2021 PROSE CHAPBOOK CONTEST WINNER
In Giving Care, Sue Mell delivers short, sharp and powerfully rendered essays on caregiving a parent in decline. Mell navigates the shifting mother-daughter boundaries along a complicated past, the relentless present with its crises and consequences, and on toward the inevitable future never far from view. Written with lyrical control, humor and truth at the core, Mell’s essays reveal a kind of grief that infiltrates further with each terrible task, while revealing each terrible task as a profound act of love. Available on Amazon.
In the shared room of the rehab facility, a freestanding closet with cheap veneer snags the privacy curtain. I reach, I jump, swinging the bulky fabric around until it releases. We are wrapped in seclusion, my mom on protest today: refusing to let me turn on the light, to read to her, to watch a movie or nature videos on my iPad.
Now she’s refusing to eat, not wanting to go on, though her physical recovery is astonishingly good. More than once, she’s asked that I “pull the plug.” But there’s no plug to pull, only Percocet and another three weeks until her bones knit back together. Then six more daunting, tedious weeks of physical therapy to get her walking again.
Her notion to stop eating? Not a realistic plan. I resist telling her, this woman who cringes at the sound of a chair being scraped across the floor, the painful process of actual starvation. But what do I know of her terror? Of her failing memory? The knowledge that she is less and less who she was?
Across the room, another curtain is swept closed as the woman recovering so well from a stroke suffers a sudden drop in blood pressure that will send her back to the hospital. My mom, without her hearing aid in, is unaware. But I hear the panic and confusion of language between the woman’s visiting friend and the nurse’s aide, the shift supervisor and the orderly, all scrambling to help. I beg and cajole, asking my mom what result she expects from her melodramatic protest. I get teary, I get mad, and lose patience. “This is bullshit,” I say, resorting to the indignant banner-cry of my thirteen-year-old self.
She looks at me then, her eyes without her glasses open and vulnerable. “Oh, honey bear,” she says. And when food service brings her dinner tray, my mom wolfs down her soup.
Sue Mell is a writer from Queens, NY. She earned her MFA from Warren Wilson, and was a 2020 BookEnds fellow at SUNY Stony Brook. Her debut novel, Provenance, won Madville Publishing’s 2021 Blue Moon Novel Contest and comes out in July 2022. Her collection of micro essays, Giving Care, won the 2022 Chestnut Review Prose Chapbook Prize, and her collection of short stories, A New Day, was a finalist for the 2021 St. Lawrence Book Award. Other work has appeared in Cleaver Magazine, Hippocampus Magazine, Jellyfish Review, Narrative Magazine and elsewhere. Find her at www.suemellwrites.com.
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