Pretty Stories

Michelle K. O'Kane

Reno, 2016

My brain is just a bunch of weeds. Dried up, crispy, fried, brittle. I am forty-three. My mother died when she was forty-three. She died right after surgery to remove her brain tumor. The last time I saw her, alive, she was on a gurney, sedated, her long, curly brown hair looking like it was being mulled into a cap. I watched her being pushed, under a blanket, on the gurney, through blue hospital doors, that closed. Quietly. That was the last time I saw my mother breathing. Two days later I saw my mother again. She was in a hospital room, dead. Her bed was against the east facing wall, and there was only one bed in the room. I learned that there were always only one bed in those rooms. The dead people rooms. Dead people and machines that should be beeping and moving. The machines in those rooms were also dead. I felt so shaken, like when I had stood behind the shuddering glass at the one-hour-photo, where I worked, last year. That was the ‘89 earthquake. Everything shook, rolled, dropped, broke. Seventeen seconds of rolling destruction. Everything seemed to be wanting to be pulled under the surface of the earth. And invisible force. It was such a quiet, deafening shaking. Like now. Like inside of me now. Looking at my dead mother. Like now. Me. Standing there in a ray of sunlight, on the weirdly soft hospital floor. Always, hospital floors were weirdly quiet. The wheels of wheelchairs and gurneys were loud. Rolling around, squeaking. Everything was always, it seemed, rolling. I felt more shaken by how little I felt as I looked at her, sleeping without breathing. She still had that cap on her head. It was the only time I ever saw my mother's hair look so lifeless.

I've been here working in the yard. It's all clear now - only a few vines & I've started planting vegetables and flowers. I'm starting everything from seeds.

Kathleen, 1981

Today, I am alive, technically. I often wonder if my mother and I had brains that weren't built to work for more than forty-three years.

I want to see flowers. I want to feel warm water. I want to feel waves crashing against my back. I feel stupid. I feel smart. Do I feel smart because I'm so stupid? “Feelings” are supposed to be shown, not told, when writing. I want to feel happy. I want to eat. I want to know. I want my hair to not fall out. I need a break. I need a brain. I want a break that lasts me the rest of my life and beyond. I don't want to remember being eight years old with my gymnastic teacher's hands in my pants. I've been working for something since I could walk to school by myself. I want my hair back. I want my life back. I want a sandwich. I want ice-cream. I want to eat without puking into the nearest toilet. I want to sleep. Forever. I want to live happily. Indefinitely. I want to hold my newborn son, every one of these days. I want to be in love and mean it. I want to hide in a lake. I want to hide with fish. I want to write about people who exist, and who are good. Instead I'm swimming fiercely in shallow water. My knees hit rocks. I taste blood. I remember the metallic, plastic, blasting sound of my typewriter smashing cement after I threw it over my balcony. Little brown buttons with letters in a dark courier font splattered the ground. H and I, two stated.

When the typewriter hit the concrete, the black ribbon spool still pressed against paper. After it thudded, I remember brown leaves drifting around my brown typewriter, like ballerinas, floating in the blasted air. I want to see the brown leaves drifting across the scuffled concrete of my patio. I want to look between the brown patio stairs and see the ground. I want to hear the shuffling sound of shoes as people walk on the other side of the fence, unaware of what they're missing over here.

Michelle, 2016

September, 1979
Dear Mother/Maga,

Meanwhile, at night, when you lie in bed, concentrate on the areas that bother you (your sinuses) let your mind sort of float through your sinuses. Then feel that the spirit of the lord is flowing there, soothing & healing - drying up your sinuses (you can even try it at work when you are troubled). You can ask Him to remove the pain. Just say, "Please, Jesus, take away my suffering." Just try it.