Yvonne Navarro

The June Special Guest Writer is Yvonne Navarro

Feel free to visit Yvonne HERE


by Yvonne Navarro

"Why doesn't she just die?" Michelle asked. "Why would she hang on like this?"

"How can you say such a thing?" I demanded. "Wait-- of course you can. You're not the one who's depended on her all these years, who's lived with her and kept her company." I hugged myself tightly and rocked on the edge of the uncomfortable vinyl-cushioned chair. The hospital bed loomed to my left, antiseptic metal beneath over-bleached linens that stank of medicine and sickness. "You're not the one who loves her like I do!"

"Oh, say it a little louder, please." My sister glared at me and tossed her head, the movement making her long, auburn hair swing. "Make sure she hears you, pet." Michelle practically spat the last word.

"She doesn't need to hear it," I said hotly. "She already knows."

"Then she doesn't need your whining now!"

"Jesus, don't the two of you ever stop?" Mark, the oldest, sat on the other chair in the private room, his eyes tracking Michelle as she paced the width of the room like a big, caged cat. "What's next? Playing tug of war with her purse?"

Michelle was on the attack instantly. "His Highness speaks," she sneered. "And where have you been for the last decade?"

"The same place as you," he said calmly. "Getting on with my life."

I felt my face flush. "Meaning what?" I interrupted. "That our mother wasn't worth the devotion of my time?"

Mark stood and looked like he was going to walk over to me; instead, he shoved his hands in his pockets and gazed at the floor. "That's not what I meant at all, Mary. Jesus," he said again. "How did we get like this?"

For a few moments we stared at one another. Flash memories spun in my thoughts were the same memories flitting through their minds? Mark, Michelle and Mary-- our parents used to call us the three Mouseketeers when we were kids. What had happened? Life, I suppose. Mark had gone to college, then law school. Michelle headed for college two years later, then polished off her career goals with a bachelor's degree in fine arts from the Art Institute of Chicago. Luck of the draw made me the youngest and I had stayed with Mother after Father's death shortly before Mark's graduation from college. I still remember Mother's words back then--

"It will only be for a while, Mary. A couple of months, half a year at the most. Is that so much to ask? I'm so lonely with your Father gone. If you go to college in St. Paul now, the house will be empty suddenly! How can I face that so soon?"

And so I had stayed, putting aside my dreams of a doctorate in medieval history from the esteemed University of Minnesota, taking AE courses from the local community college instead. Gradually those had turned from academic challenges to time killers, a decades long subtle transformation from Early French Literature to Learning Macramé at Home. When I signed up for The Art of Home Canning three years ago, I'd known I was lost. It would have been funny if the realization hadn't made me feel so utterly hopeless.


I raised my head to find both my brother and sister staring at me curiously. "What?"

"Are you all right?"

Concern was etched all over Mark's face, bless his heart. I had no doubt it was heartfelt, too, at least as much as he was able. But what did Mark, with his perky blonde-permed wife, twin toddlers and his stylishly renovated home on Chicago's Gold Coast, know of loneliness? What did he know of an empty and echoing century-old mini-mansion at the rear of a woodsy lot in Bourbonnais, Illinois? His life had taken him much farther away than the sixty-odd miles which separated us.

"I'm as all right as a person can be when their whole reason for living is dying in front of them," I replied in a dull voice.

"Mary, honey, you mustn't think that way." For once Michelle's voice was compassionate as she hurried to my side. "You've spent so many years taking care of Mother. We all know you've sacrificed everything for her, all your dreams, your education...." She glanced at Mark and he nodded. "All this stupid bickering; it means nothing. Whatever's in Mother's estate, the house, the bank accounts, whatever, it's all yours. You deserve it, Mary. Mark and I are both quite comfortable, and let's face it. We got that way with your help, in a roundabout way. Without you to take care of Mother and be with her after Father died, college might have been stalled for both of us."

Petty fights be damned, I'd never, ever thought Michelle, who was notoriously self-centered, would admit to that. Still, the whole estate? "I don't."

Mark stopped me with a wave of his hand. "Nonsense. Michelle's right. She's got the gallery, I've got my practice. The estate's worth what? Five or six hundred thousand? Enough to support you while you finally go to school and set you up in a good life afterwards. Enough to let you finally catch up."

"The estate is worth slightly over two million," I said quietly.

Michelle's mouth dropped open, then she shut it. Having theoretically "given" me the rights to the entire inheritance, she would have difficulty gracefully reneging. The ball was in Mark's court now. He was silent for a few moments, then he folded his arms and set his jaw. "That's good," Mark said with finality. "And it's only fair that it goes to you, as repayment for everything you've done."

Unexpected heat again filled my face. "You can't buy me, or--or put a price on my love!" I stood, nearly overturning the heavy hospital chair. "Neither one of you knows anything about how it was, or how I felt. Now you think you can give me some money and I'll shut myself up in that empty old house and leave you both alone. So the problem of me will just go away, right?" I was crying now, pressing my fists so hard against the sides of my face that I could feel my teeth cut into the skin inside my cheeks. "Well, what about what I feel?" I howled. "What about what I need?"

When Mark spoke, his voice was surprisingly cool. "What you need, Mary, is your freedom. Let's be blunt here, okay?" He waved a hand at Mother's still figure on the bed. Buried beneath the mound of hospital linens, wires and plastic tubes ran in all directions and made the lump look absurdly like a fat centipede. "She's beyond help, but she's still sucking you dry. You get here at nine and don't leave until they throw you out at night, not even for lunch. The sole reason you don't lose weight is because you bring a bagged lunch with you." I was shocked at his tone of voice, incredulous at the anger on his fine-featured face. "You think we don't know you go to Mass every single morning? Honest to God, you need a life more than anyone I know!"

"Someone's got to pray for her!" I snapped. "You two certainly don't. At least I have hope that she'll get better, instead of hovering over her body and waiting for her to die."

"So you're doing it," Michelle said suddenly.

I blinked at her. "Doing what?"

"Keeping her alive." Mark frowned at her, but Michelle wouldn't take her eyes from mine.

"They're only prayers," I said. I felt suddenly feverish, slightly dizzy. "Don't be absurd. I'm an early riser anyway."

Michelle ignored me and turned to Mark. "That's why Mother kept breathing when we insisted they take her off the respirator last week," she continued. "She can't stop. Mary's prayers won't let her die."

"Michelle," Mark said gently. He looked thinner than I remembered, weary and abruptly overburdened by the direction the conversation had taken. Even his hair seemed droopy. "You're stretching it a bit, don't you think?"

"No." Michelle's face, normally so pretty, twisted and became almost ugly. "All this time we thought it was Mother draining Mary, but it's Mary forcing Mother to live." She rubbed the flesh of her slender arms below the short sleeves of her summer dress, a trendy thing with huge, splashy flowers that looked out of place in the somber room. "The doctors said Mother should've died a month ago," she said quietly. "They can't understand it. Well, I can. It's Mary, going to Mass day after day, begging every morning that she be given one more day with Mother."

"Well, I can't say that's actually true," Mark said thoughtfully. "But I do know it's not healthy." His head turned towards me, seawater green eyes piercing. "And I want you to stop, for your own sake."

"Can you blame me for not wanting her to die?" Fear made my voice high-pitched, tumbled my words over themselves in a speed-induced stutter. "I j-just ask for her t-to hang on. I'll be-be all a-alone when she g-goes."

"No, you won't," Mark insisted. He reached over and took my hand. "We'll be there for you." Michelle made a noise under her breath and he glared at her. She and I had lost the closeness of childhood two years before I realized I wouldn't be leaving for the University of Minnesota after my high school graduation, killed it in a bitter rivalry over a neighborhood boy when I was seventeen. "I will, anyway," he said with unaccustomed nastiness towards Michelle. "Bourbonnais isn't that far from the city. Angie and I will start bringing the kids out a couple times a month on the weekends, or you can visit us."

"I-I don't know," I said. Kids? Noisy voices and boundless energy, so much of it after so many quiet years. How would I deal with that? "The children?"

"You'll get used to them," he assured me with a pat on the shoulder. "They're a joy, really. You need to get some movement in your life, Mary, some people and voices into that huge old house. Something besides these endless, piddling classes at the community college. God," his expression was earnest, "there's a whole world out there you haven't seen since you were a teenager. Mother took that away from you."

"She never!"

"Whether she intended to or not. Come on, little sister." Over Mark's shoulder I could see Michelle, but her face was unreadable. Mark smiled at me sadly and stroked my cheek.

"Mary," he said softly, "it's time to let Mother go."


Mother died the next afternoon. I didn't go to Mass that morning, and as a matter of fact, I haven't been since. A year has gone by and I haven't seen Michelle since the funeral, which is no big surprise. I've gotten to know my two nieces quite well and they seem to look forward to their twice‑monthly Sundays with Auntie Mary, though their mother doesn't always share their enthusiasm. That's unfortunate, but Mark did promise, after all, that he would be there for me in the dark times following Mother's death. All the years of taking care of Mother, cooking and cleaning for her at first, then feeding and washing her like a baby in the later years. I came to depend on the way she needed me. And I needed her in return, to make me feel wanted and loved and... necessary. True to his word, Mark and the girls have done a spectacular job of doing that.

But Mark is desperately ill. I remember thinking on that horrible day in Mother's hospital room that he didn't look right, too tired, too thin. I'd thought it was the strain of Mother's illness, the tension generated by having the three of us sniping at each other over the course of Mother's final month. I was wrong, of course; last week the doctors told Mark that he has cancer, and that it's spread throughout his lymph nodes and pancreas. They've fitted him with a shunt for chemotherapy and put him on a special antioxidant diet, but they don't have much hope. All that faithlessness shows in the lines of his face and in his young wife's traitorous, money‑hungry eyes when she looks at him and wonders silently how much longer he'll live.

Early Mass at St. Sebastian Catholic Church starts at 6:15. The priest hasn't seen me since I stood by Mother's graveside and tossed a tear-stained rose on the casket as the first shovel-full of earth splattered on its lid.

But I'm positive he'll welcome me back to the folds of the faithful tomorrow morning.

Yvonne is the author of twenty-three published novels and a lot of short stories, articles and a reference dictionary. Her most recent published book is Supernatural: The Usual Sacrifices (based in the Supernatural Universe). Her writing has won a bunch of awards and stuff. Lately she’s been really getting into painting and artwork.

She lives way down in the southeastern corner of Arizona, about twenty miles from the Mexican border, is married to author Weston Ochse, and dotes on their rescued Great Danes, Ghoulie, The Grimmy Beast, and I Am Groot. They also have a talking, people-loving parakeet named BirdZilla. Instead of a To Do list, she has an I Want To Do list. It has about 4,274 projects on it and won’t stop growing.


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