The Beginning and the End
Sandra Gail Lambert

My mother is drowning. The Hospice doctor sits on the bed with my mother, face to face, and the doctor's soft murmuring alternates with my mother's quaver of an English accent. I watch them from the side. The doctor's head is perched high on a long neck, my mother's sinks into a hunched shoulder. Only the top of an ear visible.

"What is happening to me?" My mother's question has been exhaled on breath that has become the sound of a child making bubbles in her milk with a straw.

I close my eyes. How do they answer here at Hospice when the question is asked? I hold my breath until my throat pleads, until I think maybe this is what my mother feels or would without the drugs.

There's a picture of my mother right after the war, 1948 perhaps. She grew up, was a teenager, during the Blitz of London. She emerged from underground shelters to breathe air filled with ash and soot and the feathers from exploded bedding. Bombs landed on her house. In the photograph, she stands on a rocky beach in France, shoulders back, breasts out, legs poised, and the wind blows through her mass of black hair. A hand is raised to her forehead as she looks to the horizon. Ocean waves curl at her feet. She's wearing one of the first ever bikinis.

"What do you think is happening?" the doctor says.

I open my eyes and breathe again with pursed lips to disguise my need for air. My mother's eye, lost in an exhaustion of wrinkles, slits open. Her head lifts enough to see her chin. It quivers. She stares at the doctor. No words. No words. We wait. Is she scared to die? Is she more scared that someone will say the words?

The doctor holds her hand and leans until their foreheads almost touch. My mother's billowing curtain of an eyelid drops. She sucks a breath into liquid lungs, and her body falls into itself once again.

"Let's give you something to make you more comfortable, shall we?" The doctor says this in the kindest voice I've ever heard.

And now I am choking.

And now the morphined end of things begins.

Sandra Gail Lambert lives in Gainesville, Florida where she writes fiction and memoir. She's had work published in New Letters, the North American Review, Arts & Letters, and the Alaska Quarterly Review, and recently, she received awards from the 2013 Saints and Sinners Short Fiction Contest and Big Fiction's 2013 Knickerbocker Prize. Her novel, The River's Memory, will be released in the fall of 2014.