birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Peace in the Valley

She was staring at the ceiling and was quiet compared to previous times when she’d been quick to assure me she was fine and I should just go home. I covered her with a blanket while we waited for the firemen to take her blood pressure, check her pupils, and do the other usual procedures. Normally she flirted with them. Not this time.

Next thing I knew I was following an ambulance to the hospital a few miles away. By the time I found parking, she was already situated in a room in the ER—one we had been in before. I looked at the clock. She had fallen just before 8 pm; it was now after 9. I texted my husband and told him not to wait up as the hospital staff came in and triaged, asking both of us questions. She needed to have her head examined; she laughed when I said it that way. Laughter, too, had become a part of the familiar scene. She had always been calm; I was the one who had needed to learn to relax and let life do its thing.

“Were you afraid when you fell?” “Only afraid I’d end up here,” she said, gesturing toward the ugly ceiling and the ridiculously bright light.

I was awake most of the night as hospital staff came in and out, and wheeled her in and out for various tests and procedures. I was dressed in a hoodie sweatshirt and for a few moments throughout the night, I pulled it up over my head, leaned into the side of the bed, and slept sitting up. It was surprisingly comfortable.

At 4 am, I was told she’d need to be admitted, but they had no room for her there, that in fact, no hospital in the immediate area had the type of bed she needed—one equipped with a special alarm—and that she would need to be transported to Valley Hospital 20+ miles away. I was disappointed, but I knew the staff would have looked into all options, so I kissed my mother on the forehead, told her I’d see her there, and headed home to quickly pack some things for both of us. Warm socks, iPads, toothbrushes, salty snacks—everything we’d need for the next few days.

As I headed toward the hospital at 5 am, the usually-too-busy highway was clear and so was the night. The Space Needle was still lit by the full moon. I wondered if my mom had seen it from the ambulance. When I walked in her room, she was ravenously eating eggs and bacon, as casually as if she’d ordered it from room service. She knew there wasn’t much time left, and this woman—mother of nine, grandmother and great-grandmother to many, who had lived the shit out of life—was going to make the most of it.

Short Night Long Ride

Overnighter in London