We heard the train a long way off in the distance. A throaty rumble tunneling toward us, sooty plumes of smoke spoiling the blue skyline. Our eyes wide open, we stood in the shadows of our ignorance. Hindsight deftly made fools of us, and in the bliss of our ignorance, we believed this—this happens to other people.
Sadly, based on the idleness of this flawed theory, we were sold a first-class ticket. Entry to a sport gambling on the unsuspecting. We believed we were mere spectators on the sideline. When Fate handed us the ticket, Stage 4, we knew instantly that she had mistaken us … for someone else. For days, we stood in a winding throng begging for a refund. But as we neared the ticket counter, we heard the hush of whispers, “closed for renovations.” The crush of the crowd shuffled us like a deck of cards onward, pushing us past the window clearly marked: Radiation Therapy. To our dismay, they sold out long in advance, and in exchange, we were handed another invitation: Welcome to the Chemotherapy Department. Chemo wasn’t a choice, but intrepid, we forged on. With our breath locked in the dungeon of our lungs, we knocked only to have the door slammed in our face, “access denied.” Swaddled in our complacency, believing that a system would take care of us, we veered in the wrong direction and missed an opportunity that never materialized. Dumbfounded, we wandered and lost our way when time eventually unblocked the long stairway leading us to the platform designated for surgery. Only to discover it had left the station ahead of schedule. Among the hustle of the domed station, like pigeons bobbing their heads to see clearly, we clung desperately to our only option. A carriage clearly marked Hope awaited. The train conductor blew his whistle, “all aboard.” The upside, with Hope, there’s always another way.
We took to our pre-assigned seats, no map in hand, no GPS to guide us on the journey. Blind faith chugging along, riding next to us like Zenyatta on a trot. Numbed and in pain, we were only able to stare out the window, eyes blankly seeing the scenery rushing past; glimpses of our comfortable lives vanishing in a blink.
Regardless of circumstance, it wasn’t the sort of day trip anyone survived unscathed. There were, however, many vacant seats to choose from. We slipped the ticket stamped: Cancer—Terminal into the pockets of our wishful thinking. Or more accurately, desperately clinging. Our fingers incessantly toyed with the soft fringes of … why us?
Seated, slouching over our trembling knees, it occurred to us that we had been summoned on this ride based on mistaken identity. An idea we couldn’t shirk. We weren’t the sort of people who deserved this crippling invasion. Cancer happened to other people, and any minute now, someone would unchain us from this misery. Joke’s up!
The carriage of Hope turned out to be a ticket to nowhere. Like a merry-go-round, we rode the nauseating ride, dizzy and hungry for a morsel of truth which we didn’t dare face. But Hope generously gave us an extension. Time superimposed a new expiry date to an ending we knew was hurtling toward us at a breakneck speed.
When we arrived at the final destination after endlessly drifting, they took our mother onboard another vessel. No one bothered to ask if we wanted to come along for the ride. Cancer has the audacity to bring entire families down. One word— such debilitating power. Our only option was to ensure our mother’s seat was cushioned. We tucked our love tightly around her and showered her with goodbye kisses. It was hard to smile without tasting the salt in our tears.
While running alongside the train that picked up speed, we watched the track disappear into the tunnel of light. We had passed all the stations of burdens to bear and waved farewell. The image of our mother, a final glimpse of her sweet face, leaning out the window of life, tattooed our souls. Her frail and ravaged body rose above everything she had endured. How she mustered the strength; only a mother can know for sure.
Weak as she was, she embraced us with her eyes and heart, she asked just one thing of us, “help me die in peace.” We granted her dying wish and allowed her to slip beyond the curtain, a quick-change act was certain. We whispered a thousand I love yous, like a rosary chant to take with her. When the light in her eyes finally extinguished, her pain lifted and floated toward the ceiling, settling on us with the weight and discomfort of chain mail.
For the first ten years afterward, we journeyed to the platform with a regularity to set a clock by. Willingly, we handed the porter the luggage marked grief, welcoming him to rifle through the vestiges of every predetermined emotion. We no longer packed the hard edges of our anger, and like the train, it came and departed on schedule.
And with each visit to the station, we brought the satchel infused with the memories of a lifetime. We remain as the gullible children believing in the Disney moment of our beloved Mama’s return, however impossible. With our ears to the track, we listen for the gentle chug of a train we know is en route. Afraid it’s coming for us too.
Even now, we hear the stillness in our hearts softly pounding and realize it is but the footsteps of our beloved mother. She may be gone, but she remains, forever, next to us. An imprint of love and reincarnation.
In loving memory of my Mama.
Monika R. Martyn is retired, married, happy, and a minimalist. She enjoys traveling and creating stories. She has been published in numerous print and online magazines and recently honored with a Pushcart Nomination. The Lucky Man—An Act of Malice, her debut novel is queuing somewhere in the back of the ‘never heard of’ pile, though not through lack of trying.