Fool on the Hill

Written By: The Lowdown - May• 31•13

FOTHTo kill a horse all you need is a little love, enough not to feel like a complete swine. And a handgun of a medium calibre, say a 9mm, if you don’t want too much thrashing about afterwards, which tends to upset the owner. The love, this helps both the horse and you. Although I guess the horse wouldn’t care if you approached the task with complete indifference. But approach it with a heart full of sorrow, or bloodlust or regret and the horse will know and that last walk to the fresh mound of soil and pit at the end of the paddock will be one of reluctance and fear. You do it with love; love of the beast and his potential realised, or as yet not. Love of his form and function and the marriage of these, which until this point has made him so worthy to walk the earth in the perfection of a horse. Love of THE horse though perhaps not THIS horse, which you may only just have met and whose state most likely is sorry, to have brought you to his side to play God. If you don’t have this love in you then you’re already lost and there are probably large chunks of you missing and you are a hair’s breadth away from being the crazy in the church bell-tower, holding off the SWAT team while the congregation lies bleeding in the pews from your hellish handiwork. If there’s love in your heart you can lift his muzzle and drawing two imaginary lines from eye to ear, place the barrel at their intersect and squeeze the trigger, stepping back as he lurches to his knees to dodge the first gout of crimson he will exhale as his eyes cloud from glassy to grey slate and his heart keeps pumping long enough to run the quarter mile that has always sufficed to carry him from danger.
She’s so full of morphine now that sometimes she doesn’t remember my name. After a lifetime of dieting she has finally reached her target weight and if looks could kill, hers will. The sofa in the sitting room was replaced by a hospital bed a week ago and then, she made me put plastic discs under the legs so they wouldn’t mark the carpet, now she couldn’t give a shit. In fact she hasn’t for a week and never will again as the closest she comes to eating is a couple of trickles of water a day and some damp cotton buds swabbed on her gums to moisten her mouth. They’ve left the opiates for me to administer, and tell me to use them as I see fit. What I see is a woman who has cared for me all my life and who has lived in fear all of hers. Who, faithless in matters of the spirit, believed wholeheartedly that medical science would, in her lifetime, banish death with a battery of pills and machines with comforting dials and flashing lights and optimistic pings. That belief deserted her too, less than six months ago when the doctors told her that her bones were full of cancer. Lung cancer for a devout non-smoker with three broken vertebrae, five fractured ribs, a snapped clavicle and six places where the cancer had forced its way between the plates of her skull and was pushing her eyeball out of its socket. Her X-rays catalogued a car wreck that had never happened. The diagnosis killed her and from that moment fear, and her surrender to it, gave the cancer permission to do its worst. She never for a moment put up a fight, though for our sakes she went through the motions of moving from stick to wig, to walking frame and wheelchair. From oncology consultations to post-chemo vomiting and breaking her arm just getting out of her chair, to this bed and the indignity of being bathed by her son and filling a bag through a catheter.

How I see fit to administer the opiates is all at once, crushed in a teaspoon of honey dripped onto her tongue at night between her feeble bouts of coughing and breathing like a creature already laid in some dusty crypt. The state of Idaho doesn’t criminalize aiding, abetting, assisting or counselling suicide, but she’s long past abetting now and I’m too afraid of prison and already too far from my wife and little boys.

I was on the verge a week before, of doing the right thing, of “seeing fit”. But luckily I ran out of pluck ,as two days later Darleen, the hospice lady, told me that she had watched enough deaths to know that that my mother’s was still weeks away. It would have seemed suspicious if at that point she’d woken up dead, and I suppose that they might have measured the amount of morphine in her blood post-mortem. And that would be me, playing doctors and nurses with a bunch of Aryan Brotherhood good ol’ boys as a guest of the Idaho Department of Corrections, since you’re no more allowed to overdose your dying mother than to shoot a prisoner on Death Row. So I lie awake in the spare room each night with the door open and listen to the thin, bitter bile accumulate in the back of her throat and her breathing deepen and rattle like a chain spooling round a capstan until she hacks or vomits. Then rise to lift her head and offer the kidney bowl and help her clear her mouth as her rheumy eyes roll back like a frightened horse and she tries to place my face in the crepuscular light and fathom whether it belongs to a friend or foe.

“It’s a funny thing” said Darleen at the kitchen table as she filled in the notes for her visit “But I’ve always found with my patients that when their earlobes get stuck to the side of their neck, they’re ready to go and mostly don’t make it through the night”. I question her again on this and she assures me it’s a fact she’s discovered in her career of easing people gently from their skins with as much dignity as possible. I pressed my own earlobe against my neck for a few seconds and when I let it go, it sprung back into place. Later that night, bored and lonely I drank six large Chivas Regals, being the only whisky that I could find in the house, and I pushed my mother’s earlobe to her neck for a whole Sopranos episode. Know this. An earlobe sticking to your neck may be a sure sign that you are going to die, but holding somebody’s earlobe against their neck … that doesn’t kill them. I know because after the last whisky I clumsily super-glued hers in place, and she was still alive in the morning.

A month before when she could still sit up in her chair for a few lucid hours a day, we watched one of many movies together. I tried to change the channel when it became clear that this was a family cancer saga, but she shushed me and said “Leave it. I always thought your sister looked like Sally Field”. She seemed unmoved by the melodrama and even chuckled half heartedly a couple of times; until the scene where the dying mother is making a video memoir with her son and starts to recount an anecdote about her own father. “You remember your grandpa?” she reminds her son. “I really don’t Mom. I was only 5 when he died”. And I turn to catch my mother take these words like a bullet and slump in her chair with the realisation that all the hours, and laughter and loving she has lavished on my boys will find no purchase in their memories and that she will only be kept alive for them in photographs and second-hand stories.

She’s run her quarter mile and it isn’t far enough. Her funeral is paid for and the obit is in the out-tray just waiting on the date. All she can do now is house the pain, though I have more than enough love to take it away from her. More than you need for a horse. But I can’t. It would be frowned upon. That humanity is denied me. So I board a plane and fly away, a coward, and leave her to die slowly in fear.

Happy Mother’s Day and cheer up for goodness sake, it’s probably just a short story.

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