Father pulls his skin taught across his lips with left hand, takes the metal shaver in right and aims flawlessly for the moustache scrub. I watch in silence, admiring each gesture. The foam floats above the bowl of warm water, the sound of precise scraping focuses the act in daily sequence. I sit, grateful to be able to watch him today in this usual routine. I slip on my good socks and fine faux alligator loafers. I am twelve. The uptown apartment is clean. The stew is ready for supper.
He turns around and hardens his gaze upon my clothing, pleated
As we turn toward the cathedral, I watch women pull their mantillas over their chignons and curls, each tapping their heels on the limestone walkways as a genteel army of the faithful. My throat so parched that I believe I would not be able to speak if asked, I step lightly behind his brown shoes, conscious not to waver. I have never been in a hospital.At the large iron door to St Josèphe Clinique, he stops and passes his hand over his pale cheeks, takes a deliberate deep breath, “she almost died you know! Don't bother her or ask anyth..” his voice falters.
A nun approaches us, father straightens his shoulders and asks for my mother's room number. We are taken to a ground floor waiting room, bronze statuettes of saints line the long space in discreet niches. I scrutinize each in order to keep my pulse from running away from me. I have never bothered to learn which is supposed to help whatever ails people, so I scatter a few begging thoughts across the hall. I touch one sleek be-robbed monkish figure and quickly withdraw my hand for fear of being spied upon by a rigid Supérieure or so. I don't want my father to find me weak.
When I finally am allowed in my mother's room, he loosens his jaw, “ I' ll be going to the café, don't wait up for me” he starts toward me, I open my arms slightly, he stares past me then turns abruptly, the heavy door creaks behind him. My breath is shallow, my eyes painful, I hear faint echoes of graceful nurses on duty. A doctor exits mother's single room, “ your mother will be fine, she will stay with us for another week, don't touch the bed, it may hurt her” he smiles directly at me.
Mother's face seems like a bloated ivory figurine floating above pristine sheets, I have never known her to be so filled and friendly. Who is this person so relaxed and amenable? She reaches for my hand, I hesitate. “ it' s not catching you know, I had appendicitis and it busted and caused peritonitis, very dangerous, very painful” I sit on the padded chair beside her iron bed, looking at all the medical implements around. A book on her table, next to a short glass of water with a straw in it. I wonder how she can sit there all day, she neither reads nor drinks water. She tells me of friends visiting her, I am surprised to hear she has friends, I am not allowed any..
Well, her seamstress and the jeweler she works for have been here, then she tells of a family acquaintance, but warns me against sharing this information, I forget immediately as usual. The doctor comes by and motions me to rise and depart, I lightly touch mother's hand and suppress an awkward grimace which is surging from my chest and threatens to turn me into a wailing child, “come back next week-end” she says, softly. The tears refuse to be contained, I pour out of the huge front door along with an unstoppable stream of tears and moans. Blind and deaf to traffic, I rush to the park across the street and hide by the reindeer enclosure, they know me well, I know them, they snort at me in consolation.
I wonder if the spotted deer are orphans, I don't have dry bread to give to them today. I don't have anything to give to anyone today.