Issue 4‎ > ‎

The Bed in the Dining Room

    The piano is in the dining room. This particular dining room once held food that drew crowds of people after church every Sunday. The talk around make-shift tables was the muddled loudness of many people laughing and hearing stories at once. The mother made the room clean and inviting, made all the food, and counted the one, two, three, four, five, six heads of her children every few minutes.
    Now there is a bed in the dining room. The table has been pushed aside. The six children all have children of their own, and all of them are standing around the bed in a room where beds are not supposed to be. The mother, who would spank her children with hotwheel tracks, is sleeping. She is asleep, but her eyes are open. This is very confusing to a little boy standing beside his uncle, who is crying tears quietly.
    The hymnal propped up on the piano is open to a page holding the lyrics, “I just wanna be a sheep.” The chorus is a collective “baa” that the young kids would shout out and the older kids would cringe to hear. When the little boy gets older, he will speculate on whether he really does want to be a sheep. But, for now, he stands a few feet to the left of the piano, too young to question.
    The other kids are outside playing as if there isn’t a woman sleeping with her eyes open in a bed in the dining room where three months ago they all ate Thanksgiving. The little boy’s fingers wrap around the handle on the bed. His eyes momentarily wander to the other faces creating a fence between the bed and the world. He looks around at his very loud family, all being very quiet. On the wall behind the boy, the clock that kept time for forty years is still ticking. His eyes fall back on the decrepit frame that was once his grandmother’s. Her arms had been strong from wielding cast iron pans, and pitchforks, and racecar tracks. Now they are twigs thinner than his own, seven-year-old ones. Her eyes are clouded over and glossy, not the sharply cutting blues that once caught her oldest son crawling through a window. The hospital gown she wears doesn’t suit her. It is not the chicken-patterned apron that taught the little boy to cook his first omelet—at five years old, because children weren’t too young for anything.
    Her mouth moves and everyone stirs a bit. The noises she makes aren’t words, though, just sounds from a voice box, connected to a brain, clinging to a few memories that have not been lost forever. The little boy’s uncle covers a sob with one hand, and the boy reaches for the other. He sees his mother turn into his father’s chest to hide from the scene. His grandfather doesn’t look away. He takes a hand hardened by too many years of fixing heaters and he gently touches her forehead.
    Days ago, there had been acceptance in the little boy’s father’s eyes as he took a knee and explained, “Grandma… she’s not going to be here anymore…”.
    He had nodded, and been hugged, and been called brave. But his mind had whispered, That’s not grandma. She’s already gone.
    Truth be told, the mother has not been with them for a long time. The mother had stopped being with them when she’d forgotten her children’s names. She’d stopped being mother or grandmother when she could no longer cook even an egg. She had stopped being herself when she’d snuck into the bathroom while her husband had been showering, stolen his dirty socks, and walked around for hours with them on her hands like mittens. The thin-armed, cloudy-eyed woman before them is a different person
    The mother’s daughters (holding hands now like they never had as kids) learned to wash this woman’s hair. They dressed this woman daily, helped her brush her teeth, cooked her meals for her. They reprimanded this woman for acting up in the supermarket. They explained to her she could not tell strangers that her boobs were, in fact, “fake ones built into a bra”. Her husband, the only one she remembered till the very end, had heard her say “I love you” more in these past months than their previous forty-six years of marriage. Her sons told stories about her cooking, and her hitting them when they were bad, and the respect she drove into their hearts. The little boy’s sister even looks like her a little, his dad always says so.
    Now they are all in the dining room, tears on cheeks, gathered around that woman they are losing. The little boy is here because he feels that he should be. And, when his oldest cousin sits down at the piano and begins to play “Amazing Grace”, he joins in singing. Soon, the entire group of them is singing his grandmother’s favorite hymn. Then, he is there to sing, and, when the woman’s breathing begins to slow, he is there to count the seconds between each breath.
    She would inhale… one, two three… She would exhale… one, two, three, four…
    “When we’ve been there ten thousand years…”
    She would inhale… one, two, three, four…
    “We’ve no less days…”
    And exhale… One, two, three, four, five, six…
    “ sing God’s praise than when we first believed.”
    One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine…

Emmalee Gagnon is a nineteen-year-old author who is currently an English major with a concentration in Creative Writing at Arcadia University. She has completed three novels, one of which has been completely edited with her writing mentor and freelance editor, Patty Zion. Emmalee was the youngest person to ever be selected to attend the New York Pitch Conference, and had the opportunity while there to have her work critiqued by editors and agents. She has won multiple poetry and short story contests, has three poems published in the anthology POETRY, and one in Pennsylvania’s Best Emerging Poets.