She is asleep. Mimicking her, I sit still, motionless. In an effort not to wake her I have even forced myself not to breathe too deeply. In and out without making more sound than the quiet hum of the air-conditioning system. In and out without waking her up. Even my eyes I try to keep in one place, stagnant within their sockets. The moisture is slowly being driven away by the stale air, a welcome respite from the flooded state that they are in most days now. Today they will not flow over.
The buzzing of my phone shakes me awake, out of my trance-like state. She hasn’t stirred. I’m at the door in four short steps, it squeaks when I slide it open. It’s Eric. He doesn’t know which brand of cat food we normally have. I say that it doesn’t really matter. The conversation is short. The phone beeps for a while, after he’s hung up. The long hallway, fourteen doors, seven on each side, twelve for the residents, two for the bathrooms, is quiet, all doors remain closed. My breathing is still shallow and I wonder what a panic attack feels like. I go back inside.
Whenever I open this door I feel like I’m being shocked, not in the non-literal, dramatic sense, but in the real-life tiny-taser that Danny used to tease me with when we were little kind of way; a small electric shock bursts right through my body, like a ripple in water I feel its aftershocks in my bones. This alien landscape, that is almost more familiar than my current apartment, is as foreign as I imagine walking on the moon must feel like, and it always manages to cause me physical pain. This furniture, landscape of my youth, does not fit within these small confines. The fact that the ancient mahogany table stands there, on top of that rug, is grotesque to me in a way that I am never able to convey coherently to Eric. How do I explain that it’s not the wood that matters to me, but the memories ingrained in it: that one time that I fell, hit my forehead on the corner of it, had a band aid on there for the better part of spring that year, or when I had my first boyfriend over, and set our glasses down on top of it, without coasters, because I didn’t want him to think I was a neat freak, I think I did my first homework assignments on there, ink spatters still visible in the left corner, where my pen exploded after I’d been playing with it a bit too forcefully. It doesn’t fit here, belongs in the house where I grew up, it should be used as an actual dining table, not as a display for the small mountain of pills she has to take; all carefully separated into plastic containers, three for each day, morning, afternoon, and evening. Exposed too, are the many wooden picture frames standing on top of it, mismatched in the most careful way, holding photographs showing our life before all this started happening: Danny and I when we were little, riding our first bike, our first day in school, mum and dad’s wedding picture in which they have no wrinkles yet, one picture of the Labrador we had until I was fifteen. In the beginning it helped, the photographs brought memories back, allowed them to swim to the surface for a while. Now she sometimes looks at them with great focus, then informs me that her sister looks adorable in the picture with the bike. My eyes glide over the stack of colourful books the attendants sometimes read to her, they say it makes her calm, that she likes the stories. I refuse to read my mother a book that was written with four year olds in mind. The rest of the furniture is mostly new, not a lot of the old, solid wooden furniture would have fit inside these walls. Grandma’s closet would have filled up half of the room, we had to replace it with an IKEA one, it’s white and what the attendants call “very practical”, they recommended this one to us, its blandness fits perfectly with the rest of the room. The contents have slowly shifted from beautiful skirts and dresses, smart suits and high heels, to trousers with an elastic waist, easy to get off and on, shirts without any buttons, those take too long in the morning, Velcro strapped shoes, and a whole section is filled with adult diapers. The rug is still from home, its slightly frayed edges calm me somewhat, as is the glass lamp that sits beside her hospital-style bed. The modest paintings clash with the slightly yellow walls, the last resident was still allowed to smoke in her cage, we’re now required to use the balcony.
Rather than the smell of home that usually greeted me when my eyes set sight upon this furniture, now a smell of this place hits my nose (imagine a combination of bleach, flowers that have been sitting in vase for too long, perfume old ladies use, and a tiny waft of urine). My body feels empty, eyes have dried out, a wasteland in this room. She still hasn’t stirred.
As part of a series, for part I see: “Asphyxiation”