A Mother’s Duty
He lowered the book, holding the pages in place with one finger, as if prepared to read on any time. The silence had startled him. A silence so thick, he could hear a driver one block down stepping on the brakes of an old car, taking a long way to slow down. Within this silence, she had just stopped breathing. There was nothing she said, no comment, no warning, she had just passed away, so to speak, the way someone would sneak out of a door, not to wake anyone inside the house. That, he hadn’t expected.
He had gotten to her place, in the morning. Sorting her documents, changing the wet towels she had wrapped around her feet in good belief, they would drive the fever away. But it wasn’t a fever. “Where is your passport, mother”, he had asked at one point. She had turned her head away and muttered something, he could not quite make out. “Your passport!” he had repeated in a harsh voice, louder this time “Do you know, where you put it? I went through the drawer and it wasn’t there with all the other papers.”. “You don’t need that right now”, she repeated. “We both know, that is not true, mother. Where is it?” “It’s in the purse, hanging by the wardrobe. The violet one. Bring it here, will you.” He took the purse to her bed and she reached inside and grabbed the passport from a tiny side pocket. As she held it out to him, she clenched her slender fingers tightly around it. The grip was strong and he didn’t want to rip it off her hands, so he waited for her to comment on, whatever she wanted to, so he could continue his work. “Hand it back to me, when you are done. I don’t want it to get lost.” she added and let loose the booklet.
While he held the book, he had picked up, to pass the time, he looked at her face closely and leaned in a bit. Her skin was gray and seemed to get lighter by the minute. The first spots were already crawling up her chest, from below the nightgown. She didn’t smell good. But she also didn’t smell dead, yet. He would still have to wait for just a few more minutes, until he could call an ambulance and the police, as was the law with old people dying, while relatives were present. A standard procedure, he was quite used to. He had been there with his father dying and there were two aunts and a wife, he had watched over at their deathbed. He was there to see a girl die, he had fallen in love with, on a hiking trip, when they were still teenagers and just lately, there had been a tragic accident leaving his neighbor, an old, grumpy man of eighty-five years, dead, too.
Leaning in more closely to take a look at her pupils, he expected her to wake up any second now. She would grab him, hold him with the strength, only dying people can work up, and hiss at him under her last breath. She would tell him, she knew. She must have known. She was his mother after all and it is a mother’s intuition, a duty to know, what her children were up to. Or – was it. He let go of the finger between the pages and put the linen bound book down on the nightstand. Nothing happened. Maybe she had changed the belief, she had stuck to, all her life, that he was ‘not her son, but a changeling, the devil sent upon her’. If she did, she should have told him. He got up, now on the brink of anger instead of relief, straightened his jacket, and walked over to the kitchen, where he swept the pills, he hadn’t used up, back in his pocket. They wouldn’t take a blood sample. No one takes a blood sample of a ninety-two-year-old, cared for by her loving son. He dialed all the right numbers and waited for the ambulance drivers to announce her death and the police to be witness to the diagnosis of natural death. He would then call for the mortician and the workers who would clear out the place. There was quite some work waiting for him, cashing in all her securities and insurances over the course of the next weeks and sell the apartment.
The doorbell announced the important visitors. He explained to them, how his mother hadn’t felt well lately and called him this morning, just to check on her. How he made her tea and wrapped up her legs, but her condition didn’t seem to get better. And now, after he had carelessly held a nap, she didn’t seem to breathe. After the paramedics, two young men, new to the job it seemed, announced her death, calming him and giving him their condolences, the police officer turned to him. “Do you happen to have some documents close by, like her identification, or a passport? I will need yours, too, later.” he asked in a soft voice, used to situations like these, where relatives did not respond well to harsh orders. “Oh yes, I got them right here.” he said, and opened the passport, to hand it over more easily.
There was something not quite right with the pages and he only noticed it now. Something was written all over the document in bright red letters. But within the motion of handing it over, there was nothing, he could do, to stop the officer from reading, whatever it said, now.
He took a step back. His palms now sweaty and hot. He could feel a cold breath in his neck. The officer looked at the passport, then back at him. He turned the pages, reading every line of the red scribble. His right hand wandered down to the gun at his belt, when he lowered the document. He tilted his head slightly sideways and stared him right in the eye. “She knew, what you did”, he declared.