Bed of Puzzles, Kathleen McIntyre
[Trigger Warning: Depictions of Death]
My mom is dying. We are in her hospital room. It is 2 am or 4 am. It smells like hand sanitizer. There are watercolors of cows on the walls. Mom was in a terrifying car accident and has cancer. She is wrapped in hospital plastic and damp rags that cling to her pale skin. She is fat and beautiful. She is covered in pus. She shrieks or makes small gurgling noises. She groans or belches and rolls over. I kiss her forehead and her eyebrows. I kiss her armpits, tummy, and inner thighs, respectfully, with abandon. I help her pee into a bottle and then she dies. Dad went to Dunkin Donuts to get coffee. Mom dies before he gets back. Dad dies of a heart attack on his way to Dunkin Donuts. He gets safely to Dunkin Donuts, but his coffee is poisoned. They put anthrax in his coffee. Max texts me he is dying. I miss 18 calls from Phoebe. Max died of a gas leak, he says in a text. Phoebe drowned. The doctors at the hospital are in a fraternity. They drink beer and feel refreshed. They laugh and pretend they are in the TV show House or the TV show Scrubs. The doctors turn on right angles and always speak in unison. They carry briefcases and take out their laptops. They operate on my mom over the internet. They giggle and high-five. The doctors are respectable and sexy older gentlemen. All of the doctors are running for president on the Republican ticket. Many of the doctors are Mitt Romney. The doctors slice open my mother’s skin using rusty medieval instruments. Mommy’s bones shatter and fly everywhere. We wade ankle-deep through Mommy’s blood. I scream at the top of my lungs for half an hour straight. I pound on the doctors’ chests. I rip their eyeballs out. I hold their hands and whisper words of encouragement in their ears. I call their medical school professors and chat about their GPAs. We all use hand sanitizer. The doctors scream at the top of their lungs for half an hour straight they are so scared of what they are doing. We light candles and sit in a circle. The doctors share stories about their own mommies. We watch an episode of House and then a Scrubs marathon. We take deep breaths and remember childhood. Dad is still not back from Dunkin Donuts. Dad got a job at Dunkin Donuts putting anthrax in coffee. Max comes back to life and dies again. No one has heard from Phoebe. I talk to Mitt Romney about health care and confess that I don’t have any money. He slaps me in the face and calls me a pussy. The doctor brotherhood forces me to take my clothes off and drink a handle of vodka. I throw up on my mother. She looks beautiful. She shines like a lighthouse or a Renaissance painting. I crawl into bed with her. The doctors applaud solemnly and shake my hand. I stroke my mother’s hair and whisper the same story in her ear every night for fifty-seven years as she falls asleep. It is about a bumblebee who tries to be a ballerina but fails because he’s only just a bumblebee.