The dog bite looked innocent enough at first. But within days, my mother was fading away.
We had been close, my mother and I. She always told me I was just like her. I didn't mind getting my hands dirty. Didn't mind challenges. There was the time Kyle's toy fell in the muddy river. It was so dear to him, and he cried so much, I pushed up my sleeves and reached all the way up to my shoulders to get it out. There was the time teacher said girls couldn't be good at math. I'd studied and worked till I gave myself headaches, till I wanted to cry with exhaustion, till he had to admit I was the best in the class. My mother always said, "Life will knock you over if you let it. So don't."
I guess she'd been knocked down plenty. I knew she loved my father, and he loved her, but he sure wasn't a lot of help. He'd bring home just enough to keep us going until his next payment. He normally drank up what little extra we might have had. It was up to my mother to scrape together enough for birthdays or Christmas or "vacations" (which were really just walks to the beach and ice cream). She was the strongest woman I knew, and I was proud to be like her.
But that dog bite was too much of a knock. And in days my beautiful, proud mother was wilting before my eyes.
It'd been an escaped dog, just wandering in the streets. She'd done nothing, nothing at all to upset it. But it just ran at her. I was there. It clamped on her arm and held while she screamed. I pounded it on the back with a plank, yelling nonsense and curses. A man ran up, saw, took his knife and stabbed the beast. He paid for my mother's doctor costs (just the doctor on poor side, not a proper one). He said the dog got out of the kennel. He said it'd cost a fortune to lose, but dogs like that got too dangerous once they started attacking people. The doctor said the wound was clean, the dog had been healthy, my mother should be fine.
But she wasn't.
My father lurked in the sick room, watching me tend to her. When she was awake, he sometimes tried to talk to her. He promised her a thousand things if she would get better. He promised to make more, spend less, give up drinking altogether. He promised her pretty things, expensive things. I sat and wondered if he knew my mother at all. Didn't he know if she could have willed herself to live, she would without having to be bribed?
Near the end, she stopped trying to answer him. Instead, when she was awake, she just watched me. Sometimes she'd smile. Sometimes she'd look so sad, I'd have to smile for her.
That last night, she looked at me with feverish eyes. She said, "You must watch after your brother and sister. You must keep together. You must be their mother and father and friend." Then she had started to cry. I was alarmed--she had never cried in front of me. My father was there, and tried to assure her that he'd be those things for all of us. After all, I was only sixteen.
But she looked at me and said, "Fight." And I knew she wanted to say more. I felt somehow that the secret to life was just behind her eyes. I took her hands from my father and nodded, pretending I understood. Then she was dead.
I felt rather than saw my father's flare of jealousy--that I was the one who received my mother's last blessing, last words of love. But I ignored him. Because suddenly I was mother and father and friend and somehow orphan and friendless all at once. I bowed over my mother's hands and felt my own tears mix with hers.
Current Mood: numb