Nelly Zann ~ I Turn My Music Loud

My moth­er leaves a tense mes­sage on my phone. “I need you here tomor­row. I’m out of pads.”

I live nine­ty miles away in New Orleans but I’m on vaca­tion. We haven’t spo­ken in six weeks, since I took my son to vis­it her. She bright­ens around grand­chil­dren and with him she smiled girl­ish­ly and pet­ted his arm, asked him about his stud­ies in London. He bit at a nail and she brushed his hand from his mouth. “I can’t see your hand­some face.” We ate Italian food and she car­ried her scalop­pi­ni like a bonus back to the nurs­ing home.

It’s very impor­tant,” she says in her phone mes­sage but I can’t get to her.

Ask the nurse for pads, Mom,” I say when I phone her back, but she won’t. She doesn’t want any­one to know that she is leaking.


At Walmart she hangs the hand­i­capped tag from my car mir­ror so we can grab a pri­mo spot. Behind the shop­ping bas­ket she walks like a woman who still walks. At the home her steps behind her walk­er have become shuf­fles and the tran­si­tions from car­pet to hard­wood floor keep her in her room. “They refuse to bring me my mail,” she says. “That’s a fed­er­al offense, Mom,” I say. And what mail? It’s only junk she tends to at the desk in her bed­room, redact­ing proof of her­self in black Sharpie.

She sorts through wrin­kled coupons and asks me to run for items she can’t reach. She knows the store like an old friend: the bread thins, stacked low, the unsalt­ed almonds, high. The pads we buy are for women who bleed. She won’t use diapers.

Do you ever miss cook­ing, Mom?” I ask on the meat aisle. She used to pre­pare feasts, mul­ti-course meals with recipes from around the world – rice pilaf, chick­en schnitzel, sal­ad after the meal for diges­tion, peach Kuchen for dessert — trav­el­ing in her kitchen, away from us.

My appetite is dif­fer­ent now. I hunger most­ly for ice cream,” she says, and the many delights inside the frozen food case — dipped-in-bit­ter-choco­late pops and sun­dae sug­ar cones and quarts of black wal­nut – please her.


Is she wet­ting the bed at night?” the nurse at the home asks. “We offer an incon­ti­nence package.

But my moth­er shud­ders. “No, I do not,” she says, “And I don’t want peo­ple snoop­ing around.” “Check her ham­per,” the nurse sug­gest­ed, but it’s emp­ty. Laundered clothes are fold­ed in the straw bas­ket, pas­tel t‑shirts and gray sweat­pants, every item soft and smelling of Downy.

You have a doctor’s appoint­ment com­ing up,” I say. “We will talk to him about this.” And her fad­ing steps, and when she must move into a wheelchair.

I won’t take med­ica­tion to dry me up. I drank too much water is all.”


I unpack her gro­ceries, then ask her to eat lunch with me in the din­ing room, but she won’t. I hoped to make her proud, a daugh­ter vis­it­ing. At lunch with my son, some hap­pi­ness seemed pos­si­ble. I turn down her offer of a slim sand­wich in her dark room, crowd­ed with unpacked box­es and bins, shut­tered against the light, the peach sun­sets and full moons. We are in a hope drought.

People keep mov­ing out,” she says. “The ser­vice is terrible.”

I kiss her offered cheek and leave for the shell of my car.


Nelly Zann lives with her hus­band in New Orleans. She’s writ­ing a mem­oir about grow­ing up in a musi­cal fam­i­ly called Following The Notes.