There are so many things I wish that I could say to my daughter. So many lessons I would like to save her from having to learn. So many pieces of advice that nobody ever told me; that I had to find out the hard way.
Now seems like the perfect time. I should just open my mouth and let it all come tumbling out. Who knows when, or if, there will be another?
But I can't.
I watch the late afternoon sun illuminate the specs of dust around her face as we sit, motionless, in this sterile environment that smells of antiseptic and stale urine. My mother's hand feels cold against my own; fragile as paper. The steady hush hush of her ventilator marking the passage of never ending hours.
Did I terrify my mother as much as my daughter terrifies me? Not in a violent sense, not as a matter of mortal dread. Simply in the fact that she burns so brightly. Where did she get that clever intellect of hers? Certainly not from her father.
I hardly recognise myself in her. She was always closer to my mother. They say that, don't they? That the generational gap allows for a certain, objective, distance. We fight with those above us, yet listen to the ones above them.
Or maybe it's just me. Maybe I never learned how to talk to her when she was very little, and now she doesn't listen to me as an adult. Or very nearly an adult. I can't pretend we still have time.
But if I could, what would I say? I think she's already au fait with the birds and the bees. She's so smart like that, nose in every book, sights set on the stars. What have I to tell her that she doesn't know for herself or couldn't find on Google? Very little, I suspect.
So we sit, and I hold my mother's hand, wondering whether she can hear my silent anxiety. Is it possible to transfuse thoughts through human touch? Oh mum, would that I could see my daughter as you saw her. Would that you could have seen me that way, too.
Mum sits opposite, the setting sun shines so brightly through the window that I can hardly see her face. Gran isn't going to get better this time, the doctors have already told us. I'm not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, I don't want her to suffer anymore. She's my gran, I love her. She shouldn't be in pain. But at the same time, I don't want her to go yet. There are so many things I still need her for. Without her, it's just me and mum.
I feel like I ought to say something. We've been sitting here almost three hours now. All the sudoku puzzles have been completed, and mum filled in the crossword. I hate the way she does that, just pens everything in without double-checking. It looks such a mess when she scribbles out the mistakes, no one else can make it out.
It's stuffy in here. I want to open a window but mum is so still. I guess she's thinking, and I don't want to disturb her. I can't help realising that one day this will be me, holding her hand, like she's holding gran's. I try to think what I'd want someone to say to me, but, honestly, I have no idea. What do you say in situations like these?
So I don't say anything. I just let mum get on with her thoughts. She'll speak when she's ready, I guess. I'm going to go get coffee in a minute anyway. It'll give me a chance to text Mark. I love him so much, I feel like I can tell him anything.
Can't imagine what I'd do without him. I just wish mum had someone like that. Someone she could talk to.
"Mum?" I ask.
This short story was one of the winners of the Intergeneration Storytelling Contest, October 2011.