“You’ve probably had a stroke, Mom. That’s what the doctor thinks. That’s why you fell down.”
“I ran down the stairs. It couldn’t have been more than a minute before I got to you,” my father assured her. “The paramedics brought you here and I called Judy.”
As I watched my mother’s face to see how she was taking this information, I was struck by how different the left side was from the right. On the left, her mouth drooped and her left eyelid was halfway closed over an unfocused and sleepy-looking eye. The lines on that side of her face had vanished; she looked years younger.
She closed her right eye now and whispered in her small, squashed voice, “A stroke. Just like my mother. I never wanted this to happen to me. My poor mother.” Then, with more force, she moaned, “Oh! I’m in such pain!”
I looked down at her left hand as my eyes filled with tears. My mother had always taken good care of her hands. Her nails were shaped and polished, her fingers were long and smooth. The hand I was holding could have belonged to someone half my mother’s age.
“Hold my hand,” she moaned as if she didn’t know I was already holding it. “I’m in so much pain. This is awful. I need Atavan. Get Dr. Amundson! I want Atavan. Why won’t they give me my Atavan?”
“I don’t think they can do that yet,” I told her in the gentle voice I use with small children. “They’re still running some tests.”
“Hold my hand,” she said again. My father and I were still holding her hands, of course. He was sitting on a round stool that a nurse had brought for him a few minutes ago, and I was standing close beside the bed.
“We’re both holding your hands,” I said.
“Oh,” she murmured. Then, gasping, “I’m in so much pain!”
“Where is the pain, Mom?”
She freed her right hand from my father’s and fluttered it over her body, up and down. “Where is the soul located?” she said. “I don’t know where it is.”
For a moment I didn’t realize she was answering my question. “You mean that’s where the bad pain is? In your soul? Your soul is in pain?”
Her hand slowed and sought my father’s hand again. “Yes,” she whispered, sounding relieved that I’d understood. “That’s right… so much pain.”
She held my father’s hand, with its ropy veins and large knuckles, as if this weren’t the same man she’d maligned every day of my childhood, as if this man was someone to trust and treasure. I had an inappropriate urge to laugh. I looked up and caught my father’s eye. A little smile hovered over his mouth as he returned my glance. I imagined he, too, had been touched by her words.