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MUSED Literary Magazine.

Slowing Down

Jim Bates

"Tommy, can we rest up ahead? This old heart..."

Mom let the words trail off. Congestive heart failure, I thought to myself, what a frigginī bitch. "Sure, Mom," I said gently, "Here, take my hand."

With no argument she put her hand in mine, and we made our way to the bench fifteen feet away. It took five minutes.

As we walked I gazed down at my mother, a tiny bird of a woman, thin as a rail, her formally auburn hair now snow white. "Iīm keeping it natural," she told me once, "The way itīs meant to be."

Mom was like that, independent. She became a single mother at thirty-one to four children (I was the oldest) after dad left home without a word. That was fifty-three years ago. To help make ends meet she worked part time as a cashier in a local grocery store, then later, after weīd grown, sheīd become a teaching assistant helping out at the local grade school. She was a friend to many and beloved by all.

Now this. These slow steps toward the end of her full life.

We sat down and looked out over the wetlands behind the senior living complex sheīd called home for the last seven years. Suddenly, excited, she pointed, "Tommy, look, a family of ducks. What are they? Mallards?"

"Yes they are, Mom. Cute, arenīt they?"

She smiled, "Little puff ball babies. So sweet."

We watched the mother and five ducklings in silence. I listened to Momīs breathing as it finally slowed down, becoming less labored. She still held my hand. I squeezed it and said, "Mom, what about it? Should we think about a wheel chair for you? It would make it easier for us to be out and about."

"I donīt know. Iīm not sure."

I nudged her gently, "How long did it take us to get down to this bench?" I asked, trying to make a point.

Mom was no dummy. "Donīt get smart with me, young man," she said, barking a phrase she used with me quite often when I was growing up.

I smiled, "Well, the point is, it took us forty-five minutes. Last year we could make this walk in ten."

She patted my hand, her tone softened, "I know, but I just donīt know if Iīm ready to make that step." She paused, then added, "No pun intended."

I laughed. She had always had a good sense of humor.

We stayed on the bench for most of the afternoon. We watched the mother with her ducklings and, later, we even saw a great white egret land nearby. Iīll always remember that day.

Three months later she passed away in her sleep. We never did get that wheelchair, we just slowed our walks down and didnīt go very far. And when she got tired, I carried her. I think she enjoyed it. I know I did. She was my mom. It was the least I could do.