Hollowing in Three Parts
Although it’s the last day of September and the talons of winter have taken hold and although between the two of you you’ve lost sixty-five pounds in the last two months, chemotherapy and fear and your simultaneous fall down the stairs sucking the fat from your bones, the skin hanging from your wrists like the gold bracelets you once wore, you still wait out on your front porch for me to arrive, press a kiss to my cheek and usher me indoors, afraid the cold will catch me. Inside I find my photograph next to those of all your children and grandchildren, locate myself within the folds of this family. The same lace bedsheet from fifty years ago hangs over the couch where you now sit holding my hand in both of yours before moving away to hold his, to rub the stained knee of his pants and cup your palm around his hairless scalp. And although you are two I’ve always seen you as one, so intertwined are your pasts your possibilities your needs you needed him to drive the minivan in a country where you never learned how, he needed you to speak where English never crossed the border from brain to tongue, together your mouth lips fingers legs becoming one whole one necessary pulsing being that I came to rely on, that I still do, in two bodies one story. I see you understand this now as one half of you drifts away, wasting into sickness you cannot control, how you grasp his arm, touch his cheek, squeeze his fingers even as you pick away at your own, as if trying to hold on to what is left, to remind him or perhaps you that nothing is broken or at least beyond repair yet.
Sitting beneath the tapestry of the last supper that you crocheted with once-nimble fingers I realize that this is the first time I’ve come here without something on the table, golden slabs of baklava, grapes de-stemmed and once, sliced open and de-seeded, every dish you made an offering of your continued choice to pull me into the fabric of your family, every bite I took an acceptance of your love. Though I’m aware of this I feel ashamed at the rumbling in my gut because I see now how his mouth hangs open like a dusty window, teeth black, rotted and gone, lips grey and rubbled instead of food you eat poison, a slurry of pills four times daily, chemicals directed into your veins like venom that we hope will attack the right parts before the wrong ones, tongue thick with sores and nerves dulled to blunt so that every bite feels like bonedust every meal the last supper even water becomes acid. With effort you open your lips and choke on words, I-don’t-understand-why—she puts a hand on yours, says no, no, don’t speak, rest, it’s okay its okay, turns to me completes the thought says I don’t understand why the food sticks to his mouth? He can’t eat, he can’t eat, then tears spilling over your fingers to mine, why won’t he eat? Don’t cry, he says. I try. You take his hand. I know, you say, but you have to, have to eat.
You tell me yesterday he tried to leave the house alone, dragged his walker to the edge of the backyard before you caught him, screaming how can you go without me? A question whose answer holds no justice. He cries, I was just going to nofrills, he wanted to buy a bag of cherries for 2.99 a pound, not to eat just to hold an offering as he walked around the block untethered by the new ropes of sickness unaffected by the blood thinners that would make a fall like last time fatal this time outside the grasp of illness it is a basic human right to move. Just as you moved across the ocean to push vacuums across office carpets rags across someone else’s dishes to push me on a swing to sing kounia bella to count my veins to remind me I am still alive when it’s time for you to leave and I won’t let you go to tell me you hope that one day I will become a cardiologist and if I could go back I would maybe not for everyone’s hearts but just yours, I’d learn exactly what it needs to keep beating and I’d repeat it over and over just as you did for me every night I couldn’t sleep, and I think I know the remedy it’s the sound of his heart, steady and forever, or maybe his teeth, mashing broccoli and plums, drinking your soup and calling it survival, and I remember when you brought me a bowl of cut peaches and I knocked it over rather than eat another bite if I could go back and sweep every slice back into the bowl pass my hand over the juice sticky and thick from the dust bring the hand to my lips and lick it clean I would, holding your hand the entire time, letting you feed me from your fingers to show you that for you I will always, we will always eat.