Outside, with the air rushing over her, the fecal scent dissipated and I could think realistically again. I would not make it to the shed. What had I thought? The damage of dragging her down the three steps, of trying to heave her off the porch. And what would I fill the ancient bathtub with? Cold water from the backyard hose? The bathtub would be dirty and full of old lumber and broken bits of refuse that I would have to clean out. The last time I'd been in the shed, I'd noticed that my father's tool board, with all the ghost shapes of tools, had fallen off the wall and pitched forward against the tub. What had I been thinking?
"This is it, Mom," I said. "This is as far as we go."
She did not smile or say "bitch" or wail some final lament. I like to think, when I think about it, that by that time she was busy taking in the scent of her garden, feeling the late-afternoon sun on her face, and that somehow in the moments that had elapsed since she'd last spoken, she'd forgotten she'd ever had a child and that, for so many years now, she'd had to pretend she loved it.
I wish I could say that as my mother lay on the side porch and the wind began to pick up more and more so that the crows clinging on to the tops of the trees took flight, that she made it easy on me. That she pointedly listed all the sins she had committed during her long life.
She was eighty-eight. The lines on her face were now the cross-hatchings of fine old porcelain. Her eyes were closed. Her breathing ragged. I looked at the tops of the empty trees. There is no excuse to give, I know, so here is what I did: I took the towels with which I had meant to bathe her, and not thinking that near the latticework or by the back fence there might stand a witness, I smashed these downy towels into my mother's face. Once begun, I did not stop. She struggled, her blue-veined hands, with the rings she feared would be stolen if she ever took them off, grabbed at my arms. First her diamonds and then her rubies briefly flickered in the light. I pushed down harder. The towels shifted, and I saw her eyes. I held the towels for a long time, staring right at her, until I felt the tip of her nose snap and saw the muscles of her body go suddenly slack and knew that she had died.
Copyright © 2007 by Alice Sebold