Watching Mysteries with My Mother

by Ben Marcus


A short excerpt from a new story.


There is a long history of people who, without moving a muscle, have fought for their lives.  A person inert in a hospital bed, rigged to bags and lines, is referred to as a fighter.  Upon observation, no visible fight can be detected.  But a will to live is cited in these situations.  The family, gathered at the bed, can detect it.  Even when their loved one dies, they say she fought so hard.  She was such a fighter.  She put up an unbelievable fight.

Such circumstances have always concerned me, and not just tonight, as I wonder about my mother’s resolve to live at least until tomorrow, whether or not her resolve, as discussed, even comes into play.  If I am the patient in the hospital bed, and I am urged, even by a stranger, to fight for my life, will I know how to do it?  It simply is not clear, has never been clear, how exactly one fights for one’s life, with no tools, no weapons, no training, no information at all.  Even the doctors, standing there personally watching me die, will not tell me a thing about what I can do on my own, right now, to extend my life and not succumb to what is killing me.  Why is this information kept secret?  A stranger might cheer me on, exhort me to dig deep and fight—and I say stranger because I did not marry and my brother and sister have passed.  A stranger would, by necessity, attend my bed.  Or no one.  No one is more likely.  Why would a stranger stop in my room, stand at my bed, and exhort me to live?  What kind of stranger does things like that?  And if the answer is a good kind of stranger, I must wonder if it is then my duty, not tonight, because I am busy, but sometime soon, to enter a hospital at night and find a patient alone in his or her room, preferably a patient on the brink of death, and urge them to fight, and fight hard?  I should strive to be a good stranger, is that not correct?  My mother is my family, and if she were able she would attend my bed, and possibly even urge me to fight for my life, although I cannot picture her taking such a command seriously.  It is her stated idea that many things we know and say and feel are ridiculous.  I would think that by the time I am in my hospital bed being urged to fight for my life, my mother will be long dead.  She will have, some time before, fought for her life and lost.  But now, on the brink of death herself, though not today, I don’t think, I fear my mother is similarly in the dark.  If I asked her to fight for her life, assuming a calamity brought her to the hospital, she might politely agree, if she could even speak, but to herself she would be forced to admit that she cannot carry out such an action.  The technique is beyond her.  It has been beyond everyone in our family.  None of us have the skills to fight for our lives.  One by one we pass away.  If the known people of the world were ranked according to their ability to fight for their lives, my family would not do well.