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The Space Between

Chapter One

By Barbara Steinhauser Published 12 months ago 4 min read
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Purple clouds entered the room. Photo designed by author.

Every night at midnight, the purple clouds came out to dance with the blushing sky. Heather peered through the unshrouded window, full of anticipation. The sky was darkening; she would have a ringside seat. Mother's room was on the fifth floor. Its window offered views directly west across a horizon of corn fields nearing tillage. She could almost smell the fertile soil crumbling and lush.

So much was transitioning; winter endings more than spring beginnings, she supposed. She had to see this miraculous event tonight; she needed to see it. Somewhere down the hall, a clock tick-tocked the minutes remaining.

Beside her, Mother's raspy breath indicated her position on the adjustable hospital bed. Should she puff up her elder's pillow? Prop her up a bit? The room felt claustrophobic, dark as Hospice allowed.

Heather plopped onto the leaky air mattress that was her temporary bed. She could not state with certainty, "Mother and Dad's midnight dance continues every night." She felt it had always been so, because last time she had attended to it, the dance had repeated night after night.

So much had happened since those dreadful days. She hadn't paid attention every night after night after night, she had grown up. Had she noticed any midnight any night since she'd married and had babies of her own to tend? Three children under five had superseded all else. Within the simultaneous reality of diaper changes and potty training and preschool, she had forgotten all about the space between.

Lying back on the squishy mattress, she stared at the shadowy white ceiling tiles: perfect squares. So this was what Mother saw most days, lying prone upon an uncomfortable bed. Dementia, Depends... a disastrous way to wind up a beautiful life. Maybe it was better to go fast, like Daddy had, alive and active to the very end? Better for Daddy anyway.

Some days, during that nightmarish, lonely time "after," Heather had hoped her beating heart would simply stop. She could no longer pour granulated, white sugar atop a full bowl of milk-saturated grape nuts. Daddy had taught her to make this concoction and as he no longer sat across the table inhaling his, she'd switched to corn flakes and loaded them with golden honey. Eventually she'd skipped breakfast altogether. Sitting at the walnut table he loved, held little appeal.

Some nights "after," she would listen to the beat, beat, beat of her heart afraid she might hear it stop. Those nights, she licked salty tears from her cheeks, released her spirit from its chains of gravity, and rose to swirl around and through the purple, blush atmosphere generated by her flushed Mommy and devoted Daddy. She knew it was they who spun in an airy double hop polka at midnight. Her parents clung to each other despite the complicated stroke that whisked her Daddy from the physical world. Profound security existed within this awareness; true love never died. Mommy and Daddy proved it was eternal as Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire on film.

Heather stared through the open window. The moon was in its waxing crescent stage. That meant the illuminated part of the moon was expanding, but wasn't yet halfway lit. An ache settled in her chest. Had her parents continue to spin round each other with delight, considering Mother had remarried? She knew Mother had married her stepdad because neither of them had wanted to live alone. After 30 years, Mother had to have loved him. But had she given up the dance?

Daddy died dancing with Mother. He had swung her into a final spin and hug, then fallen straight backward onto the marble floor, grey hair dark with blood. He had been dead before he hit the crushing surface, thank God. His head broke into so many pieces, the mortuary technician had rebuilt his skull to make it palatable for casket viewing.

But the reconstruction hadn't been right; that creature lying inside the walnut casket surrounded by cream satin had not looked like Daddy. Blush powdering those gaunt cheeks wasn't his natural flush; this coloring had been intimidating. Daddy's cheeks had been more of a soft berry, not mauve. And the stiff head plastered into position on the ivory pillow held no lilt. Daddy's head had always leaned to one side or the other when he gazed at her with pride, flashing that big toothed grin she loved more than life. Photographs had been taken of them crossing their eyes and displaying silly smiles.

"Can you tell she's my daughter," Daddy would ask friends, as Mommy rolled her eyes.

Heather remembered staring at his fingers, folded across his chest. Mommy had chosen for this calamitous occasion Daddy's heather green, wool sport coat. Had she meant to cause her daughter Heather extra anguish? She loved that jacket, as if she had been named for it.

"A suit would have been wasted on that mannequin," Mommy had said, which was true. The casket cut off his display at the waist. Heather hadn't considered how he was dressed down there. It felt like a betrayal to wonder.

Daddy's fingers were long as pencils. Had his fingers truly been that long? She had never noticed; they were never still. They ruffled her orange hair. They swung Mommy into a kiss beside the refrigerator every night at 5:30pm. They sanded and oiled the inherited walnut table on Grandpa Walt's birthday. How had she never noticed their slender length, close clipped fingernails, freckles?

She rose and made her way to Mother's bed. Hospice claimed Mother was dying. Harmonizing thinking and feeling was important, they claimed.

How did a daughter do this. She eased her bottom onto the adjustable bed. Mother's hand was cool to the touch: cool and oddly bent at the wrist. "What happened here," she whispered. Cupping it between her cold palms, Heather waited for Mommy to stir.

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About the Creator

Barbara Steinhauser

Thank you for taking time to read my stuff. I love writing almost as much as I love my people. I went back to college and earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults and often run on that storytelling track. Enjoy!

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