“Mom, don’t worry, you’ll be all right,” he held her hand gently, feeling its weathered skin, the swollen joints, thick veins– all bone. Somehow the soft, plump hands he used to cling to crossing the street had slowly withered away into this. A knot in his throat formed, and he took a gulp of water to keep it from escaping.
“Oh Johnny, don’t you worry about me. After all these years, you think I’m still scared of death?” Despite her thin, shaky voice there was a tone of stubborn conviction.
“No mom, I just…I think you’ll be all right is all,” he tightened his grip on her hand, but refused to meet her eyes.
“Look at me Johnny. Look at me,” underneath the drooped, wrinkled eyelids were two pairs of sharp blue eyes, glistening with emotion.
He obeyed. His own eyes, the same shade of blue, gazed at her pale skin, and he remembered the way it glowed the day of his wedding. “Yeah, mom, what”
“I want you to be okay when I’m gone. I want you and Cassandra and the kids to remember me with happiness. Don’t go cryin’ for a week or nothin’ like that, you hear?”
“Mom, don’t say that. You’re gonna be fine.”
“Will you be?” She assessed him, with a worried look in her moist eyes.
“What, don’t worry about me mom, even now, you’re still worrying about me, not yourself,”
His voice suddenly cracked, a face contorted in anguish, he bent over in his chair and began sobbing.”You were gonna see Katy graduate, mom, you promised remember? We were…we were gonna–”
“There, there. It’s okay sweetie,” with her free hand, she patted his head gently.
“What…what am I gonna do–“, he gulped for air as his sobs intensified, ” — without you, mom?”
“What you always do, you’ve got a family to care for now,” she smiled sadly.
They looked at each other for a moment, and he nodded. As he loosened his grip on her hand, he felt his own fragile heart shatter into pieces that only time would mend. Holding the warm, aged hand tenderly–one last time–he whispered, “I’ll miss you,” and let go.
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