The Day Mamie’s Heart Stopped


by Rowan McConnell

The day Mamie’s heart stopped,
she’d just got her hair done.
She always had it done for special occasions –
church, birthdays, funerals –
and she’d been refusing to see her doctor about that
nauseous, gassy feeling in her chest,
because she hadn’t been to the beauty shop in a couple of weeks,
and her hair was just a mess –
like an old worn-out scouring brush.
You can’t go to the doctor looking like that,
especially when you’re over seventy.
They already treat you like a child.
They’ll think you can’t take care of yourself,
and put you in a Home,
and that just won’t do.
They don’t get the good cable channels at the rest home.
So she kept eating Tabasco on her eggs,
and munching on Rolaids,
and scrunching up her face like a constipated baby,
and canceled her next hair appointment because she
didn’t feel well.

On Thursday, it was her birthday,
and Haley,
her granddaughter,
(usually such a surly girl)
had offered to come over and
do up her hair for her.
Teenagers don’t know what
their grandparents want –
and who needs more hankies
and bracelets and pins?
A hairdo – that’s the ticket.
Cutting-edge cosmetology, plus
the joy of spending time
with the favorite granddaughter
(even if she is the black sheep
emo Goth-child of the family,
she’s still the only one who cares
about your pictures from Japan in the ’40s).

Having done her own hair
in three cuts and sixteen colors already,
Haley felt the urge
to make someone else
Her teacher at beauty school
had just taught them cornrows,
and this wasn’t easy to do
with your own hair.

They had a nice visit.
They talked about TV,
and how Drew Carey was no Bob Barker,
and Jay Leno was certainly no Johnny Carson.
They talked about steampunk
and compared Sherlock Holmeses.
They ate chocolate Ho-Hos
and drank Dr Peppers.
It was the best birthday ever
until it wasn’t.

She swears
her grandma
picked the color
Grandma Mamie was always
a huge Tennessee fan
and orange would be
different –
a nice change
from the old-lady blue
that Miss Birch
always used
for her
rinse and set.

Haley will probably never have another customer
gasp in amazement, hands fluttering to her chest,
the way Grandma Mamie did that day
when she looked in the mirror,
but if anyone else ever falls to the floor
with a bloodcurdling shriek,
she’ll remember to call 911 right away.
She’ll know they probably aren’t just excited
about their new ’do.
She’ll remember that the med techs would rather you didn’t
paint an unconscious person’s nails with Blue Rapture #162,
no matter how nervous you feel while you wait
twenty minutes for the ambulance to show up.

Maybe she won’t be such a wreck the next time.
Maybe she’ll be psychopathically calm,
cool and collected, the next time she finds herself
putting the finishing touches on a dead person.
She’ll certainly remember to tell the family
about the radical new hairstyle,
the next time that happens.

But not this time.

No, this time there’ll be
a seventy-four-year-old woman
tarted up like a punk whore,
her close family stunned
to see her laid out like this,
in her sedate pink-lined casket
with the doves and the Bible verse –
something about going home with Jesus,
taking on a whole different slant
with Mamie’s face frozen in a smirk
the mortician couldn’t rearrange.
Maybe next time they’ll find
a verse about not judging.

Then the funeral:
how scandalous!
How quickly they turn
from raging on Haley,
the medics, the death staff,
each person involved with
Miss Mamie’s demise;
how swiftly their anger
disperses into branches
of family less treasured:
the out-of-town relatives,
nieces and nephews,
long distant cousins –
how could they not recognize Grandma Mamie
just because she had orange braids in the casket?
Oh, the thrill of self-righteousness,
the vindictive snark of
griefstricken, worn-down, put-upon family:
“Maybe if you’d visited,
helped out more often,
she wouldn’t look like a stranger
to you!”


© Copyright 2015 by Rowan McConnell

Header photo via Morguefile.

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