“Open your eyes Mrs. Jones and I’ll take that breathing tube out.”
Dr. Walker’s baritone voice calls down through the tepid blue water, calling me back from the depths of a shimmering pool that has stairs leading down to the brightest light I’ve ever seen. Pumped full of anesthesia, I ignore his plea, as I teeter on the edge of a submerged step.
“Mrs. Jones, it’s time to wake up.”
I have been dead before, you know. Earlier on in my seventies, I suffered a cardiac arrest and went all the way down to the bottom of the stairs and into the lustrous void, before they resuscitated me. I discovered then that we are not at all what we suppose ourselves to be. I look over my shoulder, down into the fathomless pool. I’m tempted to go to the bottom again.
“Mrs. Jones—Rose—open your eyes, Rose.”
Dr. Walker grinds his knuckles into my sternum. I look up and see he’s distressed. He double checks his machines and gadgets. He wiggles the breathing tube, which makes me retch.
As I look back down, my mother swims up from the brilliance below, wearing a translucent robe. Her emerald eyes sparkle. She giggles and smothers me with hugs and kisses like when I was a young girl. She swims circles around and around me, and before I realize what’s happening, she lifts me toward the surface. As hard as I try, there’s nothing that I can do to stop her. She’s my mother after all, and I don’t want to disappoint her again. Not after everything I put her through.
“You have to go back. It’s not your time.” She dries my tears with her long radiant hair.
“I’m so sorry for what I did, mother. I meant to tell you everything but, I didn’t want to hurt you.”
“Whatever you’re worried about Rose, you need to let it go.” She caresses my cheeks in her buttery hands. “None of that matters here.”
She puts a finger on my lips. “There will be plenty of time later, but just not yet.” She points to the water’s surface, and I feel myself rising on the bubbly effervescence of her forgiveness. The lights above grow brighter, and the descending steps turn murky once again.
As I poke my head through to Dr. Walker’s side of the water, my eye twitches.
“She’s in there alright.” Everyone in the operating room seems relieved. “Are you having any pain?”
I open my mouth to answer “yes,” and I feel the breathing tube slide out of my throat. “Where am I?”
“Just relax and lie back. We’re still in the operating room. You’re doing fine.”
But I don’t feel fine. He unstraps my arms and leans over; close enough for me to smell his coffee breath. Overwhelmed with panic and confusion, I reach up and wrap my arms around his neck. “Mommy. Please come back, Mommy.”
Dr. Walker places a firm hand on my chest and gently forces me back down to the operating table. “You’re just waking up from a bad dream, Rose. Everything is going to be okay.”
I look into his kindred eyes and see streaks of red. I feel bad for causing him worry, but he has it all wrong. It wasn’t a bad dream. I got to see my mother again, and I’m certain my beloved husband, John, was waiting just beyond her. I wonder if he had forgiven me, too.
If only I’d taken one more step.