While I was in Sharon, Massachusetts minding a beagle and my incessant rape fantasies masquerading as worst nightmares, my mother was in Queens calling my grandmother, who had already fallen and was lying on the floor next to a pile of her own shit, which she had wrapped in a moth-ravaged purple wool tablecloth.
With one yank, she’d pulled down the tablecloth so that it could perform the duty of its lifetime. With the tablecloth, fell a box of old photographs, a salt shaker and pepper mill, and a magnifying glass that cracked upon impact. My grandmother, Baba, had the presence of mind to cover her fecal matter but not enough of it to tell my mother what the presiding matter was: that she had fallen and couldn’t get herself up ever again. “I’m fine…” my grandmother said.
“Did you take the Boniva?” my mother asked, plaintively. My mom’s voice was as lifeless as she was hoping my grandmother would be very soon.
“Sure I took the Boniva.” my grandmother answered.
“Oh, good because I made a mental note to ask you about that last night, so now I have and you say you did. Boy, am I glad you’ve taken that Boniva!” My mother’s sudden delight was shrill and unconvincing.
There emerged a pregnant pause from which neither knew how to return. The two breathed loudly in unison, both lying on their backs, both hosting nearly identically enlarged adenoids. After all, they were mother and daughter.
My mother thought of telling my grandmother all sorts of things. She thought of saying that she’d just started eating something called Pirate’s Booty, a delicious and low-calorie cheesy popcorn snack that might just tip the scales, so to speak, in her battle of the bulge. She thought of saying that Joel was killed in a shoot-out with some drug smuggler on The Wire. She thought of saying that she was frightened at her own inability to walk more than a few steps without exhaustion and agony, that she was starting to take Percocet regularly, and her dependence terrified her, at least during her comedowns it did. She thought of saying she had never been lonelier in her whole entire life and Mommy, why didn’t you touch me ever when I was a child? Why didn’t you hold me when your crazed Amazonian cousin who shared your name tried to stab me with a knife? I was six! You could have held me. But instead she said, “Yup, I’m glad you’re taking that Boniva.”
“Mom, Don’t be silly, you know what Boniva is.” My mom bit into a cheeze-it and then into her tongue, drawing blood. The sheer power of her annoyance, worry, and boredom could eviscerate pretzel and lingual artery, both.
“What’s the matter with you? Of course I know why I take boniva,” my grandmother scoffed.
“Fabulous, so we can say that you’ve taken the Boniva?” Her tongue was already swelling so she sounded like a chewing person with down syndrome. No offense to people with down syndrome but that’s what she sounded like, and really why would you be offended? My mother is awesome and you would be lucky to have her identify as one of you, plus aren’t you kind of constitutively forgiving, or is that just a stereotype? In any case, my mom blotted her tongue with a used tissue and rolled her eyes.
“What is this Boniva of which you speak?” my grandmother offered.
The conversation was so ordinarily depressing, my grandmother so dependably confused, that my mother didn’t notice anything was differently awry. She could tell you later what would have sounded the alarm: If the conversation had been remotely tolerable, my mother would have called the police or at least the doorman. As it stood, my mother said “Ok then, mom. I love you. Now hang up the phone before I hang up.”
Then my mother hung up the phone, mouth-fucked a few more cheeze-its, fitted her sleep apnea mask in place, breathed deeply twice, lay there, lay there, lay there, still lay there, took off her mask, fumbled for a cheeky Ativan and swallowed it without water, then readjusted her sleep apnea mask. The imprint of the elastic strap and nasal cannula would leave a skin-toned mustache pattern above her lip, which was quite flattering and very pleasant to the touch, she conceded. I understand. When I get a pimple above my lip, to the right, where a mole might hang out on a French lady, I often feel more attractive than when it fades. I should smear Crisco on my upper lip.
By the following day, my grandmother was naked on the hard wood floor. Her pants and shirt fit perfectly over some new excrement, as if the ensemble had been made for it. She was shivering. Her dentures rattled against her gums with the reflexive vibrations so she spit the dentures out.
My mother called, as usual. “Hi mom!” my mother crowed.
“Hi Boniva…” My grandmother replied. Her voice was quavering by this point, and of course she sounded perceptibly toothless. In two days, she hadn’t had a sip of liquid or morsel of food, except for an overly salted half of her high school senior class photograph, and a heavily peppered baby picture of her Hasidic cousin, Reba. Then she groaned abruptly as fragments of Reba flaked off the walls of her small intestine.
My mother hung up the phone as if she had suddenly found out that someone had dipped the receiver in AIDS. She tried to strangle herself with her sleep apnea mask and when that wouldn’t work, she popped a couple of Ativan and watched a double episode of Hoarders on Lifetime.