Being the only one in charge of mother’s care has become a burden. A terrifying thought bubbles up from my kindling Caldron. I remember her refusing long term care insurance. In six months, there’s been so damned much to learn. Dark clouds begin to gather overhead.
Mother is on a weekly schedule of kidney dialysis. I coordinate all of the in-house, mobile appointment s with the Davita clinicians. She’s not able to leave home, after all, Dr’s orders for now.
She’s also developed severe bedsores that I care for, after all, she can’t afford a registered nurse. On each of her buns, there are patches of disgusting road rash, each one damp with the weepy stench of death.
Her Vitamix 7500 is getting a good workout. The neighbors must think I use a motorboat to liquefy her pot-roast and Kale. All of her food intakes must meet the listed nutritional guidelines. Each murky drink is the color of bile.
The thank you I get, these past several months, is the constant glare of imploded eyes, shiny as obsidian. Though, most days, she struggles to lie on her side and turns away from me. Observing the cage means everything.
For her effort, the crows singularly exist to mock her in a foreign language. They resent their lack of freedom as much as I do. In the dark molasses of hours, her expression remains tortured, with the exception of when I change her colostomy bag. That’s the only time I get a big grin out of her.
The three crows live in a very large ornate cage. Its construction is filigreed silver, heavy gauged wire, in the sublime architecture of Art Nouveau. Each crow has its very own perch. At the bottom of the cage is a tinfoil floor that needs changing twice a day. The colossal cage dangles from a gold plated chain, securely fastened to the ten-foot ceiling.
One of the crows is named Easter. She’s the only one that chooses to speak. The others mostly sit still, on their designated branches. Mostly when they speak, it’s mechanical clicks and clacks.
This early morning, before I leave for one of my server jobs, yes, I am back to that, I go over mother’s daily needs. I speak out loud, but she never responds. Most importantly, I make sure mother is positioned to face her birds. As I turn her this early morning, all three Crow’s sit on their respective purchases. They seem content to chatter, crackle, and invent new sounds, open their new found rusty locks.
If it wouldn’t traumatize mother, I’d set them free in the dark of winter woods behind the house. The woods are childhood haunted at night, thick with birch and red oak. I’ve grown to detest my mother and her ever watchful, feathered friends.
Mother’s made me a nervous wreck, lately. When she does speak, she only wants to regress and engage in our usual mental tug-of-war. She’s grown irretrievably hateful and demanding.
To top this off, my aching skull is filled to the brim with persnickety, nervous visions and sounds of crows. And, there’s this constant checklist of thoughts, “Don’t forget their food. Check the lock on the cage door. Give them fresh air. Entertain them, mother certainly does. Water! Don’t forget the fresh water for God’s sake. Drape the cage at night. Change the tinfoil floor for the eternally shitting crows, check! OMG, lock the bedroom door, tight, away from my beloved Alexander the Great and certain slaughter.”
She’s got me stepping on eggshells under around here. It’s a makeshift, childhood insane asylum. All this is crushing for me. After all, who wants to be an ‘unwanted daughter?’ One who’s responsibility is to take care of a sick witch of a mother.
As I leave for my three-hour shift, I situate mother and make her as comfortable as possible. Today, she gets an extra pillow under her feet and head. Then I observe. Her head fits the pillow as if it’s a porcelain palm holding an oversized rotten pumpkin. Her eyes appear as two sunken craters. They ooze and shine as if burned vinyl.
As I turn to go, her vision remains fixed on the Crow’s. As I attempt to shut the door behind me, I peak at her wicked smirk. It’s the size of a butcher’s cut.
Easter, the smartest Raven flicks out a word, “Cat.” She clatters it more than once, “Cat, Cat Cat!” The sound is the tail of a rattlesnake. It gives me the chills.
I’m cautious never to let the feathered black spades distract me. If they were canine, they’d be butcher’s dogs and alley wise, constantly sporting new tricks in exchange for bloody knuckles and ham hocks.
Because of Easter’s chatter, I’m distracted. I forget to shut the bedroom door tight. As I leave her room for work, for the last time, I force on a smile.
More than once my black Bombay, Alexander, has nearly gotten in. There’s nothing he’d like better than to swing from the ornate cage and kill mother’s feathered pets.
Mother hates my only friend, I can tell by how she narrows her eyes when he wails outside her bedroom door. She remembers him getting in once, and how he’d made a beeline to jump at the cage. I’ll never forget the look on mother’s face, when I restrained my black lion and removed him from the room.
Yes, ‘him’, he’s a boy cat, that’s why mother hates him. He’s just like father. It’s because they all have testicles. If she could kill him on the spot, I’m sure she would.
One might ask, why in the world would mother sign over the paid off house and unspent fortune to me, such a frugal and vindictive human? But, Mother gladly signed everything over to me, so tidy and legal. All in front of her very own trusted Notary Republic. With great effort, Mother lifted her weak arm, and ink-in the letter ‘X’, but gladly so.
She did all that was asked, for one damned reason. It was due to a promise I made. I promised her that I would keep Alexander the Great out of her bedroom, forever. Over time, it became clear, her biggest fear in her pathetic life was that Alexander would kill all her precious she-birds, and then smother her slowly by sucking a drizzle of milk or sweet tea from her lips and throat.
My diabolical plan was only conceived after I discovered the box. It was a well-hidden, cardboard box. The moderate-sized box contained letters. You know the type: “I love you,” signed, “Daddy.” “I want you to come live with me,” signed, “Daddy.” “Honey, your mother says you hate me and don’t want to see me anymore, is that true? I’ll wait for your reply.” signed, “Love, Daddy.” “I’m so sorry you feel that way, I’ll leave you alone for good,” signed, “Love Always, Dad.”
It was very odd, the way father signed off the letters, each one addressed to someone changing, maturing. How peculiar I thought, how the correspondence abruptly stopped after 2011?
That’s the only day I recalled, not leaving for work a nervous wreck. The same day I begin to think about not securing her precious door.
The early morning it actually happened, I felt good. My old boss at the Casino in Biloxi said he’d love to have me back. After all, I’m such a diligent and organized planner.
On the way home from my last three-hour shift serving breakfast forever, I imagine the horror that awaits me.
My first fantasy is that Alexander the Great, my lovely, will be so glad to see me. After all, his tummy is full. I haven’t fed him in two days.
“I’m so sorry Alexander,” I’ll say to him, and pout my lips.
When I arrive home, first I say hello to mother. She’s laying there dead, waiting to greet me. Of course, her face is damp from all the crying, from all the pent up guilt inside her. After all, she’s kept father’s letters treasured away from me all those years. She of course doesn’t say a word. It doesn’t matter anyway. I never intend to forgive her. I don’t hug her, and there are no affectionate last goodbyes. She’s just a pile of broken ribs and rotting, smelly bones anyway.
“Mother” I say, in my best daughter voice, “I just remembered, Dr. Covington said to make sure you never get too excited. He said it would place a terrible stress on your spider web heart. For that I’m very sorry” But of course, she doesn’t hear me.
Before I light up Jimi’s Little Wing on the Bluetooth, I practice being respectful and how to get a knot in my stomach because of my loss. As planned, it’s showtime.
Before they take her, I enlighten the coroner to make sure he dresses her in something fashionable. The black body bag will do. After all, black is her favorite color.
I look extra somber as they wheel out the gurney with mother’s skinny ass on it, fane a tear or two. And then, it’s over the threshold with her, out of my new house, out of my life.
Cat is the only word I let perch in the cage of my skull. I leave the cage door open. After all, everything inside with wings has already flown.
About The Author
Dan A. Cardoza’s poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in the Apple in the Dark, Aphelion, BlazeVOX, Bull, Cleaver, Coffin Bell, Door=Jar, Drunken Pen Writing, Entropy, Dark City Magazine, Gravel, Lowestoft Chronicles, Mystery Tribune, New Flash Fiction Review, Poetry Northwest, Spelk, Your Impossible Voice. Best of the Net Anthology Nomination, Coffin Bell, 2020.
If you want to check out what else Dan is up to, you can find him on Twitter @Cardozabig and on Instagram.