Aphelion Issue 268, Volume 25
December 2021
 
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Do Not Cry for Me, for I Am Saved

by Cedrick May




Lindsey put her hand against the hospital-room door and hesitated. The nurse at the reception desk had told her that her mother was still with the world but wasn’t expected to make it through the night.

 Nobody had come to visit her while she was in the hospital.

No one came to be with her in her final hours.

Although visiting hours were over, the nurse let Lindsay through, had shown her to the door after she told the nurse that she was Mrs. Caroline Blake’s great granddaughter all the way from Portland.

Portland.

 Lindsey’s younger sister, Beverly, relocated to Portland in the early eighties, right after graduating from high school. Beverly, had always been the smart one, and she had secretly applied to college and was accepted into Reed on a scholarship.

 Beverly is now a psychiatrist there in Oregon, with a husband she loves and three adult children who’ve gone on to live their own lives, two in Portland and one in Marseille, France.

 Beverly never went back home after leaving. Ever.

None of the three girls ever returned home, until now, until Lindsey.

 At the reception desk, Lindsey told the nurse she was the youngest daughter of Beverly’s oldest child. It was a terrible lie to tell, of course, and Lindsey felt bad about the deception, but she had just driven three days straight through several lines of dangerous storms and a police officer she left lying dead on the side of a rural highway to get here before her mother died. She needed a cover that would touch the receptionist’s sense of charity as well as explain why she looked so young.

 The receptionist gave a conspiratorial look around the near-empty reception area, at the disinterested medication aid counting out pills and the preoccupied nurse flipping through a clipboard full of charts. She turned back to Lindsey with sympathy in her eyes. “Of course, honey. Third floor, room 344.” 

 Lindsey left Morrisville, Vermont in 1971 with a boy she met at the bus station. Orlando.

 Lindsey thought about Orlando a lot on this trip back home. Orlando had made her what she was, or, rather, had given her the gift the church had promised would be her due if she were a good girl, if she followed all of the rules. Yes, if she followed the rules, she would find salvation.

 The church’s price, however, had been far too degrading.

 It was the rules and the ways they were abused by the church elders, how her mother had doggedly subscribed to them at any price, that drove Lindsey and her sisters away from home, away from their faith.

 But Orlando--sweet, sweet Orlando...

 He had accompanied Lindsey when she finally got up the courage to leave home on a hot August night in 1971. Lindsey had worked up enough courage to leave that night, so she stole the grocery money from the coffee can in the larder her mother kept hidden there, knowing it would be just enough to get her to Boston, or maybe New York. She hid outside the bus stop in the alley between the station and the leatherworks shop, waiting for her departure time to arrive.  She wept into her hands, already missing her younger sisters, worried for them in her absence. She had been their only defender.

 “It’s going to be okay, you know,” a voice said from deep within the alley. Lindsey’s head popped up and she saw that she wasn’t alone anymore, that a boy--or maybe a young man a little older than her, say maybe nineteen or twenty--was sitting across the alley fiddling with a silver cigarette lighter. She could have sworn she was by herself when she entered the alley, and certainly didn’t see or hear him approach.

 He flipped open the silver lighter with one hand, striking the flint with skilled fingers all in one motion as he brought the flame to a cigarette dangling from his lips. He took a long drag and held it while Lindsey surveyed him. Long black bangs hung down to just above his eyes, and he wore an Alice Cooper t-shirt. Lindsey was both fascinated and repulsed by the image on the shirt with the caption, “Alice Cooper Goes to Hell.”

 “Well, what do you know,” she said, wiping her eyes as she turned away, embarrassed but still watching him out the corner of her eye.

 He leaned his head back and blew the smoke out through his nose and mouth as he spoke.

 “I’ll show you. Think of a color and I’ll bet I can guess it.” He gave Lindsey a wide smile, and as hard as she tried to be indifferent to the young stranger’s advances, she couldn’t help but suppress a smile at the incongruity of the wide gap between his front teeth, the smooth cigarette smoking, and the Alice Cooper t-shirt, all of which made him look a little too much like a rock-and-roll version of Alfred E. Neuman from Mad Magazine.

 “Okay, I’ll play,” Lindsey said, closing her eyes and concentrating.

 A moment passed in silence, as the boy squeezed his eyes shut in exaggerated earnest while taking another long drag of his cigarette.

 “Hey, no fair! Gray isn’t a real color, it’s more of a tone.”

 “You’re just guessing!” Lindsey smiled, opening her eyes.

 “A guess would have been blue. Most girls pick blue, but you were definitely thinking gray.”

 “What color do most guys pick?”

 “I wouldn’t know,” he said, flicking the spent cigarette bud down the alley while exhaling a plume of smoke, “I don’t give a shit what guys are thinking.”

 Lindsey laughed.

 The boy pulled out another smoke and lit it, barely giving it a chance to catch as he sucked the flame from the lighter into the tobacco-filled tube several times like a circus trick. He gave Lindsey a sideways smile and a wink.

 “How do you do it?”

 The boy tapped his head, holding the cigarette between his fore and middle fingers, ashes flaking off and settling into his dark locks, “ESP, baby. I’ve got the gift.”

 And he did. And two months later, after the Jethro Tull concert in Jacksonville, Florida, while they made love in a flophouse, he gave Lindsey the gift. He stayed with her, bound for the next thirty years by a sense of duty unlike anything she had experienced, showing her what love felt like and introducing her to an extended community she had once been taught to be, at best a myth, at worst, an abomination.

 They became her family.

 Suzannah, Lindsey’s youngest sister, lived in southern San Diego where she worked for a nonprofit that helped to relocate immigrant families. She never went to college, but, rather, travelled across Mexico and Guatemala for twenty years before settling in San Diego in the late 80s. Suzannah had gotten the worst of things growing up, especially after Lindsey left. Lindsey knew her youngest sister still wore the physical and psychological wounds from the abuse and neglect she suffered. She had very carefully--from afar without detection--watched her sister in recent years, knew how dedicated and big-hearted she was in her efforts to help others, knew that she was a recovering alcoholic who still went to group sessions, knew that she had never married or was capable of stable relationships. She lived alone, and always would.

 Lindsey wanted to go to her so badly, to let he know she was still alive, that God still loved her even though she and Beverly had abandoned their faith--but Lindsey knew she could never do that.

 “Momma?” Linsey said in a near whisper as she pushed the door to her mother’s room open. It was mostly dark inside, with only the small nightlight over her mother’s headboard illuminating the room and casting long shadows into the corners.

 Lindsey saw her mother, small and frail now, lying there, head lolled to one side falling off her pillow.

 Lindsey gasped at the sight of her mother lying in the bed, and she fought against the sudden pressure in her chest that threatened to rise into her throat. Her mother’s likeness to Suzannah, a much older version of her youngest sister, caught Lindsey off guard and made tears well up in her eyes. The image of her mother’s face she had caried with her before this moment had been the faded, fifty-year-old memory of a frightened seventeen-year-old child. Children never see themselves in their parents until much later in life, and the revelation of seeing her little sister--and bits of both herself and Beverly, as well--in this woman she had carried so much anger towards gave her pause and made her reconsider her presence in this room tonight.

 Lindsey took a deep breath and walked from the door to her mother’s bedside.

 It had been fifty years since she had seen her mother, and she thought she was ready for this moment, thought that she would be able to see her mom, would be able to confront her with a dispassionate indifference cultivated over the many decades. She didn’t want to hate her mother, though it would be easy to do so for the pain and neglect she allowed her daughters to endure while she exercised a selfish piety that made her completely indifferent to their basic needs--no, Lindsey wanted to feel nothing, nothing at all at this moment...

 But that face. Suzannah. Beverly. Momma...

 Lindsey put her hand on her mother’s thin, withered arm and sank to her knees wailing. It was a deep, painful cry from deep within her soul that rose from the bottom of her stomach and up through her wide-open throat. She cried like a child, unable to contain the grief of having never felt her mother’s love, cried because she could not force herself not to love her in return.

“Momma...” Lindsey said over and over, quietly, through the tears.

 “Momma...”

 Holding her arm, Lindsey felt the edge of her mother’s consciousness in her own mind. Though her eyes were closed and her energy fading, Lindsey knew that she, her mother, was aware of her presence. Her ability to know this was one of Orlando’s many gifts.

 Do not cry for me child--I’m going to the promised land, I’m going to meet my Lord and Savior...

 “Momma...” Lindsey tried to speak, to let her mother hear her voice, but choked on the sobs. Even now, after decades, she felt her mother ignoring her as she ever looked toward the hereafter for her own sake.

 Do not cry, my baby--I see the light, I see it ahead of me, and I’m going into the Kingdom of heaven... Do not cry for me....

 Lindsey leaned in close to her mother, sobbing. She buried her face into her mother’s gray, uncombed hair, stroking the stray locks that had come loose from her long braids.

 Do not cry for me, for I am saved...

 “No, Momma,” Lindsey whispered through her tears as she sank her teeth into her mother’s neck.

#

 Her body jerked reflexively at the sharp pain of Lindsey’s bite. Though the flame of her life had dimmed to a mere ember just a moment before, the sting at the soft flesh of her neck was a shot of air that renourished the ember, making it glow ever so slightly brighter. Lindsey, with tears still falling, drank deeply of her mother’s blood, the elderly woman’s pulse gradually increasing the more she bit down, sucking and lapping with her tongue at the woman’s life fluids as they flowed from the wound her daughter had torn into her thin flesh.

 Caroline, Lindsey’s mother, convulsed again, her body shaking, arching, and twisting in a spasm of frightening violence unnatural for someone her age as she grasped at the hospital bedsheets with bony, almost skeletal fingers. At this point, Lindsey stopped drinking, but, rather, allowed the fluids in her own mouth--fluids fertile with the enzymes that helped make her what she was--to wash over the wound that her second row of teeth had torn into the thin skin of her mother’s neck.

 After a few moments, Caroline Blake’s body stopped its jerking and lay still on the bed after a final shiver. Lindsey relaxed the grip she had on her mother’s arm and removed her jaw from her neck. She stumbled backward, blinking, as if slightly intoxicated, falling backward into a bedside chair.

 Caroline lay unmoving as Lindsey wiped tears from her eyes and the blood dripping down her chin with the sleeve of her arm. Two minutes later her mother’s body arched again as she drew in a long, deep breath. With renewed strength, she sat up in bed, looking confused. She pulled out the oxygen tube that was taped under her nose and gaped at it for a moment before looking at the wrinkled flesh on her hands and arms, turning them in the dim, green-tinted illumination of the nightlight above her head.  She felt the skin of her face with probing fingertips until the palm of her left hand found the bite wound on her neck. She stared wide-eyed at the blood in the palm of her hand.

 Lindsey could see that the jagged wound was already starting to heal itself.

 Caroline turned to look at Lindsey, her eyes focused and bright now. The change already well in progress.

 “Lindsey?”

 “Hello, Momma,” Lindsey smiled, the words coming out as sobs.

 “You’re, still young... How...?”

 “Yes, Momma. I’ll always be like this.”

 Caroline looked around thew room, frantic, terrified.

 “What did you do to me!” she said raising her voice, becoming frantic.

 Lindsey got up from the chair and sat on the edge of her mother’s bed. She looked her up and down, then put a hand on her mother’s sunken cheek, gliding her thumb over the elderly woman’s thin bottom lip.

 Caroline flinched at her daughter’s touch, but the gesture calmed her a bit as she looked into the tearful brown eyes of her oldest daughter. She marveled at Lindsey’s smooth, glowing cheeks, her full lips, the dark hair faming the unlined flesh of her untroubled youth--the face of the seventeen-year-old who had run away from her, had disappeared fifty years ago.   

 “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I got here, Momma. But when I felt you slipping away, when I saw the light you were heading for, I... I knew what I had to do.” Lindsey lowered her head and kissed her mother’s thin fingers.

 Lindsey’s mother moved her gaze from the top of Lindsey’s head to look down at her own aged, withered body, then back up to Lindsey. “I... I did see the light!” Her mother said, her eyes drifting unfocused to the ceiling as if remembering a dream, “I saw the path to the Promised Land. I was walking into the light!” She regained her focus, looking back at her daughter. “Was it you brought me back?”

 Lindsey took her mother by both hands and squeezed them gently. She nodded.

 Tears welled up in her mother’s eyes as she looked around the hospital room, out the window over the dirty rooftops of neighboring building and the secular world that she had despised her whole life, a world that mocked her personally with its profligacy, its shameless immorality and sin. She had sacrificed so much of her life to be worthy of salvation and the Kingdom of Heaven that awaited her with its promise of eternal joy and youth and contentment. She had worked so hard to make atonement for the sins of her youth, spent decades in unyielding obedience, prostrate before the literal Word of her Lord. And just as she was about to enter through the gates of eternity...

 Lindsey’s mother turned her head away from the ugly rooftops and city lights and back to her daughter. “But why?” she whispered in a strained voice.

 Lindsey inched closer on the bed to her mother, wiped a tear from her cheek. “You know very well how terrible you were to us, Momma. You hated me because I was conceived out of wedlock, and I reminded you of your sin before you married our father.”

 Lindsey paused for a moment when she saw her mother’s surprised expression, could feel the shock of disbelief in her mind as she inwardly denied her daughter’s profession of the past. The guilt Lindsey felt for what she had just done to her mother faded, replaced by a resolve that she first felt three days earlier when she heard her mother was dying in the hospital. Her voice hardened.

 “And then, Momma, then you doubled down on your vicious piety, ignored my sisters’ victimization at the hands of those church holy men, the ones you brought into the house and the ones you married believing they could curry you favor with the Lord...”

 As Lindsey spoke, Caroline’s eyes grew wide and she began to work her jaws as if saying a silent prayer, a ward against the truth her daughter was speaking.

 “But we all got away from you. Beverly... Suzannah... me--we all got away, Momma. My sisters are okay now. Damaged, but okay. They live as far away as they possibly can from here, but I know a day doesn’t go by that they don’t think about you, your neglect, your beatings for never being good enough or holy enough, your turning away from their suffering when those men had their way with them, over and over...”

 Caroline’s silent mouthings become audible prayers now. She rocked, shaking her head as she tried not to listen to this apparition sitting before her. She ripped her hands from Lindsey’s grasp and covered her ears.

 “But I came back, Momma, because I heard you were dying, and... and as hard as I tried not to love you, to stay far away from you like my sisters, I couldn’t help myself. I needed to see you because I realized that I had been given a gift, a precious gift, many years ago that would allow me to stop you from passing into the afterlife.

 Her mother’s prayers stopped, and her eyes flew open to stare into her daughter’s eyes, horrified.

 “No! No, no, no!”

 “I had to stop you because I’ve seen that light through the dying eyes of others, and I know whatever is in that light at the end of the tunnel you saw is either Heaven or Hell. And I love you too much to see you burn for all eternity in Hell, but, Momma, you don’t deserve to go to Heaven, either.”

 Caroline opened her eyes to see the face of her oldest daughter staring back at her with a mix of emotions--anger and grief and love and pity and pain, all mixed together on her face as she stared into her mother’s eyes without blinking. The face of eternal youth.

 Caroline looked down again at her withered hands and arms, down at the sagging, furrowed breasts beneath her hospital gown, then back at her eternally young daughter who looked just as she did fifty years ago.

 “What did you do to me!” she wailed.

 “I’ve given you what you’ve always wanted, Momma, what you traded your love of your daughters for all these years--I’ve given you eternal life! Right here on earth, just the way you are and bound to me as my protégé--we will always have each other now.”

 Lindsey’s mother shook her head, anger beginning to burn in her chest.

 “You are an abomination! An abomination in the eyes of the Lord!” she yelled at her daughter as a long-forgotten spite took root once more in her soul. She could feel her heart beating against her chest, throbbing stronger than she’s felt in many years.

 “No, Momma, that’s where you are wrong,” Lindsey said raising her arms, palms upward, “I’m not an abomination, Momma--I am a manifestation of God’s will on earth.”

 Lindsey smiled at her mother, allowing her second row of teeth to emerge from their sheathes at the top and bottom of her jaw. The jagged rows of shark-like teeth came together in front of her normal teeth, turning her gentle smile into a saw-toothed grin.

 Lindsey’s mother screamed.

 When the nurses arrived to see what was happening in Mrs. Caroline Blake’s hospital room, they found no one there. Blood-stained sheets hung from the bedside and the window was thrown wide open, curtains flapping in the cold, wet wind of a storm that had just blown in.

 


THE END


© 2021 Cedrick May

Bio: Cedrick May is a writer, filmmaker, and professor of African-American literature in Texas.

E-mail: Author

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