The following is excerpted from “Pretty Things,” a short story in the brilliant anthology, WHY PEOPLE DO WHAT THEY DO by award-winning screenwriter, Emilio Iasiello.
She paused before entering the room. A partition blocked most of her view. She saw only the lump of her mother’s legs under the white blanket. Marla took a couple of deep breaths and straightened her blouse and skirt. She never knew what to say to her mother. Sometimes, Marla would tell her how Scott was doing. Other times, Marla stood there holding a cup in which the older woman spat up phlegm. On several occasions, her mother would be still, then suddenly burst into hysterics, refusing to calm down until she was sedated.
Thankfully, she found her mother asleep, or else doped up on one medication or another. They all seemed the same: Codeine, morphine, whatever did the best to numb the pain. They gave her several different pills of varying sizes and colors. Once, when it was really bad, a doctor administered a shot.
Marla studied her mother’s sleeping form–her head was nearly bald with only a few wisps of hair. Her cheeks were so deeply lined that when relaxed as they were now, sagged like the wrinkled skin of a peach. She wanted to touch her mother, but couldn’t. Her fingers stretched out but retracted slowly. Instead, Marla touched her own face, running her fingertips all over–her cheekbones, her eyes, her nose, her lips.
Then, a thought struck her. Had her mother ever been pretty? She had never given this much thought before and she definitely couldn’t tell now. This body, this form in front of her, was only a fraction of who her mother had been. What about a time prior to this terminal condition? Before marriage and two kids, and a mortgage only half-paid? Had she been pretty then? Marla racked her brain, but couldn’t recall a single incident when her father had referred to his wife by anything else but her name. Sure, he had said “dear” and “sweetheart” (endearing terms not affectionate ones, she noted) whenever he wanted something, but never once did she hear him call her “beautiful” or “sexy” or least of all, “pretty.”
Looking at her now, there was no misinterpreting her mother for anything but what she was – a faceless, dying woman.
Marla dipped her hand into her bag and retrieved a brown compact. Leaning over the bed, she applied powder onto her mother’s sallow features. She patted carefully, working it in between the deep wrinkles. The skin was extremely loose in areas, as if it had been a size too large. It felt foreign to the touch like latex: Almost real, but not quite.
She paused a moment and reconsidered her subject. She removed another small case and opened the rouge. She worked hard, adding and subtracting the bright color with the side of her hand. Now and then, she stopped to brush away the hair that fell over her eyes. When she was finished, Marla stepped back to appraise her efforts. The pale complexion had been replaced with a healthy, albeit artificial, glow.
“I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to come back tomorrow. Visiting hours are over.”
“Of course, I didn’t mean to stay so long.”
“Hey, no problem, I just have some things I have to do for her that you can’t be here for: Hospital rules. You understand.”
The nurse wheeled in a cart loaded with various instruments and containers. There were things on it that she had never seen before, things that made her stomach jump. Marla turned away from the nurse and looked out the window. It was steadily darkening outside, but clear just as the weather report promised.
Marla got her things together. The nurse checked the machines, then pressed her fingers against Marla’s mother’s wrist and looked at her watch.
“You do this?” the nurse asked, looking at the patient. “She looks good.”
Marla shrugged. She wanted to tell this woman everything, but didn’t know where or how to begin.
“It’s something. I mean–you know.”
The nurse made a notation on a chart. “I know, Honey,” she said. “Believe me, I know.”
Emilio Iasiello authored the book Chasing the Green (published by FEP International in 2008). He has published short fiction and poetry in numerous academic and literary journals. His stories have appeared in Buffalo Spree Magazine, The Larcom Review, Oasis, and Krater Quarterly, and his poems have appeared in the New York Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, The California Quarterly, The Washington Review, and The Wilshire Review, among others.
An avid screenwriter, he has optioned several screenplays three of which have been produced into films: Saint Christopher (2002), P.J. (2008), and Chasing the Green (2009). Chasing the Green won the Award for Excellence in Filmmaking at the 2010 Canada International Film Festival and the Best Supporting Actress in a Feature Film Award at the 2009 Los Angeles Action on Film International Film Festival. P.J. received the Best Actress Award in the 2008 Miami Underground Film Festival. A fourth screenplay, Dead of Knight, is currently in post-production and expected to be completed later in 2010. His IMDB link is http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1045623/ Several of his short stories have been published in Writing Raw http://writingraw.com/bios.html .