MumsiePart IIOnly one day after she exhaled in final, glottal stop, I am on her narrow, lumpy, too-soft hospital bed, with its smell.To return for the ceremony of death I had to take a twenty-
two hour stitched- together flight from the wilds of Central America. When I arrived, they offered to put me in a motel, but I said, no, I might as well stay with her. I spent a lifetime running away from her. Now that we think she's dead (although some of us have our doubts), we (being me and all my schizoid selves) might as well spend some time in her bed, doing quality time with her --- time we could never do while she was alive.I expected a whiff of death in that room --- urine, sweat, the stink of old ghosts. But there's only the sweet scent of...what is it? Ah, Pond's Vanishing Cream, which she put on her face and neck and hands every night for most of her life. Just before going to sleep, she would open up the three-pound jar, filled with a sweet greasy pink goo, and massage it into cheeks, under eyes, along the neck, on the wide, never-furrowed forehead.It was her stink, and mine, too. I would go to her bedroom overlooking the great wide St. Johns River, to say my goodnights (this is fifty years ago, mind you, and the smell of it still lies richly in the soft bed of my memories.) There she is, her unlined face greased down, and she turns her cheek to me, and I touch her cheek with my cheek (ever so lightly), kiss the air just before her ear, and it's goodnight.
But that's not all. The smell has a double rich meaning for me. For when I turned thirteen, when I first learned the sweet ecstasy of sweet self-
abuse, I turned to Mumsie's Vanishing Cream to help my stampeding lust vanish for a few minutes.
While they were downstairs, on the verandah, having their highballs, I would sneak into her bedroom and open the jar and get a fingerful of Ponds and then hiding the goop in my fist would run back to my bathroom, lock the door, turn on the lights and the noisy fan (background noise to hide the noise of me too much in love with myself), drop my pants and watch myself in the shaving mirror as I pulled on this new, mysterious, wonderful extension of me, something that belonged to me, no-one else but me, mine and mine alone. And so we (me and it) in a back-
and- forth ramble of a gorgeous minute- and-a- half until my eyes clouded over the smell of sweet Pond's swept my nostrils followed by the richer more exuberant smell as I cast 500,000 of my babies into the cold sink.
We thought it was just temporary, didn't we? Something we gave up when we grew up, right? Ha. If I could just find that jar of pink Ponds face cream right now. That would be a fine literary turn, no? Me in the hospital bed of my just dead Mum, enmeshed in the rites of Onan.
It's her fault, isn't it? She never taught us how to love. Too unpredictable, you can lose control too easily. Much better to take hostages. Our house, a terrorist cave, filled with an army of prisoners-
She didn't use words, but I got the message. I learned your lesson well, Mum. Despite marriage and children and too many lovers, there was only one person I could trust.
You remember him, don't you, Mum? That half-naked, skinny kid, looming over the sink, reflected in on himself, in love with himself.
§ § §
Though it seems to be fixed, the world is forever moving below us. They say the core of it is an iron ball, never turning as fast as the crust, but rather, revolving more slowly, creating huge eddies of magnetic power and heat and (possibly) magic, a massy globe moving torturously, shifting our worlds ever so slightly.
It's dark here in Central America. It's three in the morning, the morning of the winter solstice. The earth may have pushed the sun up over there to the East, where I came into being, but it still remains dark here.
Above me the ceiling fan is rattling round, stirring up the heavy night air, keeping the mosquitoes at bay. My kind love Jesús has lit seven candles and set them under the table: religious veladoras in tall glass jars, with Our Dark Lady of Guadalupe --- the Black María --- painted on the sides. I have found that having Our Lady casting shadows on the ceiling all night long may not keep the bogeyman at bay, but it at least makes him more tolerable.
Jesús is lying next to me, dead asleep --- dark, and warm, and delicious. Yet I lie awake. They don't let us sleep much after we pass the half-century mark. It is at this very moment that I learn that Mumsie is ready to be packed away into the steaming earth below us. This is how it happens:
I notice that there is a hell of a lot of noise emanating from the other room of the house, what they call la sala. It is as if five or six people had decided --- without my specific permission --- to embark on a vigorous panel discussion around the dinner table, debating, say, recent trends in the stock market. But the voices are so muddled that I can't tell if they are speaking Dow-Jones or Standard & Poors.
Later I learn that this otherworldly conference started at the very moment Mumsie checked out. I tell you, she sent her business goblins three thousand miles west to advise me of her departure. I heard them --- they could wake the dead --- but I was not about to go out there to check on the action.
I spent the rest of the night with my head under the pillow, wondering why my Prozac wasn't doing its job.
§ § §
They performed, according to her wishes, "no heroic measures." She had oxygen, but nothing else, right up until the last few weeks. Then the hospice service started her on morphine...Morphine! Straight, no chaser.
I am now thinking of my old Mum, who never availed herself of the panoply of mind-altering drugs offered willy-
nilly to the rest of us --- the drugs that changed one of her children's lives so profoundly. Puritan Mum was scornful of drugs despite a lifetime of scoliosis (which can hurt like hell, especially at the end of the day, especially after yielding up a passel of children to the world). She took nothing stronger than aspirin, and only a minimal dose of that.
But finally, at last, under the aegis of the Springfield Memorial Hospice, Mumsie is tying one on with the best of us, stoned on the drug invented so long ago to soothe the beast they call Living, especially when it closes in on the beast they call Dying. And I wish I could have been with her as the morphine began to take effect, when she was saying to herself, as she had to be saying, "Good Lord."
During the course of her life, I never heard her utter the W-word. It was, if you recall, the code for those of us who partook of the sacraments of the sixties on some shabby couch in some shabby friend's shabby apartment, our first trip, wallowing about in the waves of the universe, piling up --- in ten hours --- a thousand years of psychedelic wisdom.
Stoned out of our fucking gourds, we suddenly understood how to talk to God. Is that you God? I'm here too God. I C U. Do you see me too God?
And then we intoned the universal dope mantra,
And, then (slowly, very slowly),
And now my sweet old Mum is swept up in the rapture that she never saw before. With this new swelling of perception, she now sees and hears and feels what body-mind is capable of.
Hers was a lifetime of body being pushed about from here to there, the body of duty, the body delivering husband pleasure, the body delivering children pain. But now this new feeling, a new joy brewed by the gods, infusing the soul, shooting her up to the heavens, across the ages, a spurt of white heat pushing up from the cold round there below, swamping all senses.
And she wonders, How could my body have kept this from me so long? And the sweep of the universe raises her up, and she says, "Wow."
§ § §
This article first appeared in The Sun.