Men are coming to take Mom’s bed.
Her quilts and blankets and sheets and throws are covered with cigarette burn holes. I strip the bed and fill four big black garbage bags and cram them in her closet whose door does not shut anyway. The mattress, now bare, has burn holes in it too, and some stains of coffee or soda or alcohol, and among all that there is also an indent, one my mother’s jeckin—that’s Penobscot for butt—made in the bed, the same indent in which her body was found, the body I watched from my car get carried outside down the stairs in a maroon bag and set on a gurney that two men then lifted gently and wheeled away and tucked in the back of a van. Her body exists now only as pəkʷ—that’s Penobscot for ash—enough to fill that indent in the bed, which I want to sit in, but I do not dare. I sit next to it, near it, admiring the way it dips and forms a pool in the fabric of the bed, but like I said I do not dare get any closer for the fear of falling into it and never, ever coming out again.
We used to watch shows on Netflix. Stuff about crime and murder, the planet and its animals and even shows on cosmos and space. It’s those last shows that make it so I can’t help but see the indent—the indent created by the time Mom spent sitting there, propped up with pillows, playing Bingo on her Kindle while we simultaneously watched the tv or talked, me in the recliner next to her, visiting—can’t help but see this indent as something of a black hole.
The men coming for the bed should be here soon. All the other furniture they plan to take is ready. I worry that they won’t take the bed, that it’s in too rough of shape, so I get up and flip the mattress to its other side, which has no burn holes at all, and no indent—but where the indent should be is a small raised mound like dirt over a grave.
I don’t remember the name of the show we watched the last time I visited her, but it had to do with the universe. We ’d both just eaten—Mom made grilled cheese with Swiss and thinly sliced tomatoes—and then she checked her sugar, a world of knowledge in the pinprick of her blood. We settled down then, her in bed and me in the recliner. The show played and Mom watched a bit of it before her attention went fully to her Bingo game on her Kindle and the cigarette she smoked. I watched the show only for so long before my curiosity outpaced it and I started Googling on my phone about black holes and gravity and time. I found information for dummies like me on Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which says that space is not a flat, unchanging, absolute entity. No. It’s woven together, along with time, into a single fabric called spacetime. This fabric, the article explained, curves and becomes deformed or even indented by the presence of matter and energy. Einstein’s theory is supported by black holes, which are formed by the death of a massive star that has collapsed in on itself when the star exhausted the internal thermonuclear fuels in its core at the end of its life. The black hole is so heavy that it indents the fabric of spacetime, and the closer you get to it, the more gravity increases and the more time slows compared to those elsewhere, those farther away, watching, like me back on Earth in my mother’s room, waiting for those men.
Here, though, in Mom’s room, I don’t need a telescope or image of a black hole or any article or tv show on space to see this proof: I flip the mattress back over and it’s right in front of me, all of it, Einstein’s theory, woven into the fabric of my mother’s bed, which was once flat but is now burnt and changed and indented by the matter and energy of her life. She was a sixty-one-year-old star that spontaneously collapsed in on herself, and what remains now is not the pull of gravity, but rather the pull of emotion, which is its own gravity.
“Put on that show about bears,” Mom had said, not looking up from her Kindle and jabbing away at its screen with her white stylus pen. “I don’t know what the hell’s going on with this galaxy crap.”
This, a show about bears, is the last show we watched together.
When I cleaned Mom’s small bookshelf—The Green Mile, The Clan of the Cave Bear, Tuesdays with Morrie, Winter in the Blood, and Great Sex, a small purple book that my friends and I years ago used to look at, as well as a dozen other titles that elude me and that she’s had forever—I discovered she had seven different bibles, all of which I threw away except for one, the King James Version. And unlike all the other bibles I tossed, this one had a dog-eared page and above perfect black underline I read, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In Penobscot culture, Mom told me, the earth was created by kčí-niweskʷ, the Great Being, who then created Gluskabe, a hero with supernatural powers, who fired an arrow into an ash tree and out sprang us: pαnawάhpskek, Penobscot people. Science says that we’re here because of the Big Bang that occurred 13.8 billion years ago, when an extremely dense point exploded with a force so unimaginable that it created matter and propelled it outward to make the billions of galaxies of the universe. These are all stories, and that’s all I care about. I believe in one as much as I believe in the next. Although the Big Bang seems to make the most sense, I guess. And in thinking about this, the death of a loved one is its own big bang: an unimaginable force of emotion creating, at least for me, matter in the form of letters and words and sentences and paragraphs that compose a story, a story that is hers, mine, and now yours. I never sat in the indent my mom made in the bed. I can’t change that. Once a story is told—Mom read to me from a book I cannot remember—once a story is let go into the world, it can never be called back.
Kind of like an explosion.
Kind of like Mom.
In the apartment building, Mom always complained about the narrow and twisting steps that led to her apartment, and so when the men, three of them, come for the bed, we each have to turn our bodies to allow us passage, and when I turn, I turn my body away from the men, have my face toward the wall as they are going up and I am going down. I cannot look at them. I am feeling enough grief to last 13.8 billion years. Outside, I sit in my car and watch as they wrestle the mattress, flopping, out of the door and down the stairs where they finally tilt it flat and slide it into the back of a small U-Haul-type truck, the name church of christ written across its side. They bring the other things down: the bed frame and box spring, an empty dresser, two entertainment stands, a kitchen table and two chairs, and boxes of dishes and the only clothes she had without any burn holes or stains.
When they finish, two men sit on the back of the truck while one makes a call. My phone, on vibrate, is on the passenger seat and it moves like magic. It vrrs and vrrs and vrrs and vrrs until I see the man take the phone from his ear, press a button, and slip the phone into his shirt pocket, but I find it curious that he’s already hung up and for some reason my phone still vibrates twice more. What would have happened if I answered right then, when the phone said it was still ringing but I saw the man end the call?
The man comes to my car and asks if I saw anyone from Apartment Four leave, and I say, “Yeah, he left a bit ago.”
“Who are you?” he asks, suspicious, I think.
Mom would say, Who am I? Who the fuck are you?
“Nobody,” I say. “Waiting to get out.” And I point to the truck blocking the driveway.
Mom would say, Move your fucking truck.
I forget the man is here, because I’m thinking of Mom and the anger of hers I do not carry, thinking about the number of times she could have been gone when I was a child just like she is now. It doesn’t matter if it was spilled red juice on the nightstand, like she said, or her blood, because something inexplicable happened to me then. And so when the man from the Church of Christ says, so sincerely, “Sorry, sorry,” it takes my breath away.
Later, a day or two or three, after the men have taken everything from the apartment, including that bed I was afraid of falling into and never being able to escape from, always there infinitely stuck, after I clean the apartment one final time and drop her keys with a clank onto the stove, never to return, I am at home, in the cold garage sitting on a small stool, surrounded by my mother’s belongings stained with the smell of smoke, which is what she smelled like. It’s half past four, and my phone is ringing, but I ignore it. She is here, in both the smell of the smoke and in the urn upstairs, while I’m reading one of the many journals she kept. Nothing has yet surprised me. I ’d seen things growing up, and my mother told me everything, even the bad stuff of her life, the terrible, terrible things—“I was only four when it started,” she said—and so I don’t feel as if my reading her journals is a breach of privacy. Just a one-sided conversation, one in which she is the only person talking. While the dust of my mother is upstairs in an urn, up in the sky above, I’m down below, grounded, reading her journal entry written in a pink gel pen that sparkles like heaven, like spə̀mki. The entry is from 2016, and she’s writing about her depression after her mother, my grammy, died. “It hit me so very hard,” she wrote. “I miss her. She was my best friend.”
wəsíkpαso is to pαnawάhpskek as grief is to English.
One time at Mom’s, watching a show on the cosmos, both of our attentions elsewhere, I found an article published on September 2020 on Space.com called “Are Some Black Holes Wormholes in Disguise? Gamma-Ray Blasts May Shed Clues.” Wormholes, in theory, connect disparate points in space and allow for fast travel across unimaginable distances. A black hole may be a black hole, or it may be a wormhole. It is 2016 when Mom writes about her mother, about missing her, but it is 2021 when I read it, me here and Mom there, each of us in disparate times, but the power of language bending it and bringing us together like a wormhole linking not our physical bodies but the emotion of grief. Wormhole is to science as wordhole is to language.
I turn my attention back to Mom’s journal again and keep reading and reading and reading. Like I said, my mother told me everything, but I’m searching, because I need to, for something I’ve never known before. But I find nothing, at least not in this journal, at least not in this lifetime. I pick up my phone and scroll through my voicemails until I find one of the few from Mom, and I put it on speaker. It’s one I already heard before. When I let it play, her voice, now gone but still here, says, “Hi Honey, it’s about quarter to six, no need to get right back, I’m going to go out and smoke. Um, and if we don’t talk tonight, we’ll talk tomorrow morning, or whenever. But, uh, I’ll try you one more time, about six o ’clock. Bye-bye.”
It’s going on five pm now. Six pm seems so far away, but like a time I can actually arrive at, one where my mother will answer her phone. Still, it’s impossible. We won’t talk again.
I set the phone down but don’t let go of it. And then I have it again in front of me, finger scrolling back up to my newest voicemails. Language knows no time, yet my phone marks the last voicemail, the one it tries to transcribe, as being received at four thirty-three pm. It’s the men, or one of the men, who took my mother’s bed. I don’t listen to the message as I did to my mother’s, but instead read the transcription, which barely has any sentences clearly transcribed: Hey [unintelligible], this is [unintelligible]. I was calling about the [unintelligible]. It’s burned in [unintelligible] places. And, I’m sorry, this sounds [unintelligible], but no one wants a bed a person [unintelligible] in. We’re taking it to the [unintelligible].
To the unintelligible. Sure. Take it there. Take it beyond there. Out past there for all I care.