Cucumbers in July
I keep forgetting to buy cucumbers. Other things on my mind, I guess, things I cannot forget, like my mother’s girlhood name, the one my aunts and uncles still use. Cee Cee. A nickname invented by their youngest brother when he couldn’t pronounce “sister.” Other things on my mind, too, like my mother’s cancer is no longer in remission, that she is going to die soon.
None of us have forgotten the way last summer’s chemo took her hair or the way radiation made her bones brittle, took what little fat left on them; the way it irradiated her esophagus and took away her ability to swallow. We knew it was a long shot from the start: a one-in-four chance the doctor had said. Margin enough to try. When the doctor confirmed the cancer had returned in January, he noted that it had spread throughout her entire body. None of us believed she could survive more chemo or radiation. She was adamant that she did not want to spend her last days in pain just to stretch out the inevitable.
She is home in Kansas City, now, where friends take her out for lunch almost every day, supply a steady stream of flowers and cookies, wear her out with their well wishes, their concerns, their forced prayers. People she has not seen in decades have shown up, thinking if not saying this will be the last time they will ever see her again. Soon, she will leave for South Carolina to stay with my husband and me.
She will arrive in early March and spend five weeks. Five weeks of visiting the beach and watching movies at home, of sitting on the porch with her coffee and doughnut every morning, of painting every day. I have prepared the house by turning my writing studio into a cozy bedroom, the living room into a painting studio. Mornings I will leave for my job downtown. Mid-mornings she will rise, drift into the living room after taking pain pills and steroids, open the curtains for light and begin painting. Evenings and weekends, she, my husband and I will go to Lowes or True Value Hardware to shop for lawn and garden supplies that my mother will buy with her cashed-in retirement, her long-term disability, her cancer insurance payout. We will return home and unload paving stones and edging, hand tools and lawn chairs, bedding plants and trellises from the overladen trunk of our Toyota Camry, strewing these items across the lawn and porch. While she naps I will dig up new beds, plant hibiscus and azalea, create borders of bricks turned diagonally and rolls of cedar edging that will line the stones my husband used to widen the path to our front door. When she wakes, she will sit in one of the new lawn chairs to chat as I lay down mulch. She will point at some small arrangement she would like me to make. I will move lavender from the center of one bed to the corner of the pathway, the bird bath into the shade of the shed, change the direction of a shepherd’s hook. We will drink wine, too, around the new sidewalk and the ambiance of citronella lamps until the sun sets and the solar powered lights switch on, until the headlights from our neighbor’s cars lighten the driveways and the houses around us. It will rain and I will complain that storms never cool things off in the south the way they do in the Midwest. My mother, who lived for years in Sudan, will say she loves a warm rain and I will change my mind.
There will be a wildflower bed with zinnias and sunflowers that grow five and six feet tall and a round butterfly garden centered in the front yard where the hibiscus will attract hummingbirds and the glass basin full of water will lure dragonflies. In the back yard, raised beds boasting pepper plants and tomatoes, basil and mint, and, yes, cucumbers, will thrive and vine beyond the rails of their beds, blooming throughout the end of June. But my mother, who will return home in April accompanied by her sister, will not see these blooms.
When July arrives my husband and I will go to Kansas City to spend the 4th with my mother, to be by her side until the end. The warm rains will fall throughout July in Charleston. There will be little sun. My mother will linger longer than anyone expects. Her heart is strong, the hospice nurse will insist, She needs to hear that you are taken care of, the chaplain will advise, and though it is hard, this is what will I do. I will tell my mother to let go.
Hours after she dies, my husband and I fly back home to Charleston where we find the flower gardens muddy, green with Lilliputian forests and the vegetable beds a jungle of over ripeness and vines of sunburned cucumbers rotting on the ground.
Lisa M. Hase-Jackson’s debut collection of poetry, Flint and Fire, was selected by Jericho Brown for the 2019 Hilary Tham Capital Collection Series, and published by The Word Works. A full-time writer and adjunct instructor at the College of Charleston, Lisa is Editor in Chief of South 85 Journal and founding editor of Zingara Poetry Review.