The Star – by Jef Murray
A Tale of an Aging Mother and her Son
His mother was propped up in bed; seemingly in the same position as when he’d left her two days before. Her eyes fluttered open. “Sam! Have you come to take me home?”
He sighed and pulled a chair up beside her. Through the window above her bed, he could see that the sun was setting, turning the low clouds crimson.
“No, mom, not tonight.”
“Why not? I thought that’s why you were here….”
“No. I just came to visit. You know I can’t take you home until the doctor says you can walk.”
“But I’ve been walking! I must have walked a whole hour last night, up and down the road! I tracked mud all over the place, and they had to clean it all up this morning!” His mother smiled smugly, and then looked past where Sam was sitting.
“Hey! You there! Get out of here! No one wants you listening in on what we’re saying! You just get out of my house! Go home!”
He looked behind him at the open door leading into the hallway. No one was there.
His mother had first come to the nursing home after having major surgery at a local hospital. She was only in her early eighties, but something went terribly wrong when she went under the anesthesia. Her bright, vivacious mind lost all of its cohesion; the engaging, strong-willed woman who had raised him seemed to have been shattered, replaced by this person, who was still his mother, but who seemed unable to distinguish between dreams and reality.
He saw her as often as he was able with his work schedule, usually once or twice a week, and she regularly regaled him with stories of events he knew could never have been. But she so interspersed her hallucinations with reality that he always found himself checking with the nurses afterwards to sort it all out. Listening to her stories was like looking at a broken looking-glass, each shard of which was slightly askew.
“So, when are you getting me out of here?”
He snapped back to reality. “Mom, you know I can’t get you out. You can’t walk, and I can’t lift you in and out of your wheelchair by myself, even if there was someplace I could take you.”
“You can take me home with you!”
“No I can’t. My apartment building has stairs and no elevator, and my bathroom isn’t handicap-enabled. There’s no way I could take care of you there, even if I was home full time.”
“But you don’t need to take care of me! I can walk! You know I can!”
“Mom,” he said quietly, “You haven’t walked in four months….”
She was silent, eying him suspiciously. He saw the storm-clouds gathering on her brow.
“I have too walked! Who says I haven’t? Those nurses are just lying to you! I walk around here all the time!”
He rubbed his eyes. “OK, then. Fine. Show me. Get out of bed and walk around the room, and then I’ll get you out of here.”
For a moment, the old woman looked startled. Her eyes shifted back and forth wildly, finally coming to rest on a point in space just beyond the foot of her bed.
“No,” she said after a long pause. “I don’t feel like it now….” She looked confused and angry, but also deflated.
He lifted his eyes toward the window once more. The reds of sunset had been succeeded by violet, then indigo, and he noticed a particularly bright star just beginning to peep through the fading gauze of heaven. Its light splintered and sparkled as it splashed through the windowpane, and he was suddenly reminded of a time when he was a young boy in his grandmother’s house.
His mother’s mother had been unusually bright and eccentric, and she had collected strange baubles from her many world travels: letter openers from Greece, tartan-clad figurines from Scotland, cuckoo clocks from the Black Forests of Germany. She had a flock of water glasses and jars of every shape, color, and size imaginable on a shelf that spanned a western-facing window in her living room. He remembered watching the golden sunlight scatter rainbows through those glasses, painting the room with the drama and color of a medieval tapestry.
He remembered, too, those days when he and his siblings had stayed with his grandmother on summer nights. Their cousins came to play with them and they would romp through the huge tree-stuffed yard until late in the evening, catching lightning bugs in the gloaming.
“Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight…” he muttered under his breath, thinking of those days. It occurred to him that fully forty years had passed since he had last gathered Ball jars filled with fire.
“…I wish I may I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight!”
He sat and thought. “Now, what would I wish for…?”
He looked down at his mother. Her anger and confusion were gone.
“I’m right here, mom.”
“Sam, I’m never going home again, am I?”
His heart leapt into his throat. He swallowed hard as tears welled up. “No, mom, you’re not. I…I’d love to take you home again, but I can’t. You’re not well enough….”
“And I’m not getting any better…am I?”
Sam was startled. He looked hard at his mother, and for the first time since the surgery, he thought that maybe, just maybe, she really understood what he was saying. He shook his head. “No, mom.” Then he reached for her hand and held it up to his lips.
“It’s OK, Sam”, she told him. “I love you. And I know you’re doing the best you can….”
His tears started and wouldn’t stop. Sam held onto her hand, eyes clenched shut, soaking her fingers and his, and trying not to sob out loud.
When he was finally able, he put her hand back down on the bed and wiped his eyes. His mother had fallen asleep again. In the morning, he was sure, she would not remember.
He looked one last time through the window. The star was shining more brightly than ever against the blackness of the night: high, and pure, and beautiful…but lonely, too.
Jef Murray is an internationally known Tolkien and fantasy artist/illustrator and counterfeit essayist. His paintings, sketches, and writings sprout sporadically from the leaves of Tolkien and Inklings publications (Amon Hen, Mallorn, Beyond Bree, Silver Leaves, Mythprints) and Catholic journals (The St. Austin Review, Gilbert Magazine, The Georgia Bulletin) worldwide. Visit Jef’s website at www.JefMurray.com.
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