Sara Dobie Bauer

Dead of Winter

We’re in the death room. Waiting. She doesn’t respond. Her eyes don’t widen when I enter. The half of her face that still works doesn’t curve into a smile. No, almost gone now. Almost dead.

The sound of air down her throat rattles — in, out, in, out — like a robot that operates out of duty, habit, without any likelihood of waking one day. It won’t be long now.

The death room: an uncomfortable in-between place of waiting. We sit in plastic chairs nurses have set. Winter now, the bird feeders outside are empty, bird-less. The trees have no leaves. Long, gnarled fingers reach higher … higher …

Grandma still wears her wedding band. Her fingernails are painted a fluorescent shade of blue: the color a child wears to a summer birthday bash. My aunt’s work, the child become mother as Grandma holds on, won’t leave us, No, I won’t leave you, can’t leave you, who will take care of you once I’m gone?

We wait in the death room. The smell of urine and thawed frozen food. Microwaved. Radiated to the point of non-essence. Melted down to be sucked through tubes. It’s awful. The smell.

(Can’t stand that fucking smell.)

My head is heavy in my hands. I don’t want to wait anymore. How many more days of my mother’s trembling words? My aunt fixing the blue nail polish? The birdfeeders that swing in the cold, winter wind—pendulums on a clock with no hands because death has no respect for time.

There is no time in the death room. Only smells. The sound of beeping machines. Cries from another room.

Breathe in, breathe out … until you stop breathing and the death room freezes. Tears hang on eyelashes and do not fall. Mouths stay shut. Peace in the death room as shoulders sag. We stay frozen like a photograph, ghosts beneath ice.

We’ve been in the death room so long, we forgot how to live, and the winter world will not remind us.

(Photo by Brett Levin.)