Birds Kiss the Sky on Sunday
“Osby! Osby!” That’s what I thought I heard as I lay in my mint green decorated, full-sized bed. I notice the mint green matches perfectly with the ivory coating on all four walls. These are hardly normal thoughts this late into the evening.
“Osby!” Mama horrendously yelled this time. Her shriveled, but high-pitched voice broke right through my thoughts. I hustled from atop my mattress as quickly as I could, even failing to cushion my feet inside my new fluffy slippers.
Her door was tightly shut, as if to protect a hidden fortress of gold. I could hear her heavy breathing from the other side. Whimper sounds of wheezing and short breaths solidified my worries of an on-coming heart attack. If Mama were to be under an attack, it would surely be her third in fifteen months. I didn’t know how she would fair since the second nearly killed her. Mama had been hospitalized for a full month while she struggled to regain her strength.
“Mama, I’m coming in. Hold on.” I opened the door with a slight bump from my shoulder. Damn, I have to get that frame fixed. There was Mama in her bed, still wrapped under two blankets. She was not holding her heart. Mama just sat there releasing strong breaths. Beads of sweat fought through her pores and her headscarf hung undone. She only had a nightmare.
“Osby! Why you leave me ‘lone like that, Osby? I had a bad dream and here you go missing like a damn remote control.” I walked over and held my mother in both arms. I wiped the perspiration off of her head with the palm of my hand.
“Where you been at Osby?”
“Mama. It’s me. Your son, Mama. I’m Louis. I’m not Daddy.”
“Hold me tighter Osby. I done dreamt that the devil done rose from the side
of my bed and everything went blood red. The devil grabbed me and I shole
wrestled him to the best I could, but that sucker was strong. He was so strong
that he done lifted me from my bed and dragged me right out of that there window.”
There was no window in her room. Lord knows I couldn’t even trust her to sleep in a room with one window like normal folks. She pointed at a painting she always loved since I was a young boy. It was a painting of a teenager ready to be baptized by an elder in the middle of a blue river. Above them was a bright blue sky with birds looking like they were kissing the sun. Like the birds, I kissed the top of my mother’s head and whispered in her ear.
“It’s gonna be alright Mrs. Jenkins. Just alright Mama.”
The doorbell rang. I’m going to be late for work and Mama been complaining about the burnt toast for ten minutes now. All I asked was for her to check on the toast while I gave Alex a call. Of course, Mama doesn’t remember that small request. Mama’s doctor kindly suggested putting her in a nursing home but she always said she’d die if ever the thought crossed any of her children’s minds. The alternative was to provide a visiting nurse that would act as a therapist as well as a sitter. Alex isn’t usually late, which always works for my behalf since the law firm requires extreme promptness. With Mama’s failing health and medical expenses, I’ve been a working paralegal for going on ten years, but I don’t complain about working for one of the top legal firms in the city. The bell rings again.
“I’m coming. Just stop ringing the bell.” My tie hangs loose around my neck like a sad medallion. I open the door. Alex is a very beautiful woman and some days, like today, she wears her curly hair down. Damn she looks good. I quickly fix my tie on sight.
“I’m sorry I’m late. I uh…had to-“
“Don’t even worry about it, Alex. It’s good to see you. Good morning. Come in.” I welcome her into my home and it seems as if she brought the sun in with her. She notices the off position my tie sits in and she tells me to hold still. With her small, gentle hands, she fixes my tie to lie correctly.
“Thank you. Mama’s in the kitchen. I don’t really cook to well so she’s a little antsy this morning.”
“No problem. “ she laughs simple harmony. “I got it from here. You’re going to be late. Enjoy your day.”
“You should ask that nice girl out, Louis.”
“Huh? What girl, Mama?”
“Don’t play with me boy. That nice house nurse that take care of me. What is her name?” Mama searched through her mental filing cabinet for the answer to her question. I revel in these rare moments when Mama knows exactly who I am. The instant mashed potatoes I prepared hangs in one big clump on the tip of her fork. The fork hangs idle in her shaky hand. She is not going to take another bite until her quest for an answer is completed.
“It’s Alex, Mama. Alex. You ask me her name almost every other night and
she’s been visiting you for months. Finish your dinner.”
“Alex! Her name is Alex, Louis. You should ask that nice girl out. She so fun
and beautiful. She probably know how to cook, too.” She’s looking at her half-eaten plate now. The thick mashed potatoes and the hard beef. The one thing I did right was the corn and that’s only because all I had to do was boil it. It is not exactly how I remember Mama’s cooking but I always try the best I can, given my minimum talents. I begin to feel sorrow for both her and I. We are both silent now. The only noise that can be heard is the seven ‘o’ clock news from the box in the living room. Just the two of us in a two story, dark home. I’m anxious for her to finish her meal so that I may prep her for bed and get to my nightly office work. She eats slowly and the random thoughts that grab her mind do not make the process any faster.
“You know what, Mama? I just think I may.”
I received a fortune from my fortune cookie at lunch one day. It read, “Receive your destiny opened handed.” It must have been true because Alex said yes. Today’s weather offered no chance of an excuse to get myself out of this date. Somehow, Alex and I found ourselves walking the park with Mama tagging by our sides. The sky is clear, holding the brightest sun I’ve seen all summer. Birds cruise freely, all open space within their dominion. If only I could taste such solitude.
“Louis, why don’t you and Alex go on up ahead of me. I’ll be sitting here
reading my bible.” Mama suggested.
“I don’t know, Mama. We don’t mind really.” I responded.
“Go, now. What I tell ya?” Mama would never relinquish once her mind is set. Alex and I could also use the space to get closer. I agreed. I hesitantly left Mama sitting on a bench shaded by a large tree I could never have mistaken. I felt awkward leaving her by her lonesome, but Alex assured me that Mama had been better with her memory and that we were in the area.
“Your mother’s a beautiful woman. She’s forgetful at times but I think she’s
getting better. She remembers my name now.”
“Yeah. When we first heard she had alzheimers, she only had problems with
remembering things that just happened. Now it’s a little more difficult. Some
days I’m her son, and most others, she thinks I’m my father.” I figured Alex would understand more than most people since she also has some sort of personal attachment with Mama. My father passed away a few years back; the two were separated, but they never divorced. With my mother’s mental health declining, Mama seems to be stuck on Osby’s infidelity years after the fact. Time moved forward with graceful speed, like a figure skater. The blue sky suddenly mixed pastels to create reds, oranges, and yellows on one never-ending canvas. I mentioned my disdain for allowing my mother so much time by her self and Alex fully understood. We walked back to Mama’s bench hand in hand. Not so much to my surprise, my mother was nowhere to be seen. I mentally scolded myself for being so careless. Alex and I spent the next ten minutes searching frantically for a sweet old lady with a single book in hand.
“Mrs. Jenkins!” I had to yell with the assumption that Mama has traveled back in time. At the crest of a small hill, I saw Mama quite a few yards away. She was speaking to a young couple that looks to have enjoyed a quiet picnic.
“Have ya’ll seen my husband Osby? He’s always disappearing somewhere?” I heard her ask the young couple. They are a bit confused, but are trying to help nonetheless. Alex and I finally reach Mama and the couple.
“Osby! Where ya been at? With some woman?” Mama scolds me. She takes a wild slapping swing, but I am able to dodge the blow. The couple glared at me in half confusion and half disgust. I assured them that I am Mama’s son and thanked them for all of their help. Alex solidified my story and the situation was amended. I took Alex home first and Mama cursed me as Osby until she finally rested in sleep.
Alex said Mama was getting worse and she was correct in her observations. Mama recognized me as Louis less and less with each passing week. Although the park incident was not the last time Alex and I went out, Mama’s declining mental stability slowly became the bigger picture between us. Mama would walk slower and lose her appetite quite often. I took her to get a physical exam because her breathing seemed heavier and the examiner prompted that I consider a clinic to relieve myself of the stress from Mama’s health. I could not find the nerve in me to part with my mother. With all she’s done for me, how could I feel good about going against her wishes? Everyone appeared opposed to the decisions I made regarding the issue. Not even the time Mama confused the bathtub with the toilet proved strong enough to move me.
There Alex was, going beyond her normal duties by deciding to cook on a normal basis for us, and she did not hear the toilet flush after Mama exited the bathroom. Alex knew she had been in
there a while and decided to see if she had been wrong. The toilet bowl sat there, clean of any waste. Even with that, I continued on living like everything was normal.
“Osby.” There she goes again. I tucked Mama into bed earlier and believed she was sound asleep. I hadn’t heard a peep from her for nearly an hour. I had a small case to prepare for the office tomorrow and did not feel like exhorting much energy for anything else. At this point, I normally went along with being my father to save for time. I would sit and talk about old times and pretend I knew about the things Mama would refer to. She deserves to be as happy as anyone else.
“Osby.” I decided to see what my mother could want. I knocked and announced that I was coming in. Mama sat on the bed with her nightgown slightly hanging, eating her like Jonah’s whale. I walked over and adjusted her clothing. She seemed very warm. Mama gently rubbed my knee. I took her hand and placed it on her belly.
“Mama. I’m not Osby. Get some sleep.” She grabbed my hand and kissed my knuckles before I knew it was coming. Her lips were hard.
“Hold me Osby. The children are sleep.” Ignoring her comment, I stood to shut off her lamp so Mama could get some sleep in peace. She firmly grabbed my wrist. Her palms felt moist and hot.
“Fuck me. We haven’t made love in so long, Osby.” I could not take this anymore. I struggled free from Mama’s grasp, almost pulling her to the ground.
“Mama! I am not Osby. I’m your son. I’m Louis!” She fell silent. Her eyes stared coldly into me. Her expressionless face locked in my direction. She began to cry. Small tears slowly slid down her cheek at first, then she clutched her face with both hands. I couldn’t watch her in sorrow. I sat on the edge next to her and hugged her with both arms.
“You don’t love me anymore do ya, Osby?” she said through her sobs. I did not answer. My soul broke at that moment. Water from my own eyes wet the thin strands of white hair atop my mother’s head. My mother, the woman that reared me from a child, no longer knew who I was. She began to breathe heavy, then very irregular. Vibrations from her body climbed up my arm. She struggled to catch her breath as she clenched my shirt between her frail fingers. Mama was having her third heart attack. I only had so much time to run to a telephone and demand the paramedics act as if they were saving the President’s life him self, but I did not move. I only held my dying mother tighter to her son. Grabbing her chest, Mama looked at me and tried to speak, but nothing came to fruition except weak gasps for air. I looked everywhere in the room except back into her eyes.
“You’re gonna be alright Mrs. Jenkins. Just alright Mama.”
I held on until I no longer felt the struggle. The only thing I heard was the uncomfortable silence after all noise has calmed. I looked at Mama’s favorite painting, the brightest thing in the dark. Just like the birds, I could see Mama kissing the sun.
Donald A.C. Conley