Missouri City, Texas, United States (Summer 2017)
I am fresh and new, without the scent of laundry detergent yet, waiting on the shelf to begin my life as a blanket in the Medical Center.
Here we go! I feel hands that are smooth, their owner is in a hurry, but suddenly she slows, her mannerisms change, and she becomes gentle as she spreads me across the bed.
Hands old and weak gently rubs across me, the hands of a woman who has lived a long and happy life. She pulls me to her face and I absorb her falling tears and muffle her cries of agony and pain.
I listen while she prays to her God, trying to explain her fears to him. She is afraid her fear is lack of faith, she is afraid her daughter will not be able to handle her passing, she hurts because she will never see her grandchildren grow up, graduate from high school or have children of their own.
She gasps as the pain shoots through her again and her grip tightens as she twists me in knots until this round passes.
“How are you mom?” I hear someone ask.
I feel the body beneath me struggle to shift into a position of leisure as she says “I’m doing pretty well.”
I wonder why she is lying. I do not understand, but I realize it is imperative to her so I lie quietly as she lies. She is so still beneath me, trying to hide the pain that is racking her body.
The children take their turns kissing her and telling her how much they love her. She lies still and strokes me absently with her fingers and occasionally pats me in an unconscious manner.
Finally they get up to leave. She reaches up and kisses each one of them for the last time and looks them in the eyes and declares her love for them. Their tears fall gently onto my surface, and finally she gathers her courage and tells them goodbye.
They leave the room one by one silently and full of grief, leaving her alone in her sorrow. She curses the agony of this thieving illness, but soon her hand grows heavy in death. I try to cover her completely, then hands return and toss me in the laundry bag.
I lay suspended in nothingness, surrounded by smells both pleasant and horrifying, jostled and thrown into machines that wash away the stains of life, then fall into a crumbled pile on the table top. A new set snap me and fold me into a neat square.
Suddenly the door opens and a hand grabs me. I hear cries and moans and heavy breathing. I hear the owner of the hands sooth the woman in agony. “It won’t be long now, sweetie. You are almost there.”
The only reply is a scream and suddenly I am grabbed, twisted and pulled, and her sweat saturates me. She has taken me into her mouth and is biting down hard. She is rigid with pain, the screaming turns into a growl, and the thrashing grows more and more rapid.
Someone else has taken a hold of me. It is a man and his face is rough as he wipes sweat from his forehead and tears from his eyes. He professes his love for her and tries to soothe her, but again the tightening and screaming returns. The feelings and the pain are intense.
Then suddenly the whole world goes quiet and the sound of a baby drawing in breath and crying his arrival to the world fills the air. The body beneath me changes suddenly, the pain is forgotten, and her hands throw me back and reach for the tiny voice that has taken over the world of this room.
Someone hands her the baby and the woman wraps this tiny bloody squirming life within me and pulls us both to her heart. The joy and love in this room has filled me to the point I feel like a down comforter. The wetness of this new life has changed me deep within my core. I could stay right here forever as the woman dries her tears of joy with my surface and wipes them from the weeping eyes of the man.
There are new sounds in the room and cleanup is beginning. I am taken from the lady and again I am within the blue laundry bag awaiting my journey downstairs to the laundry.
Once again the hands snap me out and I am carried down the hall once again. The feelings that greet me this time are vastly different. I feel the fear, hopelessness, and helplessness of the mother sitting beside her child’s hospital bed. The child sitting in the bed is tired and scared. She feels weak and hollow, but is too young to understand half of the things the doctors say to her mother, but she is old enough to know that something bad has happened to her.
Once again she is in the middle of her treatment and she is so sick at her stomach she wishes she could just lie down and disappear, but then she would see the worry in her mother’s eyes again so she sits and hopes it gets better.
She is only five and already has been poked by so many needles. She really does not feel so sick until she takes the medicine that is supposed to make her well. Then the sickness comes and it is horrible.
The hands reach out and hand me to the little girl. She draws me close and I feel her little heart beating fast. Her body is damp and clammy from the nausea and her skin is pale.
She wraps me around her like a shawl and lies still and silent as the medicine drips into her fragile veins. Our stillness is so profound that occasionally her mother lays her hand on me to see if she is still breathing. The smell of the medicine is seeping out of her body and its harshness consumes the air in the room.
I feel the first retch start deep within her core and cling to her like a drowning swimmer as she heaves and heaves with no success. I watch as more medicine is given to make the horrible retching stop and patiently wait alongside her. We lie like this for hours. I listen to her mother cry while she is sleeping. I hear the words of encouragement from the chaplain that happened into the room.
I listen and absorb the mothers falling tears. The child is so weak now and the act of breathing now takes so much effort. We make it through the afternoon and now the hands bring in soup of some sort. The smell causes her to tremble beneath me, but she reaches out and takes the bowl, smiling at her mother over the steam.
At first I do not realize what has happened. Then I feel it. The hot wetness of the soup and illness mixed together. I am tossed into the blue laundry bag, but still hear the soothing words of the mother as they clean her up and change her bed and clothes. I know my time with her is over. I hear the owner of the hands say “here is another blanket” as I lie saturated with the horrors of life, of love, and of regret within my fibers.
FREDNA DECARLO was born and grew up in West Texas. She worked as a registered nurse for more than twenty years. Her previously published works include Ten Mile Road, Toenail Trail (Book Two in the Ten Mile Road Series), Cause and Effect, Significant Other, Thoughts and Afterthoughts, Ms. Cain’s Kindergarten Class’s Magical Adventure and several poems that have received editor’s choice awards at Poetry.com.