by Constance Camille
I sat side saddle on the bed beside my mother peeling the lid off a tub of ice cream. Her eyes had followed my movement from the door to the bed when I came in, seeing only a dark shadow. She hadn’t seen my face for ten years, the macular degeneration putting a cloudy wall between her and others, only allowing the periphery into her world. I observed her without her awareness. Resting in a reclining position on her hospital bed, she remained a picture of beauty even as she inched toward death. Dying had not stolen that from her yet. Faded blue-gray eyes gazed back at me, so striking against the pewter hair that framed the hollow craters in her cheeks.
Guess what we’re having for lunch today? She had rejected her lunch earlier, pushing the plate away almost as soon as the aide put it on the table. She paused to ponder the question. Then, she chuckled and gave me a devilish look. Ice Cream. She flashed a smile of genuine delight—an expression I had not seen in months.
Moments like this plunged me into my childhood. Before hospice care, my mother loved ice cream. I remembered the days as a little girl we drove to the Dairy Queen for a Sunday afternoon treat—a Dilly Bar for her, a chocolate dipped cone for me. She got a kick out of giving a vanilla sundae to our little Chihuahua, who stood on the dashboard shivering uncontrollably, licking the cup clean. We sat in the car eating our ice cream, pushing the dog’s cup back when it scooted too close to the edge.
Our days were spent keeping her comfortable. If she experienced pain, she received a pill. If her skin itched, I rubbed lotion on her. If she felt a chill, I pulled up the cover. If she slept, I sat by her bed. One day folded into the next while we waited for the inevitable.
She hadn’t been eating well and her strength was slipping away, unable at times to feed herself. Between her hands shaking and her poor vision, getting the food from the plate to her mouth was a struggle. For this reason, I visited with her at mealtimes so I could feed her. In fact, I enjoyed these times—this turn of the tables, a child feeding her mother instead of the other way around.
She brought bags of Reese Cups and Snickers Bars to hospice and put them in the nightstand by her bed. When I expressed concern over her eating sweets instead of meat and potatoes, the nurse looked at me knowingly. Don’t worry about it. Let her have whatever she wants when she wants it. I settled back into these words and conceded—it didn’t matter at that point.
I bought little tubs of vanilla ice cream—the kind she used to buy for me at Mr. Carson’s grocery store when I was a child, the ones with the paper lid that pulled back and the tiny wooden spoon attached. I kept them in the freezer in the hospice kitchen down the hall. In the afternoons when she awoke from a nap, I padded to the kitchen for her treat. It became our daily ritual.
After snapping a bib around her neck, I scooped the spoon into the rich cream and paused. I needed to forewarn her. Here it comes. She opened her mouth and waited. She sensed the spoon when it touched her lips and closed down on it, smiling at the taste of the sweet, cold confection. Like a baby bird, she opened her mouth for another.
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Constance Camille resides in Florida with her Volpino Italiana furbabies where she writes creative nonfiction and poetry. Her idea of heaven is a good book and a picnic. An MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, Constance serves as reads for The Florida Review and its digital component Aquifer. She served as editor of the online digital magazine South Georgia Today and is currently the book review editor for The Florida Review. She completed her poetry chapbook Other Shiny Things and her work has been published in The Helix Magazine, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, The Write Stuff Anthology, and Sundog Lit, where her poem was a finalist in their 2019 Collaborative Contest.