Stories No. 24 – mia susan amir

The Stillness
by mia susan amir

When the firemen arrive, I hear their vehicle approach the house before they descend the driveway and knock.

I tell my father, “They’re here, go answer the door.”

I don’t see them enter. I hear the murmur of their voices but I don’t care what they are saying.

I am sitting with her on the floor of the bedroom. The 911 operator had instructed my father to take her off the bed so that we could do chest compressions. Force life back in. Before I understood what was happening we were lifting her down. Unnecessarily. There would be no transgression against her dying. She did not want her death to be tampered with. I wonder if she felt our hands as we clumsily moved her. I wonder if she had already stopped breathing.

I am singing Nina, Nana to her. I am singing it for both of us, this lullaby that she taught me. Entranced, I stare into her face. In all of the stillness is an absurd animation. I am caressing her face. The lamp I ignited to watch her as she lay in bed and I lay beside her, waiting for 9 p.m. so I could give her another Hydromorphone, offers gentle illumination.

I never gave her the pill.

She is on her side.

Did she bring the lids of her eyes to meet, or did my father?

Her face is distorted, somehow larger. As if life’s exit through the mouth pulled the mass of her body upwards into her head. It is boxy, and its length rounded. The muscles of her jaw are gripped, the cheeks bulging. Blue. Purple. Her mouth is parted where her tongue last searched the air. A thin line of blood runs along the left side of her cheek, which faces the earth. Under her now, a fresh pillowcase.

The commotion of new bodies in the house stirs me from her side. I stand in the hallway, my body shields the door to the bedroom and it feels as though hot spines emerge from my arms and legs. I don’t see the fireman’s face. Maybe I shout.

“My mother has a DNR.” I shove the sheet of paper bearing her signature at him. He takes it.


I turn back into the room.

Three firemen are at the door. One asks permission to enter. He kneels where she lies. He looks monstrous. Blue-black uniform stiffness. But his voice is gentle. He places his hands on her body to search for life.

“I think I feel a pulse. It’s faint,” he says.

“Let me check,” another responds.

They maneuver themselves around her. I am worried they will step on her limbs, so small they are almost indistinct from the folds of the white blanket covering her.

“Careful!” I want to instruct.

I don’t know if I am standing or sitting or kneeling. Somehow I am beside her and everywhere in the room at once.

Their search is useless.

The police arrive next. An officer approaches the doorway to the bedroom, eyes downcast, camera in hand. They have to take a photograph of her, he explains. It is policy. While her death was expected, we don’t have the right documents to avoid this formality. He lowers himself so we are at eye level.

“Do I need to move?” I ask, not wanting to leave her alone in the room with him.

“No, you can stay right where you are.”

The paramedics are the last to arrive. They have no work here in any case. The voices at the bottom of the hallway stretch for an indeterminable length of time that feels like always.

I touch my mother’s back; notice the ridge of her brown mole on my fingertips. I open my hand against her skin. She is as warm as I am.

A friend arrives. Then it is 3 a.m. She says we should sleep. I have been kneeling beside my mother for hours. I cannot feel my legs but cannot feel that I cannot feel. The friend slips into my spot in the bed. The same place I slept beside my mother, awake always to the draw of her breath, where I became again an extension of her body, to help her walk, eat, share the terror of the bulbous cancer as it narrowed her airway. I sleep on the floor beside my mother’s body. I don’t know how long I sleep but when I open my eyes it is dawn.

My father stays clear of the room. Maybe he thinks I will try to keep her body forever; worries with revulsion that I will remain prone beside her, unmoving, with one hand clamped down on her flesh.

Her fingers are curled. Another friend, when he arrives, suggests that the curvature echoes the way she was holding my hand.

We weren’t holding hands.

Two more friends. It is morning. They approach the open door to the bedroom where I am seated on the floor beside her body. A feather pinned in the hair of one of the two dislodges, landing in the doorway in a beam of sunlight.

“In my culture,” she says, “when a feather falls, spirit is present.”

Five Saturdays after my mother dies I am in a porous state, searching for her everywhere. Tracing the sidewalk outside the subway station I walk past a man with a viola plugged into a portable amp. Though I am late, I stop. The packed street vacates and as through a chamber of perfect light that brings the world into absolute clarity, he is the only form. I watch him hungrily, without breathing. The tremble of his lips, the focus of his eyes which land somewhere between the street and the sound he is making, the erupting seizure of the music on his body which thrusts him from one foot to the next as though he might topple over, the vibrato of his left hand conjuring the movement of a lover. In that grotesque and beautiful state of communion, I see her body alive. The way she curved around the wood of her violin, pressing all the feeling that lived inside her out into the world, the way all that sound patterned across me in the fluid elastic medium of the womb. This, this is where I come from. My mother.

When I wake myself from the vision, I am on the street and it is ten minutes to nine, and it is five Saturdays earlier, and I am lying in the bed watching her, spittle gathering at the corner of her mouth, a pale film forming over her eyes. I shift my gaze to try to meet hers but cannot catch it. I am waiting, desperate, watching the clock on the wall behind her for it to become nine already so that I can give her another Hydromorphone, to make something easier.

She mouths the words. “It won’t be long.”

“Won’t be long for what?” I ask.

I look at the clock but nothing has changed.

The warm light of the lamp makes her skin golden, deceiving.

I whisper, “I love you.”

Her lips move, almost like a reflex, “I love you. I love you.”




mia susan amir was born in Israel/Occupied Palestine and currently lives between Oakland, CA, Ohlone Territories, and Vancouver, BC, Coast Salish Territories. She is a community-embedded writer, interdisciplinary performer, vocalist, and educator who received her MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. amir is currently working on a memoir titled, A Memory of Sand and Silence, through which she seeks to explore the way sociopolitical events inform and are manifest intergenerationally in the spaces of the home and body; the condition of narrative haunting. Her work has been published as part of Lemon Hound Vancouver New Poets Folio. amir is also the founder of The Story We Be, which offers intergenerational writing and performance intensives to hone the craft of storytelling across genre for transformative change and collective healing.


Stories @ Digging Through the Fat: Volume 2, Issue 5
March 18, 2015
Photography by: Gessy Alvarez