One Blue Mitten
The old lady breathed an unseen deep, heavy sigh. She was resigned to her fate. The monitor levels shot up a bit, then settled back down. There were no other signs of life except the dull monotonous hum of the pumps. There was no one there to see her except the bright eyes of the monitors.
Oh no, she thought. Here they come again. Why can’t they just leave me alone? I’m tired, so tired… it’s been so long… too long. I wish I were a bird, then I would flap my wings and just fly away. Nothing’s any good any more. But sometimes I remember when it was good. I remember… sensations… tastes… feelings… Sometimes I dream of just a cool drink of water going down my throat… the feel… Or I wish for a piece of bread… a cracker. I can almost feel it crossing my tongue… melting in my mouth. Ummmmm… I almost remember the taste… the feel… the smell… almost.
But it’s been a long time now. They think I’m blind but, I see and I don’t even have to look. I can feel the room slowly begin to lighten or darken. There are so many shades of darkness and light and I am familiar with each and every one of them. There are many different sounds of silence, too and I’ve heard them all.
Now this silence is broken, I hear the door open. I hear a dim light flicked on. I hear quiet, quick footsteps. I listen as they make three brief stops and now I know there are four of us here. I can hear their machines pumping, pumping, pumping like an orchestra of low, bass instruments. It’s an irritating sound… The steps stop at my station. No talking, shh, don’t wake the dead. I listen. I hear everything: the wind, the silence, the footsteps, the soft voices.. The hysterical weeping of the others, their pleadings… just like mine. I’ve been here so long. Others have come and gone. I’m still here. Months?… years?… a decade or two?… Doesn’t really matter, seems like forever… it is forever because I can’t remember any time before now. Time means nothing. Nothing means anything… there’s only my yearning to be free.. A constant all-consuming want.
I don’t know what crime I committed to be put here in … this prison… on death row. Waiting, always waiting… I wish to God it was over but, every time, when I’m just about to be let go… un-plugged… executed… released… set free… Freedom! How I pray… wish for it… But there’s no escape from this prison. Each time I think I’m about to be pardoned… paroled… released, whatever… some good-for-nothing, holy right-to-lifer- special interest group sticks their nose in my business and I’m given more time on this… death row. I think it’s been years and years now and I’m more than ready to go. But I got life without parole, didn’t I? I’m ready, have been ready for eons… Oh, just kill me please!
Jannie got up and gently woke David from his nap, "sweetie pie, we can’t sleep all day. We have important things to do."
A sleepy child tried to smile hearing there was something ‘potant to do, "what ‘potant thing, Momma?"
"First, look here, I have something for you," his mother said handing him a small bag.
"What is it?" the now fully awake child cried as he tore excitedly into the bag ignoring the happy wintery scene printed on the front.
One small pair of new, warm, red mittens fell out of the bag and onto his bed. The child screamed, "oh goody!"
"Now, be very careful. Don’t lose these like you did the blue ones. It’s very cold outside and remember you can’t go out without mittens," his mother warned lovingly.
David loved to be outside, but last week he was held prisoner in the house just because of the loss of one blue mitten. He doesn’t know where or even when he lost it. "I will not let these new red mittens get lost!" he vowed trying on the new mittens.
At first I didn’t want to meet the end, I struggled… fought tooth and nail to wake up and live. Then eventually I come to grips with the inevitability of it all. I got tired. Stopped fighting. Death became an old friend waiting for me just around the corner. I saw him, but can’t quite make the turn, death was always just out of my reach. There were a few times when I felt myself almost touching deaths outstretched hand only to be yanked back by some drug or machine.
They’re here again, I can hear them, see them even anticipate their actions. I promised myself that I would try one more time to make contact… to move my eyes, my mouth a finger a foot… anything to let them know the answer to the question never asked of me. I want them to know my answer. Not the answer they assume they get from me. The answer they want to see… to hear. They decide what I want. I am not allowed to have an opinion about me!
They can walk around, move, laugh, cry, feel, smell, touch… I can no longer do any of this. They love life because they have it. They assume I love life, too. I did when I had it… This is not life.
"Are you comfortable?" they ask looking in my face not seeing me.
HELL NO!!! It’s too hot and I want to lay on my right side.
"She’s probably cold, turn the heat up a little. There! Her eyes are moving up and down now. Yes, that’s what she wanted."
YOU IDIOT!!! My eyes were going sideways until you tried to scorch my skin! NO! I’m saying no! Look at me not that damn monitor, it lies! Oh! You make me so sick! I hate you all! Why can’t you just let me go!? I’m ready, been ready for years.
"Oops, I’ll put the covers back. Did you see that? She kicked the covers off as a thank you. She can hear us!" one of the idiots say.
Yes I can hear you, you fool, but you can’t hear me! You refuse to listen, look… just try. Think about it, would you like to be lingering on with one foot here and the other poised at the door to freedom… if this is my eternity… do I deserve it? Would you like to live this way? LIVE?! This sure as hell ain’t living.
Oh, they’re bringing in another poor soul. Two left yesterday, but not me. I’m the Grand ole lady here. They just keep pumping me up and watching the machine. I have all the bells and whistles of a Frankenstein’s lab. What; is this the way they get their jollies? Torturing poor helpless souls? I’m ready to go now! Just please let me go!
Oh no! There’s another smiling face. What does it want? Okay I’ll gather all my strength again and try to talk… to move… I’m ready. Just ask me. I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready… Take a deep breath, let it out slowly. Calm down. Watch them. Are they watching me? Please watch me! Look! Look at me! Yes!
Here I go. "Kill me please. Did you hear that? No, he’s not looking any more. He’s enraptured by that damn monitor. Now he’s looking again. Kill me please.
"How are we today?" the smiling face asks looking at my machines.
We? How do you think?
"Are you feeling better?"
Of course, want to change places?
One finger, move one finger. There I did it! Oh, damn he’s not looking again.
"There now," he said patting me then he wiped the sweat off my face.
Don’t touch me!
"We’re very agitated today aren’t we? What can I do for you?"
Let me die..
"… Your granddaughter and her son are here to see you again. Maybe they’ll read a little to you. Why don’t you ask ’em?"
"Hi Grammie, it’s me, Jannie and David." Jannie said looking upbeat and trying to smile through a hidden cry.
Fool, I know who you are.
"David, do you want to kiss Grammie?"
"No," a sullen child whispered under his breath.
Hell no I wouldn’t even want to kiss me. Leave the child alone.
"Oh David see you made Grammie cry. She wants a kiss."
"She looks bad. I ain’t gonna kiss her!"
Atta boy David don’t let nobody make you do it.
"Do you want us to read to you Grammie?"
"Oh look David Grammie’s smiling, yes."
No I’m not, it’s a frown. Get that child outta here! Can’t you see I’m frightening him?
"Okay. We’ll read one David likes, The Little Train That Could. Come on David help me read to Grammie.
Read one flew over the coo coos nest. Kill me please.
"Momma Grammie said something."
"No she didn’t. She’s just breathing hard. She can’t talk."
"Yes she can Momma, I heard her."
"Well then, what did she say?"
"I don’t know."
"Be quiet and listen to the story."
Kill me please David tell them to Pull the plug.
"David, listen to the story and be quiet!"
"Ma’am? We hate to interrupt you but it’s time to take some test. Please excuse us. You can come back after a bit."
"It’s okay we were just about to leave anyway. Come on David help me get everything together."
"Bye Grammie. Sorry I can’t kiss you," David whispered.
It’s okay baby boy. There, that was a smile.
"Look Momma, Grammie smiled!"
Kill me please.
"She said it again, ‘feel my knees’! That’s what she said Momma." a joyful David said happy he was able to hear his Grammie better this time.
"Okay, let’s go David. Bye Grammie. See you again next week," Jannie said as she brushed near her cheek.
NEXT WEEK! Hope I’m dead by then. kill me please.
"She okay? Her facial expressions are… strange…" Jannie observed.
"She’s okay… just been a little agitated today this’ll calm her down," the doctor said while holding a needle up in the light.
NO! Don’t give me a shot! I don’t want to be calm, I want to be dead. PULL THE PLUG!! I can roll my eyes and roll my head. Jannie, don’t go! Pull the plug, please. I’m ready to go.
"What’s wrong? Is she reacting to my leaving?" Jannie asked hopefully. "Did she feel the shot? Did it hurt?"
"No, she can’t feel anything,"
How do you know? Are you in my skin?
"… she sometimes gets a little agitated when there’s any change. I just pulled the shade, it’s darker in here now. She’ll be all right."
No. I won’t be all right. kill me please. I have a right to die. The real me is sitting over here in this chair watching, but nobody sees me. You’re too busy watching that dead, empty monster in the bed.
Who’s that? David. What’s he doing? Feeling my knees! I love you baby boy. KILL… ME… PLEASE! PULL THE … PLUG!
The small boy barely touched her knee before he was pulled out the door by his rushing mother.
"Won’t you please come with us this time?" Jannie begged her husband.
"No. You know I don’t agree with what you’re doing," he said standing in the kitchen doorway.
"What am I supposed to do, kill her?"
"She’s already dead."
"You don’t know that!" Jannie yelled. "I wish Momma was here, she’d know what to do," Jannie moaned.
"Yeah, she’d find a way to get the insurance money for herself…"
"Why do you hate my family?"
"I thought David and I where your family…" he stated in a hurt voice.
"You are… but… Grammie is all I have left of the old…"
"All this… it’s costing…" he interrupted.
"It’s not costing us a thing… The insurance…"
"And the state…"
"It’s not costing you one red cent…!"
"Not money, but there’s other cost…"
"Shh, here comes David. Hi baby! ready to go?"
"I can’t find my gloves," David said searching franticly in his coat pockets.
"Look in here," his mother said tossing him his hat.
Sure enough tucked neatly inside the hat were the red mittens. Right where his mother had put them.
David grinned relieved and prepared to leave the house. He made a little snow ball as he walked to the car. He stomped in snow drifts and tried to taste the snow that fell in his open mouth. He felt free outside in the open.
The visit to Grammie was normal. She just lay there. Jannie read and had to pull David away from the equipment on the other side of her bed, twice.
"David! You stay over here… away from all the equipment."
"Why?" David whined looking at all the inviting wires and cords leading to Grammie in the bed.
"It helps Grammie to breathe and if a cord is moved she can’t breathe," Jannie explained, again for the umpteenth time.
"David!! Where are you?" Jannie yelled when it was time to go.
David was almost asleep on the floor at the foot of the bed.
David jumped up and hurriedly grabbing his gloves he ran toward the door.
Tell them to pull the plug. I want to be dead.
He stopped short and looked around, "I don’t see it, Grammie."
His mother appeared in the door and yelled, "David, come on now!"
"Momma there’s a bug in Grammie’s room."
"I’ll tell the orderly, come on," his mother insisted pulling David out the door.
That week was like a decade as she lay alone in her bed. Someone would come in early each day and mark the calendar. Another day gone. Slowly the window went from dark to light, to dark again to light again. Over and over again the same routine: Mark the calendar, turn her, give her a shot, mark down everything… verify her life, change her, wash her, fill the feeding tubes, turn her, pull the shades…
"Hi Grammie," a smiling Jannie said. "How are we today?"
We are the same today as we were yesterday and the day before that. Waiting, wishing to die. How are you? Does it feel good to walk around? Where’s David?
"I can’t stay long, I have to pick David up from a birthday party. It’s just you and me today. Can I get you anything?"
Yes, pull the plug. Let me go.
"Are you warm enough?"
Does it matter?
"I know David’s sad to have missed coming today, here’s a kiss from him."
Yeah right, you missed my cheek by inches. You don’t even want to kiss me why, in hell do you try to force that baby to kiss me?
"How is she doing, doctor?"
Why don’t you ask me? How do you think I’m doing? Wanting, wishing, praying to be dead.
"As well as can be expected. Where’s the child? She seems to brighten up when he comes."
"He had a birthday party to go to."
"Mister man-on-the-town?" the doctor teased.
"Yeah, he is at that age when parties are so important," Jannie smiled.
I thought you came to see me. Talk to me. Tell me what’s going on in the world. Since you took out the TV and changed the radio to elevator music I have no idea what’s going on. You said it was better for me. How!? Oh yeah, I forgot. I need to be kept quiet, no agitation…
"Why do you want to keep her plugged in?" the doctor asked, again.
"She’s my Grandmother. It will be like killing her, I can’t do that," Jannie moaned softly.
"Don’t think about it like that. She’s in a coma. After this long her brain activity is almost nil… very low. She will never be the same even when or if she comes out of the coma. You won’t be killing her, you’ll be letting her rest. Putting her at peace."
Exactly. I’ll be at rest. Finally. Let me rest, let me go, please.
"I can’t do this! I’ve got to go… get my son," Jannie said rushing out of the room.
Another week of loneliness, hopelessness… Mark off the days, repositioning, watching the monitors, pulling the shades, watching the window grow light then dark. Another eternity.
"Good morning! Look who I have here. David came," a cheery Jannie said as she walked into the room.
Oh good my baby boy came. Just don’t make him kiss me, please.
"Say hi to Grammie, David."
Hi David, tell them today, let me go, pull the plug. see the plug? pull it.
"Grammie wants to go to the baffroom but she sees a bug," David said
"David, I made sure there were no bugs in the room. Now you just stop. She can’t go to the bathroom. Now sit down and help me read to her."
"Hi, good to see you brought the little boy. She’ll be happy to see him," the doctor said.
"Don’t talk to me about pulling the plug today, ok?" Jannie said.
"You know about the bug?" David asked in wonderment.
"The bug? What bug?"
"Grammie tells me about pulling the bug," David said.
"What? What does your Grammie say?"
"Feel my knees and pull the b… plug," David said remembering the hard word.
"He gets his Bs, Ps and sometimes Ds mixed up sometimes," Jannie explained.
"Does your Grammie talk to you?" the doctor asked.
David started fidgeting and held on to his mother and hid his face in her lap.
"It’s OK baby answer the doctor, all right."
"Yes… She talks to me," David admitted hesitantly.
"Tell me when she talks to you the next time, OK?" Jannie said.
"Yes ma’am,"David promised.
"Don’t talk about, you know. The child must of heard us," Jannie said to the doctor.
On the way down the hall to the elevator, David and Jannie were passed by a swarm of hospital personnel all clad in white, rushing down the corridor, pulling beds on wheels, dragging IV stands and an assortment of other equipment. There was obviously some sort of emergency…
As they were getting on the elevator, David shoved his hands into his coat pocket. He immediately noticed with alarm that one red mitten was gone!
Quickly he ducked down between all the legs and slipped through just before the elevator doors closed. He heard his Momma yell his name and he shouted back, "I lost my mitten…!"
David ran back down the hall, past the empty nurse’s desk and into Grammie’s room. Grammie looked the same. Nervously he began to talk to her as he scanned the floor near her bed where he expected to find the mitten.
"Grammie I lost my mitten. Do you know where it is? I can’t go out to play without it…" He thought she said look on the floor.
He looked. It was not there.
David is that you? I’m tired. Tell ’em to pull the plug , please. I’d rather be dead, I don’t want to see another day. Kill me please..
He squeezed Grammie’s knees then got down and peered under the bed. There! On the bad side of the bed near the wires lay his mitten.
"Thank you Grammie, I see it," he said as he ducked under the bed, pass the beeping machine being very careful not to disturb any of the wires or cords. He grabbed his blue mitten and being very careful not to hit his head on the way out he scooted back under the bed to the other side.
He smiled at Grammie and squeezed her knees again, "thank you, Grammie." David hesitated one moment more. Then he gave Grammie a butterfly kiss on her gnarled hand.
Unbeknown to him, the little boy’s foot pulled one very important cord ever so slightly.
"God Bless you child. Tell your mother good bye." And Grammie smiled.
"OK Grammie," he said as he squeezed his grandmother’s knees one more time on his way out the door.
"Where were you?" Jannie asked as she met David in the hall..
"Grammie said good bye," David said sure at last what his Grammie said.
Late that night a wind blew through the halls of the hospital and the plug, already barely in wall contact, wiggled the rest of the way out of the wall. Grammie sank her head back deep into the pillow. She was definitely smiling the next morning when the nurse came in to check on her.
They notified the next of kin later that day.