Monday, September 16, 2002

It was the longest night of the year -- December 21. They played an endless loop of Christmas carols at the nurse's station. I tried to say all those things they say in the movies over the words of "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer." It was a moment Stella would have appreciated.

Just as I did when I was a child, I laid my head on her breast, close enough to hear her heart beat, as soft as the flutter of wings.

When she was finally still the nurse came and I asked for a moment. I peeled off all the band-aids stuck to her skin, as thin as crumbling parchment. I combed her hair. She never wore it neat. This was my own small triumph.

My brother came for me and we went outside. Dawn was breaking, bathing everything in a steel gray. I thought of that tub she painted and laughed. Then we each lit a cigarette. For Stella.

From Smoke and Mirrors, by Dawn Shurmaitis - As a mother battles cancer, her daughter turns to cigarettes for comfort.