[WP] Three years ago, the fog rolled in and it never lifted.

Three years ago, the fog rolled in and it never lifted. It lingered in my mind, in the spaces between thoughts; a shadow on my brain. It began to take over everything. I found myself beginning to break. The fog spread like ash over ridged peaks, burning everything it touched, until some days there was little left. My thoughts were ungraspable, sliding through my fingers and leaving only a cool layer of perspiration. Every second was a struggle to focus on here, on now, on what I was doing. But the fog would not leave. It carried memories of the past.

There’s no beeping. That’s the first thing I notice. No countdown to the end, no notification that it is coming. The world blurs around me in coloured streaks as I move my head. The beige paint on the walls seems to shine with a blinding intensity despite the fact that it’s dark outside. It lies in the centre of the room, covered in white sheets. I turn my head purposefully to avoid it. The noise is still there though–the gurgle of liquid, the rhythmic ticking noise. I imagine, for a second, all of the different things it could be. I allow myself to picture an entirely different reason for being in this room. The object in the middle of the room is a bed. And in it lies my mother. Her face is a contradiction. Pale, yet flushed at the same time. I stand at the foot of the bed and stare at her closed eyes. Her chest rises. The oxygen machine ticks. Her lungs gurgle as she takes in the air with a laboured breath, a canopy of tubes protruding like roots around her as she murmurs in her restless sleep. I walk to the side of the bed and grip her hand. ‘Hi Mum.’ She doesn’t respond, though some part of me expects her to. There doesn’t seem like anything else to say. My father stands opposite me, red-faced, tears drawing lines down his face. My brother is beside me, eyes shining in the clinical light. I am empty. I feel nothing but the heat on my skin from a nearby radiator. I sit. The darkness looms from the courtyard, revealing nothing but my own reflection in the surface of the window. I hear her moan in her sleep and I can see how the nurses know. There’s something about her–not just the pale face or the rattling of her breath, none of that is new. It’s the way she lies, the lines of her mouth and the helplessness that sits inside her limbs. As I wonder if I will be able to talk to her one last time, she stirs.
Her eyes open to reveal confusion. They are clouded, jaded, desperate. She grunts and moves her head around. We rush to the bed, some part inside hoping that she will open her mouth and everything will be okay. She lifts the mask. ‘Are you leaving?’ she asks, looking up at me, eyes searching for some kind of approval. ‘Are you saying goodbye?’ I’m momentarily confused. ‘No, no.’ I manage to choke. ‘I’m saying hello.’ She seems to relax a little at that, but I can’t tell if it’s just me being hopeful. She puts the mask back on and lies back for a while. We crowd round her like vultures, and I can’t help but think that she never wanted me to witness this. She always said that she wanted me to stay at away, and now, on her deathbed, I am ignoring her final wishes. Suddenly she sits up and struggles. Her eyes are panicked as she tries to leave the bed. She mumbles something incoherently, muffled by the plastic of the oxygen mask. She shoves at the bars on the edge of the bed, trying to put them down so that she can escape. We guide her back down. She sits, exhausted. She mumbles a few more words unintelligibly, breathing heavily. Her hands knock into the oxygen mask and she pulls a face of child-like irritation. She wrenches the mask of her face, hands it to my Dad, gurgles. I see the spark of pain and indecision in his eyes and feel the same tug in my own chest. He tries to hand it back to her but she pushes it away. My heart lurches. It doesn’t matter. A part of my brain says bitterly. She’s going to die anyway The other part screams at me. Not now. I’m not ready! You’ll never be ready. Give up. He sets the oxygen mask back on its stand. It sits there, on the raised platform, almost like a signal that the end is coming. She mumbles something about a road that we can barely understand. I strain to catch her meaning the second time round but it doesn’t become any clearer. She’s confused; she’s not in her right mind. The mother I once knew is already long gone. I feel sick. We just stand there as it begins to get lighter, and I wonder if my family are thinking the same things as me–reflecting on all of the memories and feeling the excruciating pain that comes with knowing they will never happen again. Her chest begins to rattle more. Her eyes begin to droop. Then her eyes open again and I see the one thing I never wanted to–fear, panic. I can see that she knows what is about to come and that she is absolutely terrified. Something inside me breaks. As her breathing gets shallower and her eyes begin to droop, something breaks. Still I don’t cry, still I feel little, but now I am broken. Her features align into ones of confusion, almost of anger as she slumps forward slightly, looking at as all. Then her face relaxes, and her head hits her chest, which still rises and falls. My Dad makes a choking noise and struggles to ease her head back again, and we lower her backwards as her breathing stops. I press the blue button. The blue button that means that she needs an entirely different type of assistance now. It rings through the silent hallways at 5:23am. She takes one last gasp as the nurse gets here and we all step back in surprise, only to realise it is a lie. A phantom breath to expel the leftover air in her lungs; religious people would perhaps argue it was her soul. None of us have that comfort here. The tears start from my brother and father as they stare. We each kiss the empty shell and whisper goodbye, their voices cracking, mine still strong. Caught in a moment that is almost surreal, I wait. It comes five minutes later, the ring of a doorbell. I glance at my father and he glances as me. We all know what is coming. We step out into the hall. She stands there, dishevelled and with tears in her eyes. ‘Trace---.” Dad starts. ‘Oh no. No, no.’ she pleads. ‘She’s already gone.’ I watch her face. I have imagined the feeling many times, on the mad three hour drive to this place from university. The guilt. The regret. The feelings that I imagined would stay with me forever. I can see them there in her eyes, along with a sudden weariness as he begins to sob. We all huddle round and hold her. ‘Can I see her?’ she asks. ‘Of course you can see her, don’t be stupid, you were more of a sister to her than any of the others.’ We go back into the room and watch some more. I feel the pull to leave but still they stand there, expressing how they do not want to go. It takes my brother’s quiet words: ‘She’s starting to get cold, we should go.’

A part of me sighs with relief. I feel like I am being cold callous–I almost know it is true, but the last memory I want burned into my brain is the image of my mother, dead and broken, lying on that hospital bed. I close her eyes and leave, nodding to the nurse on the way out.

That was when the fog fell. And it never lifted.

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