Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My Mother's Mirrors

My mother's death certificate says she died of sepsis. Cardiac arrest would have been as accurate, since both were results of other conditions. You'll never see it on a death certificate, but she died of osteoporosis and Lewy body dementia.

When my mother started talking about “that family in the next room,” I knew we had a problem. The “next room” she was referring to was the mirrored closet door in her bedroom.
            My mother had Lewy body dementia. Lewy bodies are the abnormal round structures that are deposited in the brain when people have Parkinson’s disease. Although people with Lewy body dementia sometimes develop physical symptoms similar to Parkinson’s, the first symptom is usually an inability to separate reality from—what? Dreams? Misinterpretation of sensory stimuli? It’s the second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s, yet most people have never heard of it.
            My mother had been diagnosed only a few months earlier because she called me while I was on my way home from church.
            “Where are you?”
            I could tell by the tone of her voice that something was wrong. “What’s going on?”
            “Well, I might need your help later. I just wanted to be sure you were around in case they didn’t leave.”
            “In case who didn’t leave?”
            “Oh, there’s a man and a woman. I guess she’s his wife. An older man—her father, I think. And some kids.”
            “What are they doing?”
            “Just looking around. They pick up stuff and look at it and put it back down. I asked them what they want, but they won’t talk to me.”
            I wasn’t more than fifteen minutes away, and I wasted no time getting to her condo.  When I arrived, she seemed a little frightened. Her eyes darted nervously around the room—which looked exactly as it had the last time I visited her—nobody there but her, and nothing out of place.
            “Did they leave?”
            “I don’t know where the others went, but the older man went into the bathroom. He must be sick, because it really stinks now.”
            The bathroom door was nearly closed. Half afraid of what I might find when I pushed it open, I was nevertheless emboldened by my inability to smell anything more than my mother’s favorite air freshener. Cautiously, I peeked in.
            The bathroom was empty.
            I spent the next two hours trying to convince my mother to go with me to the emergency room. Worst case, I feared she’d had a stroke; best case, I knew she’d suffered hallucinations several years ago when she had low blood sugar.
            And I did convince her. But four hours in the emergency room produced no explanation for her Sunday “visitors.” In fact, she was surprisingly healthy for her 84 years—her blood pressure and cholesterol were better than mine!
            “I must have dozed off and had a dream,” she said, by way of explanation.
            I didn’t buy it. She’d been awake when I arrived, yet she was convinced one of them was still around. And I discovered later that another of them, a boy about eight years old, stayed behind and kept her company, sometimes watching over her while she slept. She named him Peanut. She enjoyed his company, but she wasn’t as sure about the rest of the family, especially the father. She didn’t trust him.
            When my brother-in-law and his family came to visit at Christmas, they covered the mirrors with pretty stick-on paper, thinking that maybe if she couldn’t see the reflections, she’d realize they were simply closet doors instead of a portal into another world where people that only she could see lived. And for a while, it seemed to work. But the hallucinations started being triggered by the bathroom mirrors, and they became more frightening. Because she seemed to fare fairly well during the day, I started spending the night with her, but soon realized she needed someone with her who was awake and alert 24 hours a day. The complex she lived in included a section for assisted living, so she moved from her condo into an apartment.
            There, too, she was convinced she was seeing people in another room through her mirrors, but they didn’t come into her quarters as often as they had. For a time, she would buzz for help or walk down to the dining room and help the staff fold napkins if she became frightened at night. Then one afternoon she called me to come get her because she wanted “to go home.” I found her outside the building, waiting for me at the curb. Usually that wasn’t a problem. Residents came and went as they pleased, and she had often met me outside when we were going out to eat, which we did at least a couple of times a week. But this time she was outside because my father, who had died three years ago, was working in the attic, and he and his crew were making so much noise it was giving her a headache. She wanted to go home, meaning my childhood home, which they had left about the time I started college. If she had started out to try to find it before I’d arrived, she could easily have wound up on a busy highway. We had to move her into the memory unit.
            The memory unit had fewer mirrors. Although she had fewer visits from the family—even Peanut was absent—she started having visits from relatives: my niece of 15 years earlier, a cousin of 30 years earlier. They always needed her help—help she was unable to give. Then one night she was convinced she was a visitor in someone’s home, and while the attendant stepped out to let her change into her pajamas, she decided to shower in order to free up the bathroom—her private bathroom—for those who needed to shower in the morning. Unattended, she flooded the bathroom floor, then slipped and fell when she stepped out. Her spine, like chalk from osteoporosis, crumbled, leaving her nearly paralyzed below the waist.
            Her room in the nursing home had no mirrors, and she had no invisible visitors during the week she was there. The day she died, she was more alert and lucid than she had been for months. Then she just drifted away, staring into space. At almost exactly midnight, a week after her 86th birthday, she took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and just—stopped.
            Going through her things, which had accumulated in my garage as she moved to progressively smaller quarters, I found a small looking glass set in a carved wooden frame. It now lies on the vanity in my bathroom.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Will to Love Now In Paperback!

My little novelette, The Will to Love, is now available from Amazon in paperback as well as for Kindle! It's a story about unrequited love, true love, and destined love, with a rattlesnake thrown in. Here's the prologue and the first few paragraphs of Chapter One so you can take a quick look at it.

Daniel knew he was dead. He seemed to be hanging in darkness somewhere far above the hospital. But he could see every detail through the ceiling as the EMTs worked with his body on the gurney in the emergency room—one forcing air into his lungs and one pounding his chest while Dr. Agnew charged the paddles to try to jumpstart his heart.
The doctor positioned the paddles. “Clear!” The body convulsed, but after an initial blip, the trace running across the EKG screen returned to an erratic line.
Dr. Agnew turned to the nurse who was adjusting the defibrillator. “Again.”
Daniel watched his body convulse yet again, and the line again jumped, continued with a few spasmodic blips, then settled into a flat, steady progress across the screen. The doctor stood frozen, paddles held ready to use. “He isn’t responding.”
The nurse turned to reach for a nearby tray of syringes.
“No. Don’t.” The doctor lowered his hands and shook his head slowly. “We’ve already resuscitated him once in spite of his advanced directive. It’s time to let him go.”
The nurse blinked to hold back the moisture gathering in her eyes. “I’m sorry. I know you were friends.”
“Damn!” The doctor thrust the paddles at her and stalked out, sorrow twisting his features.
“Too bad,” said one of the EMTs. “Heard he was a pretty nice guy. Donated a chunk of money to upgrade the cardiac care wing when his wife died.”
“He was. And we failed him.” Still holding the paddles, the nurse wiped at her cheek with one forearm.
The scene began to fade as Daniel felt himself float away into a swirling gray mist. Where the hell is the tunnel? And the light I’m supposed to follow?
He heard a chuckle. No—sensed it. Puzzled, he turned to find out who was laughing at him, and saw a dim glow in the distance. Was that the light? As he moved toward it, the glow grew brighter until he realized he was in a church. Shadowed pews on each side of a broad aisle seemed to be filled with people. Was this his funeral? If so, the people looked awfully damn happy, and he didn’t see a casket. Instead, a minister stood in front of a flower-laden altar, and in front of him…
It was his son, Dan! Older, maybe by ten years, and dressed in a tux. He stood facing a girl with tousled red hair topped by an ornate veil that spilled down the back of her simple, form-fitting—and a very nice form it fit—wedding gown.
His son must be getting married. He was sure he’d never seen the girl before, but she looked familiar somehow. Like someone he’d known once, a long time ago. He wanted to get a better look at her, and found himself drifting around to look into her face.
A shimmer in the air above and behind the young woman began to coalesce as he realized who the young woman resembled—Virginia, the girl he’d fallen in love with fifty years ago, the girl who’d left him wanting to die because he couldn’t imagine living without her. The slanted eyes were the same aqua green, and that slim-waisted, full-hipped figure was identical.
He looked back at the shimmer and gasped as it took the form in his memory. Not the graying, stooped Virginia he’d seen in recent photos, but the young, vital woman he’d known. She smiled at him, filling him with the same deep ache as when she was seventeen and he twenty, and he heard her voice: It’ll be OK, Daniel. It wasn’t our time. It will be theirs.
Then darkness fell and he was sucked into a whirlpool, spun and battered and spewed forth into hard, brilliant cold. He gasped as pain shot through his body and his eyes flew open to see a wide-eyed nurse jump away and collide with the table near the gurney, sending a metal tray crashing across the floor.
“Oh, my God! He’s alive!” An alarm started to shrill, bringing feet thudding toward him.
I am alive, he thought, with some surprise. And I have a lot to do before I die.

Chapter One
Mandy lowered her suitcase to the floor and stared around the entry—or foyer, she supposed it would be called—of the mansion where the taxi had dropped her. The foyer was bigger than the combined living room and both bedrooms of her cottage back in Illinois. The floor under her Walmart luggage looked like marble.
Double doors opened opposite a wide staircase that curved up past a multi-tiered crystal chandelier, and a gray-haired woman wearing an elegantly tailored suit strode out, head down, examining something on a clipboard. Mandy cleared her throat, and the woman looked up with a slight frown. Her eyes traveled from Mandy’s tousled copper-colored hair, down her Star Wars T-shirt, to her worn jeans, and ended on her Reeboks before returning to the freckles sprinkled sparsely across Mandy’s pug nose.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Will to Love Now Available for Kindle

My novelette, The Will to Love, is now available for Kindle. It's a sweet romance with just a touch of paranormal, and appropriate for age 15 or 16 and older. You can find it here: