His tongue snaked between each toe in sympathy. He knew something was wrong with her feet, and the only way he knew how to fix things was to lick them until they got better. She was his mistress after all; his owner. He sniffed at the other bare foot with a nose a thousand times more sensitive than ours. Starting at the heel, he worked his way up the arch and onto the ball before venturing between the five numb toes again. I watched, fascinated at his patience and his diligence. My mom slept on, unaware of her doctor working on her paralyzed toes again, unaware of my wet eyes on her exhausted snores and her twitching fingers clawing at an invisible keyboard. What concerto was she dreaming of playing today? Mozart? Beethoven? Microsoft Word?
I turned back to the movie; Splash. Daryl Hannah had just emerged from the ocean, barefoot all the way up and was wandering around the base of the Statue of Liberty. I pressed STOP on the video machine and left my mom resting on her bed of pillows with her lapdog, Jayare, doing his best to cure her broken spine while her finger dance dreams played music nobody else could hear.
Two old pine trees rustle and creak in the wind. A boy stands between them on the grass. He grips the ground with everything he’s got and jumps as high as he can. He’s taller and stronger now. He knows this to be true when he manages to touch the lowest branch again. His mother watches from her bedroom window with a smile on her face and a tired brown Jack Russell napping on her lap. She scratches his back and hums a tune as her feet swell up from sitting too long in the wheelchair. My big boy is growing up. The cancer keeps eating away at her; hidden for now. She holds onto this moment of triumph; her son has achieved success on his own terms, doing something she can no longer do. Those days of jumping in the grass are far gone.
“We’ll pray for you, Mrs. Aye.” The last time she attended church.
“I’m afraid it’s cancer.” The last time she visited the doctor.
“Your son is here, Evaline.” The last day she spent in the hospital.
“Goodnight, son. See you in the morning!” The last thing she said to me before passing away in her sleep.
I hold the speech I wrote for her with my bare hands steady. The image of a tongue trying so hard to cure the incurable stays with me. I say what I need to say to the people who loved her not near as much as I did.
They say that spoken words are just interrupted breath. Written words are therefore just interrupted thoughts. Nothing interrupts the emotions my heart feels for you. Perhaps life is simply interrupted peace? Perhaps what we need to look forward to is not death, but an active dream-filled sleep where eternity resides in the palm of your hand, and you can touch all the branches of any tall tree. Your special magic has touched so many people.
I am so very proud to be your son. There is much that is not said and much that should remain unsaid. It is the silent words that carry the most power and magnificence. For those words will echo in the quiet corridors of our minds when we least expect them. Words that are not often spoken carry much strength. What I really feel now is beyond words. My love and memories of you remain wordlessly standing; lit by your love, your passion, your fiery spirit.
You are a one of a kind of everything to me. I love you mom.
You have taught me that a handicap is a disability only when you give up on yourself, and you don’t need to be confined to a wheelchair to do that. You never gave up. Thank you for giving me so much of yourself. Now let me return the favour.
The boy in man’s legs hands the mike to his brother, who speaks only in teardrops. His dad is sucking on the end of a cigarette, waiting quietly with red eyes for his wife to stand up and walk again. He’s prayed for a miracle all these years and now’s the time for it.
He takes off his fancy black shoes he shined that morning and the long black socks with the holes in them his mother told him not to wear. He wiggles his toes and sighs, wishing his mom could have felt the earth one last time before being cremated. He vows to spend more time barefoot so that he has something to tell his mom whenever she wants to chat to him again. He knows they’ll be talking again soon, via Toe-lophone or Heel-mail at least.