14. Six years
Johnson Kee
211

Thanks for the prompt. Here’s my contribution: “Harsh Mistress”

This is where I brought my mother during the last months of her life. Every day we would come. I’d pick her up, wrestle the walker into my car, and her into her seatbelt, while she muttered her mantra, “This gettin’ old shits.”

Sometimes she got confused and thought we were going to the bank, or the grocery store. We’d stopped doing all that. It was just too hard to navigate the doors, and the sounds, and the ‘too many people’. But here, we could move freely in relative solitude — especially on early weekday mornings. Tuesdays were the best.

Same conversation every time. As we approached the pier and the benches, she’d notice that, except for a few people way out at the end, we were alone. 
“You mean it’s just you and me?” 
“Yeah, Mom.”
“Well that’s ridiculous!” her voice acid with contempt. “Absolutely ridiculous. There’s nobody HERE. Gimme a break! Take me home, Rosie.”

I would swallow my hurt, (I think the words you’re looking for here, Mom, are “How nice! Just you and me.”), and say “We’re here...”

“Aaah,” a cross between a snarl and a sigh, waving me away, waving it all away.

Nothing I did for her landed where I wanted it to. She felt all my efforts as indictments, not expressions of love. I’d be cleaning out her bathroom, and she’d yell, “What the hell are you doing in there, Rosie? Go HOME. I can do it myself.” She was 91 and frail and I wanted to make life a little easier for her. She could not do it herself. Not like it needed to be done.

Bitter years, those last ones. Hard labor. Daunting, intimate messes to clean up. Thankless, long hours, and sleep in fits and starts. It seemed like it would never end.

And then it did.

When it was over, what painful relief, what a strange, sweet grief.
When it was over, how we remembered her goodness — the folded twenty sliding across the table when the bill came at lunch, the wide avenue she held in her heart for strangers and all children, the reverence she held for the natural world. 
When it was over, how her caustic stubbornness blossomed into a dark virtue we came to admire.

When it was over, we went to the pier, and sat on empty benches, my heart improbably reaching to hear that harsh, dismissive voice again.

When it was over, how we missed her.

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