Finding Mom's Gun
“You need to find her gun and hide it,” my sister mumbled while our mother, propped in a hospital bed, prattled on about finding Bigfoot. “Hide her sleeping pills, too.”
“Maybe it’s a bear,” Mom said, eyes wide and milky. Her fingers waved in slow, curious directions, like antennae. “Or a Neanderthal.”
On the vinyl bench beside me, my sister leaned closer. “Just remember, that fucking thing’s loaded,” she said. “No safety switch.”
Mom lunged for her water pitcher. Finding it empty, she shoved it away. “They never provide a person with enough water,” she said. “You’d think we were Mexicans.”
I refilled the pitcher and handed it to her. “Why do you say that?”
Near the end of her life, her vaguely racist comments disturbed me – especially after Donald Trump’s election as president. She had always preferred her own clan to others. With age, it got worse. After she voted for Trump, I stopped calling – estranged. She accused me of turning my back on family. I said I wanted no part of racism or misogyny or xenophobia or Donald Trump’s America.
“A few Neanderthals could have survived the Ice Age,” she said.
“Yes, but what did you mean about Mexicans?”
She waved her hand, dismissive.
“I don’t know where she keeps her stash,” my sister whispered.
I felt paralyzed.
Mom’s best friend had sent an urgent email. I drove from Florida to Atlanta and found Mom listing sideways on a cracked leather couch, staring at the TV without blinking. The house smelled of urine and garbage.
Slowly, her eyes came into focus. “Ginger?”
I hugged her.
“I thought you were the dog at first.”
She didn’t have a dog.
I started talking too fast. Even as a child, I knew Mom found me boring. “You’re awfully thin. Are you eating? Gosh, it’s hot. Did you ever get your air-conditioning fixed?”
Her shoulders stiffened. “Of course, it’s fixed. I just don’t like air-conditioning, but I’ll turn it on for you.”
At the thermostat, she stopped, bent over, and gasped for air.
Weeks earlier, Mom and her friend had searched for beach glass by Lake Erie. That was right after she visited a boyfriend in Hawaii. She couldn’t possibly be sick.
“Please.” I put my arms around her. “Let me do this.”
“For God’s sake, I’m perfectly capable of working a thermostat.”
The next day, my sister and I hauled Mom into an emergency room against her will. In the ER bathroom, she cursed me again as I pulled up her pants.
Congestive heart failure, the doctor said.
When they moved her to a regular room, I held her and said I loved her – she said, I love you, too, darling – and I headed back to her house.
I washed laundry until I ran out of detergent and I kept an eye out for Mom’s gun and sleeping pills. They weren’t in her bedside table or sock drawer or closet. I kept looking and cleaning and looking. Spiders ran for their lives, crazy as sprayed roaches.
Adventure, not housekeeping, had been Mom’s priority. As a kid, this meant I might find myself on a 24-hour floating trip on a freezing river with only Pop-Tarts to eat. She had fun, though – dog-sledding in Lapland and chasing the Aurora Borealis in Iceland. She loved babies and had five of them. Teenagers were far less interesting to Mom. Alcoholism knocked her down hard. Finally, she won that battle. She helped others win it, too.
In her bathroom, the toilet seat came off, broken. A quick trip to Walmart later, I tried to install a new seat, but the bolts wouldn’t lock. Over and over, I looked at the diagram. Nothing worked. I clutched the toilet seat, staring at the bolts and directions – evidence of my pointless effort – and I howled until my throat hurt.
I can’t fix it. I can’t fix it. I can’t fix it.
Mom’s gun was obscured by a pile of shoes. The sleeping pills were in a bag on her dresser. I stored these items, for safekeeping, on a high shelf.
Leaving Mom in the care of my three sisters, I drove back to Florida. She checked herself out of the hospital against medical advice and died weeks later, at 84. I was painting a wall – macaroon cream – when my phone blew up.
She died alone in her bed.
I couldn’t fix her. She didn’t want to be fixed.
I miss her.
About the Author: Ginger Pinholster cruises the beach with Florida’s Volusia-Flagler Turtle Patrol. She also writes about science and technology for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and she misses her daughter Caroline, who serves with the Peace Corps in Nepal. Ginger earned her M.F.A. degree from Queens University of Charlotte. Her short stories and essays have been published by Atticus Review, The Northern Virginia Review, Blackheart Magazine, Crab Fat Magazine, and Dying Dahlia Review, and in the book Boomtown. She’s working on a third novel, Seeing Gethin – a love story about mental illness and stigma.