Reflections on growing up... at fifty.

Three days in Madrid

Sleeping in the recliner. Wake up with various pains on my back from trying to contort into a comfortable position. Silence, I reach my hand up and hold my mothers hand. It’s warm, I squeeze and feel the waxiness of her skin between my fingers, and her life is just warmth and shallow breaths now. I’m sitting on her lap, we are visiting relatives and it’s the end of the night, dinner, conversation, the grown ups are still deep in conversation but children are falling asleep, my head is resting on her chest, her arms around me. She is talking, but I only hear her voice through her chest, her voice and her heartbeat at the same time and the muffled sound makes my eyelids heavy. The memory makes my eyelids droop now as my bones try to lock into a comfortable position in the recliner. “Good night Dolores” I let go of her hand and fall back into sleep, my ear pressed on the sweaty vinyl.

August sun is flooding the room and mum is still breathing. It’s a body, a body that carried her for seventy-two years and now is hanging on because it is programmed to live. What is a person unless it can be manifested? Where are the signs of her? To her thinness was illness. She didn’t see herself as healthy unless she had reached a social level of obesity. She grew up in the time when only rich people were fat. Anorexia was incomprehensible to her. Now she was thin, very thin and beyond ill. And she was gone, but her body didn’t know how to switch off. It automatically took in the next breath, then the next, then the gasp. I told her it was fine to go, to stop and let go, leave to that place that dead people go to, or nowhere, or just stop.

I thanked her for my life, for being my mother, for holding me, for crying with pride for me. And I told her to go, as if for once she could something for herself. Go, rest, enough is enough. I went home to the apartment and had a shower and went looking for an Internet café to organise a funeral. Things have changed since I lived here, I had had trouble buying credit for a mobile phone now I had to organise a funeral. I sat in a net café near Puerta del Sol and googled “Funerales, Madrid”. Entries with words like Ocaso , sunset, companies with names like dusk and twilight.

Then the phone rang and my uncle at the hospital said “You better come over it doesn’t look good”. The taxi took no time to get to the hospital through the empty Sunday, summer holidays streets of Madrid. My uncle was waiting outside the palliative ward and told me to go in. A young doctor stopped me and asked me if I was her son when I wanted the body released. I told him that he had just told me she was dead and he apologised profusely then pointed me towards the room. She had already been propped with a rolled up towel around her neck and her hands crossed on her chest, her lips, for the first time since we arrived were closed. I touched her hand and it was cold at last. I leaned on the grey steel locker against the wall and sobbed. Then I stood at the window looking at the skyline, Madrid empties out in August as most people escape to the coast, it was Sunday, the pollution was down and it was quiet, for once Madrid was quiet. The air was so clear that the sunlight sparkled like I’ve only seen in Australia. And there it ended. Looking out at the commincations tower, El Pirulí. In the most beautiful, bright sunshine I have ever seen in Madrid and I thought “What a perfectly beautiful day to die”.


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