Janis, at 34, had still managed to retain her innate gift of patience and forgiveness all her years. This rare capacity for altruism she keeps is a true feat, since fate recently seemed to be shoving fat sticks vigorously into the spokes of her copen blue ten speed with a disturbing sort of frequency.

For five years now she'd been pedaling at least every other day from her apartment to the nursing home where her mother Cora rested, sans even slight comfort, on butter cream sheets. She breathed incessant ssiisss rasps in her anguish. The bones in her body had been disappearing now for a number of years, and Cora herself had to witness, totally cognizant of each and every pain, this flouring of her frame into unseen dust. The piercing aches more and more often could not be quashed with even heaping doses of medication. Twice in the last month she had mumbled for Janis to go ahead and attach gold handles along the sides of her bed for easy pallbearer access. The third mention would be on that Sunday afternoon shortly after Janis walked in.

"But have them be real gold. And etch beautiful little phrases on each handle-- some of the lovely ones you've made up before. That would mean so much to me."

Janis helped to adjust Cora's brittle frame, and both of them shuddered as the torturous crackle sort of noise-- light but crisp like gold leafing being crushed-- went through the air. Janis ostensibly ignored her mother's maudlin comment du jour, but was at the same time imagining what sort of phrases she might etch in the gold. Verbal snippets that would make her mother smile eternally. Some would be hers and some borrowed from others greater.

"What is lovely never dies,
But passes into other loveliness."
--Thomas Bailey Aldrich

She would love that, Janis thinks while singing low, smoothing out sheet wrinkles futile and brisk with the back of her own small porcelain hand. Her mother coughed. Comparable to the sound of four or five browned leaves fighting each other within a massive wind gust. Janis wasn't aware that Cora was admiring her daughter's hair-- brown chin length locks dappled on the tips by mandarin colors and beets. Cora's hair once looked like this too. Like best day in autumn.

"What are you singing?" inquired Cora.

"I forget the name. A Peter Gabriel song."

Cora nodded, not familiar with the singer of course. Janis sang a few bars from an old Billie Holiday song her mother adored in attempt to get a smile. The absolute dreadfulness of her voice actually made Cora laugh, however, and although she winced somewhat with her gales, Janis beamed at being able to bring joy to the dying woman. Cora expressed her undying appreciation for her daughter's care all the time through the emotions in her face, and she doted on Janis right then with that love. The bond between the two kept firm, understood and unspoken, and the beauty of their connection was prized by both as one of those peaceful wonderfuls that kept them fighting their awful battle.

Her gentleness soft as ermine,
Had always been and will ever long be.

Mother and daughter began talking on chair and bed as they'd been doing for years, and Janis vigilantly worked to keep their topics of conversation upbeat: the good family memories, entertaining current events and more recent moments of amusement Janis had experienced. Not too many funny things happened for Janis as of late, considering she'd virtually sacrificed five years of any actual living to provide Cora constant care. Though looking after her mother was emotionally draining, Janis could not imagine it any other way. Her two older brothers and younger sister had not visited their mother even once in almost a decade.

Every unlocatable sibling was brimming with their own problems and mentally unable to cope with Cora's decay. They also still resented the poverty they'd grown up in. As though Cora did it on purpose. Their father had skipped off when Janis was seven, so Cora was the only one left to blame. For some reason they needed that ability, thought Janis. She was sure they had been blaming mother for their despair over a tough childhood for so long that it simply became the truth to them. Something they believed was deserving of their eternal rancor. Janis would flare her nose at times if she thought too long on them. Her empathy for their viewpoint could dissipate easily. She once crunched blue glass in her palm, sharded bits of a discarded bottle she'd found near a gutter, out of helplessness. Janis could barely attend to her own health problems. Her fluctuating ailments, though, were confusing to every doctor she'd visited. Muscle pain, insomnia, rashes and hair loss were the primary on and off afflictions. Although every test indicated nothing concrete, watching her mother gradually leak out all her sinew was obviously the only thing left culpable for her bouts of illness.

"And one had breathed death like incense
In an aura of saintly flame."
--James Morton

Janis sat beside her mother for three hours this particular day. In the final hour Janis managed to pull a crumpled piece of paper, cauled in a yellow dinge, from a back pocket. She blushed while reciting an enigmatic poem she had written 12 years back. Her mother relished the sound of it, especially the words in the final stanza her daughter spoke ... and it dawned on the vagabond that the children were exaggerations, all dulcet eyed and waiting for asphyxiation. The crisp lives of that bleak house are going to become as dead as he is-- they will dive into the vast blank tank of afterdeath milk as fast as water...

"That was beautiful," her mother responded, stolid. "What in the world is that poem about?"

Janis burst into laughter. "I have no clue. Blame Baudelaire. All I recall is that he somehow inspired it."

Although her writing was not always oozing the perfection of a fantastical Kafka work, she liked reading occasional snippets to Cora, because Cora constantly had an honest reaction of enjoyment and adoration for her daughter's work. This particular mash of words had actually been rediscovered by Janis three days before. Tears misted her vision when she found the paper, which had been sitting in a ball at the bottom of an old box of school junk, for as Janis looked it over she recalled the poem's year of birth. A time which felt like centuries ago, before mother and daughter were doused with hardships. The all-consuming vicious kind of hardships that alter people into somber distortions of who they once were. The ones that don't fleet. Finding the paper sent Janis into one of her rare bursts. The kind of anger bursts that had to be flung out from within her-- where she must kick a strong door or slug a smug-looking pillow, understandably reeling in her chomp bit. That familiar chomp bit.

This human finish means her artful beginning as a brilliant spirit.

During her final minutes of visitation Janis headed into the hallway for a quick run to the restroom. Before reaching it she encountered her mother's primary nurse Sarah. The nurse had turned an upcoming corner quickly and gave a small oh as the two halted prior to collision.

Janis gleaned from the woman's unconcealed smirk that the old hounds tooth vest she wore was more than slightly unappealing. Janis still had not struck a career of gold, and it had been years since she'd bought any new clothing. She took the little diss in stride. Sarah just didn't fit into any current concern. The nurse was soft-spoken and very loving to Cora, which meant the most to Janis. She admired Sarah and looked at her as an example of where she might get to be sometime again soon. Captured in a midst of worlds pulsing all alive and intoxicating. Those unaware of depressions as encompassing as the one miring Janis could easily take their ability to live for granted.

Sarah was hoping to speak to Janis this day. The nurse hated what she had to tell her. The latest on her mother's fade. She gave it to the daughter quickly and simple. Her voice remained mild even though the actual words were not.

"Her fingers will completely disintegrate by the end of the week."

Disintegrate. Muscled word with a tough punch and no, nothing could be done. Janis knew this well, but she naturally formed the tired question again. Her inquiry was spoken while she adorned a calm facade. She'd discovered that appearing calm outwardly served as a sort of protection device, creating a needed balance with the chaotic emotions engulfing her within. Janis, for the last few years, had been swimming full-time in an array of complex imaginings and inner dialogues. She succumbed to complete self-absorption because her depression drove her to shut out others. Her fortitude, however great, was not unbreakable, and something must always go lacking when total attention was needed for keeping it intact. Janis required it for survival.

Sarah walked towards her remaining duties, understanding Janis's silence as her need to be alone then. Janis swam. Since Cora's bones were more bashable than fine china, Janis likened her to a distortion of Cora's own old English tea pot: Though decorated with a lovely delicate floral pattern, she envisioned the nine pale pink Tiffany roses puddling on a table because the critical, coconut-hued china that had held it up somehow dissolved. Janis was disgusted by her mind's pitiful images. But that was where she was then. Feeling her own pain along with her mother's.

Screw, thought Janis, make her laugh too once she was put to rest.

"Around, around the sun we go:
The moon goes round the earth.
We do not die of death:
We die of vertigo."
--Archibald MacLeish

She would scrawl these various bits and pieces down that evening across a ripped back of envelope, noting that the proposed gold casket handles would have to be quite large.

During this last year for Cora, Janis thought numerous times about ending her mother's suffering herself. She always backed off from these thoughts, but the possibility of a mercy killing took over her mind more virulent than ever shortly after hearing about the disintegrating digits. She shook violent temptations out of her head again.

That night she would awake from sleeping and swear she saw a demon grinning pearls at the end of her bed. She'd watch him bust up her antique cedar chest, which sat at the bed's foot, and then the demon would suddenly flit gone. The chest was where Janis kept her cherished items once belonging to her mother. Sundries in the form of crocheted blankets, wonderfully age-scented books, and jewelry and silverware passed down for her daughter to hold onto. Seeing this demon would fail to shock Janis. It's energy wasn't real enough to carry out any actions. She knew the thing was easily conquered. But Janis would drift back into sleep and there find herself surrounded by blackness and shredded scraps of cedar.

Janis returned to her mother after bathrooming for almost 15 minutes. She masked her despair and reminded herself just a few more weeks. Cora and Janis knew well she had approximately two more weeks to endure.

She understood the strength of her mother as daunting-- pleasingly abundant considering her physical lack of power. Made sense. Energy does not die. It simply changes form.

Janis made a point to focus on the felicitous. She looked forward to hugging her mother's human form tightly once her spirit was released. She wanted to press close against what remained of Cora's powdering frame once more. Janis hadn't been able to do that in so long.

"[Here comes the flood
We will say goodbye to flesh and blood
If again the seas are silent
in any still alive
It'll be those who gave their island to survive
Drink up, dreamers, you're running dry.
--Peter Gabriel


A note: It's 2022 and it's been a long time since last reading this piece. It was written for a friend of mine whose mother had very recently died from osteoporosis, which was traumatic for her and particularly rough since she was the only one there for her. Her descriptions of this way her mother was dying were horrific and her anger and sadness palpable. The story is based on her experience but mostly fictional- meant to shed light on osteoporosis as well as a way to offer my friend something she seemed to not have during this time- someone in her life who cared about the loss she was going through. Also a writer, she appreciated the effort and seemed to like the story. I miss her. It made me think about that wonderful friend and how I wished more of my writing had a better purpose than some of my more pointless stuff I have on here. I cringe sometimes when I glance over pieces and notice how young and inexperienced, I was, in life and as a writer. I had confidence in my writing though, which seems to exist only in youth or in the best and most accomplished of writers. This was a good memory and I cherish any of those I can, because life is rough.

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