As the short spasms of choking noises continued, she rushed into his bedroom and slipped her hands around the worn pan to steady it. He was holding the black handle, his face lowered to the brim of the pan and when the anticipated broke forth, it flew from his mouth. She waited until all was quiet and then left the room, returning with a warm washcloth.
"Here you are, Daniel."
He took it as he had countless times since this journey of agonizing treatments had begun. With a slow motion, he wiped his mouth.
She carried the pan carefully out of the room and poured the contents into the toilet. Each time, it was as though a part of her was thrown into the basin and flushed away.
In his room he lay on his back, the glow from the night light casting shadows on his pale face and hairless head.
She held his hand and felt each bony finger.
"Thanks, Mom." She was always impressed with his gratitude. He added softly, "Did I wake you up?"
She reassured him that she had been awake before he had started to cough. She had been lying in bed thinking of health, the end of treatments, no longer feeling the hospital "owned" their lives and blond hair growing back. His next question was asked in a concerned whisper, "Mommy, what should we put on top of our Christmas tree?"
"I don't know. What do you think?"
"Should it be an angel or a star?"
She yawned but she did not feel sleepy even though it was only three in the morning. There was a peace filtering the room and she held his hand and listened as he switched the subject to teenagers. "What do they like to eat?"
"I guess we could ask Renee. She's almost thirteen."
"Is thirteen a teenager?"
"I wonder if they like pizza or chicken..."
"I bet they like pizza."
Suddenly, as though remembering, he smiled at her. "Oh, Mom, I think you've got it right. They do like pizza."
His smile was wide, reminding her of marigolds, bobbing their silky heads underneath a summer's warmth.
Two months later his weakened lungs no longer take in air.
She watches her own heart slip out of her body and slither in a pool of brokenness upon every floor, in every room, no matter where she goes, her heart at her feet. The neighbors don't see her heart, nor does the bag boy at the local Food Lion, not even her friends at church.
She thought living with cancer was a weary journey but this new journey of death weighs much more on her shoulders, her mind, and with each breath. When she weeps, she is sure her heart will burst. But it just continues at her feet, cold and heavy.
She is scared her six-year-old has no chance for a normal life now. This child has lost her best friend, and her parents can barely handle their own tears.
She fears the baby growing inside her womb will be born dead or deformed or suffocate from her torrents of tears.
Her eighteen-month-old son cries; he has cut his finger. She wants to kiss it but her compassion and concern seem to have left and she sits motionless in the other room until he toddles to her.
The months pierce one into another, each day beginning with the reality she cannot grasp--Daniel will not be waking up in his bed today. She dreams of being a well-known author, having editors as well as the public want to learn about grief, death and her precious four-year-old.
Each time the phone breaks into her days she hopes it will be her agent with good news. Usually, it is a telemarketer, insisting she buy
something she does not need.
At her mailbox, she searches through the credit card bills and advertising flyers for a response from an editor she has submitted an article to. First she throws the junk mail into her trash bin. Then she pops off the withered blossoms of her potted orange marigolds and crushes them
between her fingers, filling her lungs with their aroma. This may be as good as it gets, she thinks, her head tilted towards the blue spring sky and then repeats the thought aloud.
"You seem to be doing so well," her neighbor Maggie stresses, and smiles.
She doesn't smile. She only clutches her throat and hopes she will not make a gutteral sound like an animal who has been wounded.
She begins to realize all she has is today. So she packs the diaper bag, puts the kids in the van, and they head to the park to play.
"Can we have Lunchables?" Her eldest is hopeful.
"And chips?" Eager faces.
"...I guess so."
Even the baby laughs.
At Food Lion, on a whim, she picks up a bag of M & M's and placing it in her cart, thinks, they deserve these, their lot has been rough.
There may be no tomorrow. This life, this here and now with whiny children, a mountain of laundry and diapers to change and buy may be
all she ever gets. She embraces the children, noticing their beautiful eyes.
And she imagines Daniel smiling at her, saying, "Oh, Mom, I think you got it right."
She sees marigolds, bright and full of life, as he once was.
As he still is. Far across and above the shimmering fields.