My mother; a toe job

I speak to my eighty-two year old mother, who can't grasp that I have a new Israeli phone, so she still calls my UK number, which costs £4 just to answer. Her, her problems, my family, seem not just geographically distant now. This is a bonus of moving.

Speaking on the phone is easier, not least because it doesn't last as long as when I see her in person. She's in hospital to have a toe removed. Is the operation called a toe-ectomy? A toe job? The doctors are yet to decide if the amputation is necessary, and she has yet to agree to it. Still, Gloria, my mother, inglorious, is noticeably nicer when she feels vulnerable.

She's been diabetic for forty years or more, and has never, since her first diagnosis, altered a single thing about the way she lives. I would guess that about 80% of her calorie intake comes from buttermints, although she is secretive about it, only buying a couple of bags each time someone takes her shopping. 

She has been on dialysis for over a decade and doesn't avoid the things she needs to for that, either. I suppose she's a living experiment in what happens when you don't follow doctors' advice; still alive, albeit in some discomfort. There's little she can do for herself, which she likes. She has a live-in nurse, a middle-aged Filipino woman with bleached hair. My mother has always found people to do things for her. 

She reads a lot of popular fiction. For a birthday a few years ago I gave her all twelve books from Richard and Judy's reading list. She went through them, moving them from one pile to another, in to out, Read it, don't like the author, I won't read that, the print's too small, why's the cover like that? …and so on, until all twelve had been dismissed. It took less than a minute.

These days she remembers almost everything in the opposite way to how it really was. She blames my father for not wanting to teach her how to drive, but I remember it differently, she refused to learn. She has always preferred sitting in the passenger seat, directing. She has never learned to swim, she's uninterested in cooking, in everything, really. My father loved company, she is unsociable. I don't know what interests her, other than her grandchildren.

In the last few years of his life she sent my father to the doctor four or five times a week, imagining he'd been hiding treatments, hoping he would have a new way to make my father feel better, but he never did. Suspicion is an important part of how my mother views the world. She still, madly, blames my father's death on the laser eye surgery he had two years before he died. She is terrified of anaesthetic and surgery. She tells everyone she doesn't want to be kept alive if she leaves the theatre ‘a vegetable’.

She likes being in hospital, of course. She enjoys the routine and being told what to do and the bustle of the ward. She doesn't like people very much, but she likes watching them, so she can find things to criticise. She enjoys being looked after. My brothers and their wives visit her every day. She loves the attention.

She says, I'm not going to change at my age, and I don't suppose she will.

Also, she has a crush on her specialist. He wears a bow tie and holds her hand and says soothing things in a lovely, brown voice. She becomes giggly and girlish when she tells me about his visit. She always uses his full name and title. You can almost hear her heart beating faster, if only she had one.

The day after I wrote that, a few days before Christmas, she died. My younger brother, who hasn't spoken to me for over two years, I don't know why, called to tell me. Her funeral was being held that afternoon, so I didn't have time to fly back for it.

I started walking. I chatted to Nir at the Jekyll and Hyde. He is slim, bearded and handsome. He spent three years at the Cordon Bleu in Paris so he could bake the handwritten dessert recipes his grandparents handed down to him. He told me he’s diabetic, he can't eat any of the beautiful things he bakes.

I continued, and bought a book. Without thinking about it, I took the copy from the bottom of the pile, which is something my mother always did. She couldn't bear the idea that someone would have touched it before her.

I walked along the beach, from the Dan to the Hilton. The sky was a flawless, deep blue. I watched surfers waiting for a wave, looking like a school of seals.

I told no one in the same city as me what had happened, but I spoke to Amanda and Camilla in London. I exchanged emails with a very few people. Later, Richard called. Sensibly, I suppose, no one wants to give me any advice. They all say that I should do what feels right for me. I just have to work out what that is.

Jenni tells me I can sit shiva by myself in Israel. But I don't, I don't do anything, really, but walk, quietly. I don't know what's going on in London, how many days they're sitting shiva, how many people will go. No one calls me, not my family or my parents' friends. I don't know if my brothers would give anyone my number if asked for it, or if they say that I'm a bad, unfeeling son and worse brother and deserve no sympathy.

On Christmas Day I go to the Chinese on Bograshov and have sweet and sour chicken. It is delicious, but I don't finish it. I go to the Chan on Dizengoff Square, next to the Kabbalah Centre, to see the new Star Wars film. It's terrific, I'm sure, but it washes over me. 

On New Year's Eve I receive a text from Ido asking me what I'm doing later. I hope he's going to invite me to a bar or a party, I don't know, but he doesn't. I eat at the Chinese again, alone, go home to watch Meet Me in St Louis. Nothing is more cheerful than The Trolley Song, but I am not cheered. I go to bed before twelve. 

I don't know what I'm doing here or what I think it will give me. I know almost no one and know no one well. It is cold and wet, the sky dark grey. These days after my mother died are not easy.

Today's word: choref – winter – חורף

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