I lifted my arms up under my mother's arms and raised them slightly off the carpeted stairs. First one and then the other, like manipulating a life-size doll. To have controlled her as easily as that, impossible. I had to get through this without calling my daughters. This was something to be done on my own. I twisted out from under her, and she moaned like a collapsing bag of air. I sat by her body on the stairs. The house had a weight and a force that I knew could crush me. I had to get out of there, and I thought, suddenly, of the bathtub among the rocking horses in the shed.
I left my mother dozing and turned and ran up the stairs, darting into her cluttered bedroom for blankets, and the pink powder room for towels. In the mirror over the sink, I checked myself. My eyes seemed smaller and even bluer than they had been, as if the intensity of the situation affected color and its perception. For years now I'd kept my hair so short that I could almost see my scalp. When I'd walked into my mother's house, she'd taken one glance and said, "Don't tell me you have cancer too. Everyone has cancer these days." I explained that my haircut made life easier, from exercise to gardening to work. It was the ambiguity that got to me ? would she have cared if I had had cancer or would it have just been competition for her? Her intonation pointed toward the latter, but it was hard to believe this of one's own mother.
I stood at the top of the stairs with the blankets and towels. I kept at bay my realization that she would never see these rooms again and that now they would become, for me, empty shells littered with possessions. I noticed the hush in the upstairs hallway and looked at the pictures on the walls, pictures that would soon be gone. I imagined the dark squares they would leave behind them where no sun had reached for years, and the echoes that would resound from the curtainless storm windows and the thick plaster-and-brick walls. I began to sing. I sang nonsense. Cat-food commercials and childhood songs, the latter a habit that had been handed down from my mother, a way to stave off the onset of nerves. The need for noise overwhelmed me, but as I headed down the stairs, I grew quiet again. I saw that my mother had slumped down and lay on the floor, her body on the old wine-red Persian rug.
"No, Mother, no," I said, realizing as I did so that it was more useless than talking to a dog. A dog cocked her head. A dog gave you a soulful look. My mother was a passed-out bag of bones who reeked of shit.
"Why like this?" I asked. I stood over her body with my arms full of blankets and towels, and I began to weep. I whispered a prayer that no one would knock on the door, that Mrs. Castle would not think to check on us, though right about now Manny the handyboy might help me tote and haul.
I placed the towels on the bottom stair and took my grandfather's red-and-black Hudson Bay blanket, spreading it out on the floor beside her. It extended into the dining room. Then, so the wool would not scratch, I put a white Mexican wedding blanket down on top of that. I was not thinking sanely; I was wrapping fish or making spring rolls; I was thinking, Super Giant Mother Burrito.
I bent down, taking air in and neutralizing my spine ? thank you, Stella, at World Gym ? and put my arms up under my mother's armpits.
Her eyes snapped open.
"What on earth are you doing?"