Beatrice lay in the hospital bed, tubes snaking from her veins to quietly humming machines. Her eyes were closed, her face pale and childlike. To Della, her mother looked dead. Della had seen that look so many times before, on her brother, her baby sister and her own husband, Blade. Della sat in the hard chair, unmoving, waiting, afraid to move. Her eyes traveled the length of her mother's now painfully thin body. Where had all the fat gone?, she wondered. It seemed like yesterday that Bea had been at home, complaining about everything, shaking her fat fists at her grand-children - Della's children.
"God, how I've hated you all these years, Mama", she thought. "You were a mean, selfish, insane bitch, and I'm glad you're dead."
The voice in Della's mind broke and she silently went on, trying desperately to relieve herself of all her guilt. Guilt for not taking care of Mama, for not loving Mama, for being born to a woman who hated her. Bea had tried more than once to dispose of her unwanted child. While she was pregnant with Della she had drank potions that an old lady had given her. The potions had not done their job, they had only made Bea more miserable. After Della was born, Bea covered her in a blanket and put her under the house. Della's father, Gene found her and saved her. When Della was two, Bea 'accidentally' dropped Della out of the car window. Della received a broken arm but refused to die.
This only made Bea hate her more. Bea was insane, and worse, she lived in the black hills of Tennessee. In the dark woods no one bothered Bea. Not the law, not the far flung neighbors, not the state of Tennessee. Who really cared about a crazy old woman in the hills and her brat? No one did, so Bea was left to abuse her children and pursue her own child. Eventually, fate caught up with Beatrice. She gave up trying to kill her daughter and contented herself by making Dell's life a living hell. When Della was twelve, Bea was placed in an institution, where she remained for twenty-two years. Upon being given a clean bill of mental health, Bea was released - to Della, because she was the only family Bea had left.
Della tried to care for her mother. Bea continued to abuse Della and terrorize Della's children. But family tie's were the law in the hills. Della had no other choice. Finally, Bea was diagnosed with lung cancer. And that brought Della to this moment, at her mother's bedside, hating, yet strangely loving an insane woman she call Mama.
"I'm not sorry, Mama. You deserved all you ever got."
Angrily she stood and walked to the mirror opposite her mother's bed. She peered into it at herself and at her mother's form on the bed beyond. They were so alike, yet so different. Della reached out to touch the mirrored image of her mother but her hand stopped midair. Bea's eyes were open, staring at Della's back. Wordlessly, Della wheeled around, feeling like a child caught doing something naughty.
"Mama", she whispered.
Bea smiled and held her bony hand out to Della. Della felt overwhelmed with a surge of hope. Her mama wanted her, her mama needed her. Wiping at the tears beginning to fall with the back of her hand, Della advanced towards the bed, smiling faintly. As she came around the side of the bed she stopped. Her mother's gaze had not left the mirror, her hand remained extended. Della followed her gaze and found nothing but Bea's own reflection. Bea was grinning now, like she was seeing there in the mirror something truly wonderful. Della was transfixed and stood watching the play of emotions on her mother's face. Bea was crying softly now and both arms were extended towards the mirror. She seemed suspended in time and space, reaching for the heavens. Frantically, Della pulled on her mother's arms and fruitlessly tried to turn Bea's face towards her own.
"Mama, Mama. Wake up, Mama, you are dreaming".
Della shook Bea until the tubes shook like angry snakes searching for a victim. Regretfully, Bea tore her eyes away from the mirror and rested on Della's tearstained face. A small smile formed and her eyes twinkled as if she were privy to a tremendous joke.
"Della Jean", she mocked, "Della Jean, my little baby, Della Jean".
Della, horrified, tried to pull away but her mother's fingers locked onto her arms.
"Della, Della, Della Jean", Bea chanted.
"Mama, stop it!", Della jerked her arms from her mother's grasp, "You've been having a dream, Mama". Bea continued to smile as Della furiously rubbed her numb arms.
"Della Jean, come here," Bea commanded. Automatically, Della took a small step forward.
"What is it, Mama? You should sleep, it's been a rough night."
"Have I ever told you I love you, Della Jean?"
Shocked, Della came closer and placed her hand in her mother's. Frantically, she searched her mind for a way to answer her mama's question. Should she tell Bea the truth, that no, she had never expressed her love to Della or anyone else on earth? Or should she lie and let the old woman die in peace? Every fiber in Della's being told her to lie but somehow the words that formed on her lips were the truth.
"No, Mama, you never did.", Della said softly.
Beatrice gazed quietly at Della, contemplating the answer she had received to her question. Finally, she sighed and said defiantly, "Good."
And then Beatrice died.
K. Y. Hamilton, BA, MA - Copyright 2006