Momma - A Will Starr Short Story
Her rapid breathing was finally slowing down, and Charlotte Hanford, RN, knew that her mother was in the final, slow process of dying. She rose and peered out the window, where the cold February storm was still spitting a combination of snow and rain. Both she and her mother had always loved cold, wet weather, so it was appropriate that she end her days on such a night.
It had started when her mother went shopping one morning last spring and failed to return for hours. When she finally did come home, she brushed off Charlotte’s questions, claiming that she’d just lost track of time. A week later, her mother confessed in tears that she had suddenly been unable to remember how to get home or Charlotte’s phone number. Only after a kindly clerk in a 7-11 market asked to look at the address on her driver’s license and gave her directions was she able to get back on the right road.
“You’ve had a TIA, a Transient Ischemic Attack…a ministroke.”
Doctor Miller peered over her reading glasses at Mrs. Hanford, who turned and looked to Charlotte for confirmation. Charlotte nodded.
“That’s why you couldn’t remember how to get home, Mom. It wasn’t just your age. It’s a warning. We’ll have to be very careful from here on out.”
Charlotte was an only child, conceived almost immediately after her parents married, so they eagerly looked forward to a large family. But her mother mysteriously never conceived again, despite the tests that indicated both parents were fertile. As the years passed, Charlotte finally gave up on the idea of having siblings. It was simply not meant to be. But the silver lining was her parent’s total devotion to their only offspring, and so Charlotte drew ever closer to her beloved parents.
Her father was an aeronautical engineer and met her mother when he asked to congratulate the chef on a superb dinner served to him and his business acquaintances. To his stunned amazement, the chef turned out to be a stunning young slip of a woman who sized him up and decided right then and there that the handsome young man gawking at her would soon be asking for her hand. She was right, and less than a year later, they were man and wife.
The wind was picking up and rattling the storm windows as Charlotte, ever the nurse, prepared to take her mother’s pulse. But the quiet, peaceful look on her face changed her mind. Why bother when the inevitable was well on the way? Let her pass in peace and in her own good time.
Charlotte’s father had a nice, safe job in an office, so it never occurred to her when he kissed her goodbye on a sunny July morning that she would never see him again. After an all-nighter, a drunk on his way home in the early morning ran a red light and slammed into her father’s car on the driver’s side, killing him instantly. The drunk was bruised, but otherwise uninjured. Charlotte was barely eleven, and for weeks, was unable to cope with the reality of losing one of the two people who mattered most in her young life.
Her mother put aside her own grief to console her daughter, but to no avail. Her grades plummeted, and she hid herself in her room for hours. Even her best friends from school were unable to cheer her up. Finally, her mother called her into the kitchen one evening and had her sit at the family table.
“Your father always insisted that we eat together, because he was a happy sort of man who loved life and also loved to eat. That’s how we met. Do you remember the story?”
Charlotte nodded silently.
“He would not want you to suffer because he is gone, He would want you to be happy and live your life as his beloved daughter. I think you know that deep in your heart. Am I right?”
Charlotte nodded again.
Her mother’s voice softened. “I will always be with you, my love. No matter what, I will always be with you. Do you believe me? Look at me.”
Charlotte raised her eyes to mother, and nodded through her tears. ‘Yes, Momma, I believe you.”
Her mother rose and went to the oven. A few moments later, she placed a small plate in front of her daughter, along with an icy cold glass of milk.
“These were your father’s favorite treats. They’re spicy molasses cookies, and whenever he was troubled by anything, he asked for a small plate of these, freshly baked, and an ice cold glass of milk. It never failed to cheer him up, so now, I am presenting my beloved daughter with her Daddy’s little recipe for happiness.”
There were still occasional episodes of sadness, but Charlotte’s long period of grieving ended with simple cookies and milk that night, baked and served warm, like a mother’s love.
Charlotte glanced at the clock. David would be somewhere over Kansas by now, winging his way home. He was a budding writer, and one of his efforts had caught the eye of a publisher in New York, who made him an astounding offer. So he went to New York to make the deal, but he dropped it all when he learned that Charlotte’s mom was in trouble, and caught the first red-eye available. Thankfully, the publisher understood and told him the offer was good for as long as it took. David was a good man, a good husband, and the man she would love forever. She wished he was here.
The temperature had dropped again, and the spotty rain turned to large flakes of softly falling snow. Outside the window, the thermometer read twenty five degrees, and the wind was picking up. David would not arrive until seven in the morning at the earliest, and then there was the three hour drive up the mountain to Flagstaff. She was on her own.
The large, old home was very warm. Her mother was easily chilled, so the thermostat was set at eighty-five degrees. Even so, her frail body was covered by the down quilt Charlotte’s grandmother had made for her all those years ago. Her breathing was now very slow and shallow. Her time was near.
She brought the oak rocker from her father’s study and placed it next to the bed. It gave a feeling of comfort to know she was seated in a chair her father loved while she watched her mother drift off into eternity. She picked up her mother’s frail hand and kissed it.
“I will always love you, Momma, “ she whispered.
He mother’s eyelids fluttered slightly, and Charlotte was wondering if her mother heard her, when her eyes opened, and looked around for a moment before settling on her daughter’s face. Her lips moved, but Charlotte could not make out what she was saying so she bent down and held her ear just inches away from her mother’s whisper.
“I will always be with you, my love. No matter what, I will always be with you. Do you believe me? Look at me.”
Her face was glowing, and a small smile shadowed across her lips briefly as Charlotte nodded through her tears.
‘Yes, Momma, I believe you.”
The small smile remained, as her mother closed her eyes. She took one more small breath, and then she was gone.
For over an hour, Charlotte sat and held her mother’s cool hand, weeping quietly. At last, she tucked it under the quilt, and dried her eyes. She was now alone.
She decided against calling the mortuary out on such a night. It could wait until morning. She did lower the thermostat to a cool sixty five degrees. The chill didn’t matter any more. Her mother was past discomfort.
The light was on in the kitchen, and it annoyed her that in her forgetfulness, she must have left it on. She rose and walked to the kitchen door where she stopped and stared. At last, she sat down at the small table, where her hand automatically reached out to the icy cold glass of milk and the small plate of freshly baked, spicy molasses cookies, still warm from the oven and a mother’s love.