I’m alone with my dead mother. The assisted living nurse and the hospice workers have gone. I’m waiting in her apartment for the arrival of the Neptune Society with whom my mom had filled out a form and given a $20 deposit thirty years ago to be cremated.
I straighten things up, sort through papers and trash, tossing out cards and notes, the used oxygen tube. This isn’t going to get easier, and right now it’s good to have something to do. I dump flowers, wash out vases. I forget she’s there and look up, startled to see mom lying so still on her bed knowing all at once she’s there but not there any longer. Such a strange thought. I keep thinking she’s here but she’s not here anymore until there’s a knock at the door. I go to answer, but the door begins to open on its own. No, it’s a young man in a uniform pushing it, a gurney crowding the hallway behind. He introduces himself, quietly. He’s with the Neptune Society.
Are you ready for me to take your mom? I say I am. But I’m surprised there’s just one person for the job. I ask if someone else is coming. No. Does he need me to get someone to help? He does not, he assures me. I do this by myself all the time. He wheels the gurney alongside her bed, carefully draws back the blankets. I know what she’s wearing because I’ve already looked. She has on her pale blue nightgown and her black socks with the white cats. Oh. The young man pauses. They usually have a sheet underneath to move the body. I tell him just take the whole bottom sheet, we won’t be needing it anymore. He loosens the corners.
Sometimes he says, working, sometimes family members feel a better sense of closure if they help move the body. It’s my mother. Of course I will help him move her. Okay, I say and step closer. He pushes the bed from the wall, gets behind, removes her pillow, and grasps the two top corners of the sheet. He draws them up around her shoulders and head. He nods to the foot of the bed. You get her feet. I take the sheet. I close the corners over the white cats. Ready? he instructs. One, two, three, Lift! We swing the last weight of her onto the gurney, onto the body bag waiting there.
Before he can close it I say, I’ll wait down the hall even though there is no place down the hall to go. I go there anyway, out to the corridor, around a corner to a window that I look through while I wait for my mother to pass from her apartment into an elevator, wait for the doors to close. Leaning against the windowsill, I wait some more. Later I will tell my sister. Later, when I tell her one, two, three, Lift! I won’t know why. I will laugh.
Sally Ashton is editor in chief of DMQ Review, an online journal featuring poetry and art. She is the author of three poetry collections, and a fourth book, The Behaviour of Clocks, just released. Ashton has taught at San Jose State University and numerous workshops, and is assistant editor of They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing. Recent work appears in Rattle, Brevity, Poetry Flash, San Pedro River Review, Jet Fuel, and Los Angeles Review of Books.
Cagibi Issue 7