“Mother…”

            All he can say.  The only thing that can come out as she looks up at him through bifocals.  Her neck disappeared in the drooping, hunched shoulders.  Her wheel chair locked and pushed against the wall.  She just another old face lined up with the others…  And he’s old too now.  Sixty-seven.  A long career behind him.  Many songs.  Many songs played.  Some of them recorded.  Some not.  Some live performances, like that first one in Soulard, only memories.  Only echoes.  To what it was like then.  For a black musician.  A black woman or a black man.  And he still dressed for it.  Wearing a Mississippi necktie.  A suit and felt hat like the man who met him at the crossroads out on Highway 61.  Some of his teeth missing now.  Because he never saw a dentist as a child, and saw no sense in seeing one as an adult.  But the ravages don’t show.  The ravages of his drinking.  This after nearly fifty years of it.  Wine and beer.  Whiskey.  Only some yellowing in his eyes.  His face a perfect image.  The perfect image of the face of a Negro, a Delta Blues Man—large nose and lips, a few darkened pits in his cheeks, and the white whiskers he lets grow under his mouth.  The long hands, the slender fingers—the calluses there.  Hands that have a played a guitar.  For over a half a century.  Hands that know where they’ve been, and what they’ve come back from.  Nothing to say.  And yet saying all they can say about it.

            “Hi, son…  Bend down low.  Bend down low here.  And hug your momma…”

            “They been treatin’ you well, momma?”

            “Oh I just try and sit here, quietly…  I try not to make a fuss.  Sometimes they come into my room though.  They watch that TV you got me.  Bad things—what those women do on it…  I wish you’d take it back…  I don’t want them watching that filth in my room…  You know I’ve been thinkin’ bout it.  How long has it been?  If your father was alive how long would we have been married now?”

            “Oh I don’t know…  I guess near eighty years…”

            “Eighty years…”

            And she lowers her head.  Her head sinks to her chest.  Her breath coming out as a sigh.  And then a moan escapes.  Her voice breaks and becomes a pitch higher as she starts crying.

“I’ve been prayin’ to the Lord to just die…  just let me die—you know.  I’ve been livin’ too long.  Too long in here.  Hours seem like days…  And I have to keep tellin’ myself—you have Jesus in your heart.  And if you have Jesus in your heart you have the mind of Christ…  It’s just so hard in here…  They just take it all away.  They take it all away from ya.  Little by little…”

David kneels and puts his hand on the shaking hands of his mother.  And there’s nothing he can say.  No songs come to him.  No songs for this.  And he feels like it was for him before the war.  That injustice.  What he felt as a black soldier—the rage.  And there is no song for this.  Nothing he can sing to.  For he doesn’t know who to address with his pain.  His anger.  All he can think about is having a drink.  A drink to deaden the dream.  The loss of the dream.  He’s thirsty.  And he can almost taste it.  The thirst of his habit.  That emotional release it gives him.  And he almost smells it again.  His mind goes back to walking with his mother.  His hand raised up to hold hers.  That first musician.  The scene stoned.  Just as this scene here—with his sick and old mother.  Stoned.  A lonesome sound out on a perimeter of nothingness.

“Do you want me to move you?  Do you want me to move you to another care center?”

“Oh…  it would just be the same.  It’s all the same…  just leave me be, son.  Leave me be to die…  Take me to my bed.  I want to lie down and rest.”

And so he wheels her.  David wheels his mother to her room.  He bends down to take off her shoes—her worn slippers, stained.  And he has to lift her.  Hardly any more weight to her at all now.  He lifts her to the bed and scoots her up to the pillow.  Lifting her legs and placing them beneath a quilt.  A quilt she’d sown long ago.  One of many quilts—quilts she made for all her children.

“You still playin’?”

“Yes, momma…  I have a show to do tonight.”

“That’s good…  You just think of me now and again.  Think of me sometimes when you’re playin’.  Think about what you came from…”

“I will, momma.”

And that’s how he leaves.  One of the last times he sees her alive.  And lucid.  For soon her mind goes.  Sometimes she’s recognizes him.  And sometimes not.

One of the floorwalkers comes to the door.  He knocks.  A white man—middle-aged.  Chubby and his white shirt and black pants dirty.  Telling that they’ve been worn for more than one day.  And an eye-patch.  A black eye-patch over one eye—his right eye.

“It’s time for her supper.”

“Can you let her rest?  She’s tired.”

“It’s her time now.  We have set times for the patients to eat…  Don’t I know you?”

“No…”

“Yeah…  I’ve seen you before…  I’ve heard you play!”

“I got’s to go now.  Just let my momma rest.  Maybe she don’t want no supper.”

And he thinks again.  David thinks again of something long ago.  Back to churches and bars.  To a road.  Memories of his mother when she could walk.  When she was strong.  Fighting for her children’s blessings.  He thinks of this world.  The world he is in.  The world he was in that once was.  And seeing this man.  This white man with his eye-patch he thinks of all the land he has traveled.  The towns and cities.  Land blindly traveled.  Traveled for ambition.  To play the music so he could ask the question.  That question he always had.  That question of who would be king–king of last suppers…  Which now led him to this.  Facing a one-eyed man.  A floorwalker charged with the care of his dying mother…  David leans down.  He leans down to kiss his mother’s forehead.  And she looks up at him smiling and says not a word.  And then he stands.  He stands to face the man.  And then walks by him and out the door.

10 

            And some things are worth fighting for.  Some things give you the energy.  The drive to make it happen.  Self-perpetuating.  Like a pendulum in motion.  Day after day the same thing.  And day after day you do it again.  You do it all over again.  The only thing that stops the motion ever asking why…

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