Fredericksburg

By Steven D. Howe

If you want the honest answer, no, I’m not doing “fine” today or “well” or even just “plugging along” because last week my mom brought my stepdad home to a camper in the Oakwood RV Park to hospice-out the remainder of his life so she could physically be with him during his last days and not just speak to him from the flowerbed outside his hospital window with bluebonnet petals embedded in the mud on the soles of her shoes—speak but not see since daylight against a window reflects only soon-to-be-widows, and through a dusty screen you cannot see the collapsing cheeks of the dying or caress the arm awash in purple bruises that appear from nowhere, you can’t try one more time to feed the now-cold broth before the nurse removes the tray, and I was happy she could be with him but upset as hospice in this case only meant a sympathetic smile came by every day or two with some soothing words and comforting meds and the rest of the time my 78-year-old, 5-foot-nothing mom had to muscle my 80-year-old dying stepdad in and out of a shitty RV recliner so he could look out the window at a gravel parking lot and muse about the boats coming out of the wallpaper, hallucinations that appeared when his body stopped reminding him that to live he must eat, which caused him to become even weaker and slide out of that fucking chair and she couldn’t pick him up so she had to call the EMTs to pick him up and it should have been me picking him up, but I wasn’t there because the RV park is 700 miles away and serious public health professionals, contradicting clownish politicians, said I needed to put the community first, said my need to say goodbye in person and help my mom was selfish and I might already be exposed to the virus since, in this twisty new world, my McDonalds-drive-thru-working-kid is deemed fucking "essential" yet still earns piss wages and the greedy fuckers who own that multi-billion-dollar-heart-attack-shack won’t pony up hazard pay earned taking germ-ridden cash and debit cards from the hands of every finger-licking-cough-in-your-face-social-distancing-is-for-pussies-give-me-liberty-and-I’ll-give-you-death-piece-of-right-wing-shit who believes a president who tells them if they take hydroxychloroquine it just might make their dick bigger, or kill them, but probably make their dick bigger, these filthy moth people who despite there being an open door will repeatedly smash their skulls against the windowpane and as the bodies pile up on the sill beneath them they will insist theirs is the only path to freedom, so at home we clean the knobs and the counters and we don't hug or even touch but sometimes I sneak a hand onto their shoulder just to trigger an injection of oxytocin in my brain that reminds me I am human, a human who also wonders if every throat-clear is a symptom, and if my high-risk-lung-issue-mom got sick there would have been no one else to care for her husband, no one to touch him, to give him those brief injections of humanity, so I stayed home to not chance stealing those final days together from them, and today while she sat outside the camper in a lawn chair talking to me on the phone as the hospice-smile collected the oxygen machine and leftover morphine, I asked how she felt and she told me she’s done crying for now, that wailing is not in her nature, but she will probably cry again later.



Steven D. Howe is a writer and teacher based in Albuquerque whose work has appeared in The Rumpus, Booth Journal, Sonora Review, and Superstition Review among others. 


Art by Jeff Kallet.

Submission Manager

For info on how to submit, click the SUBMISSION GUIDELINES tab in the Header