole with a slow, wet chug.

And for a moment any world beyond this is reducible to the shards of blue light peeling from underneath the door. You crawl away from them, deeper into a tangle of bed sheets.

And you’re not sure if your bed is really flush against your cheek. You stretch out a hand and wriggle your fingers, but can’t work out whether they are still connected to your knuckles or if the breeze coming from the broken fly screen is blowing through a void where the two flesh no longer meet.

And now time is marked by the dull click of the fan spinning above your head. Around. Around. Only to go around again.

And you realise that you are actually the one spinning now. Breaking off into chunks. Colliding with the specks splattered against the black. So you can be specks too.

Just dust.