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Teen And Up Audiences
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Bates Motel (2013)
Norma Bates/Alex Romero
Alex Romero, Norma Bates
Published: 2016-05-12 Words: 1881

Not Forever, but a Moment



The grief is aimless, formless, a wandering nebulous malignancy. [An exceedingly simple extension of the events in 4x09. Rated T for language and adult themes.]

The grief is aimless, formless, a wandering nebulous malignancy.

Red and blue lights flare up through the windows, cast ghoulish shadows across the walls. I don't hear the sirens but Norman rouses, tilts his chin towards the door, eyes flickering from the woman in my arms to the hallway, so I know they must be there. Out in the distance, a once comforting shriek.

There are hands on my arms and my shoulders, tugging, pulling, so that my weight falls back and I rest on my heels and Norma comes with me, because I won't release her. There are fingers trying to pry mine loose and a dim voice to the left that keeps saying something but the words don't make it through.

I've forgotten how to breathe, I think. My chest aches; my lungs burn; my throat is raw because there's nowhere for this pain to go.

"Sir, please, you have to let go," someone says. A familiar voice I'd place on another day.

But I shrug off the hand on my shoulder, and I pull her to me as tightly as I can, nestle her against my skin and my leather jacket. I kiss her still lips and her cheeks and her brow. I bury my face in her hair and breathe her in.

Breathe the last of her in, it occurs to me, and the thought makes my throat squeeze shut but still I'm making sounds I didn't know it was possible for a man to make, and if they'd just give me a goddamn minute, if they'd stop pulling and pushing and trying to pry her from me maybe I could fix this. I could fix her.

"Sir, let the paramedics help her," says another voice, and this time there are more hands and more bodies, too many for me to fight off, and they drag me away.

Drag her away from me.

Put her on a stretcher.

Blanket, oxygen mask, defibrillator.

"She needs air," I say, though the words are choked and nonsensical and a paramedic casts me a brief, dismissive glance as he snaps the oxygen mask into place over her nose and mouth. But that's not what I mean, I want to say. She needs air and warmth and skin and me.

If I can pull her to me again, strip off my jacket and hold her to my skin, kiss her mouth and breathe for her and tell her everything will be fine, everything will be wonderful, she'll come back to me.

But I can't form a coherent sentence, and they wouldn't listen even if I could.

Someone calls in a Code Blue over a radio and they take her out on the stretcher, through the front door and down the stairs until I lose my last glimpse of her, a flash of curly blond hair disappearing from my line of sight.

There are still hands on my shoulders and arms, holding me down and in place. A female voice—Deputy Lin, I think, though I don't care enough in this moment to look up and check—whispering something against my ear. Something maternal and soft and what I suppose is meant to be comforting.

But it's not comforting at all.

And I still can't remember how to breathe.

The migraine hits within ten minutes of sitting under the fluorescents. I try to drown it with overly acidic coffee and a couple of aspirin one of the roaming nurses was kind enough to bring me.

There are no tears left. Not here, not now. I wonder, briefly, if they'll come in waves. If this is but brief respite.

I'm not numb but empty. A hole in my chest were my soul used to be. Or should've been, were I the more animistic sort.

I keep waiting for the pain. Physical pain, something tangible. I think of my mother in those last terrible days, when the hospitals let her out too soon and the medication stopped working; the scars on her arm and the bloody towels in the bathroom: "Don't be afraid, Alex. Sometimes you just want a scar to point to when they ask you where it hurts."

I'm waiting for that scar, I realize. Or maybe I'm just hoping to roll up my sleeve or pull down my shirt and see it etched into my skin. Something I can trace in the privacy and darkness of my bedroom. Something I can know. Something to explain away:

"Junkie stabbed me. Part of being a cop. You know how it is."

Anything but:

"Someone ripped away the only piece of my life that mattered."

The chapel is silent, and cold, kept in borderline neglect.

My mother was devout. After her death my father and I cleaned out trunk after trunk of prayer cards and saint medallions and old bibles. Every birthday was an occasion to give a rosary, every Christmas brought a new crucifix.

She'd spent long hours with her priest towards the end. Trying to pray away the demons in her head, maybe. Or asking forgiveness for what she knew she'd eventually do.

Should've asked her, I think. But I never did. Denial, I guess. If you don't talk about it then it's not real. Not until there's a body and a funeral and you're playing out every moment of your intermingled life that you could've done differently.

Should've told my mother I loved her more.

Jostled my father into telling her how beautiful she looked.

I shouldn't have enlisted in the marines.

Should've stayed closer to home.

Maybe never left.

She needed a buffer.

Between the world and my father and herself.

I take a sip of my coffee—the third cup of the evening, though it's long gone cold—crane my neck to listen to the bustle of the hospital beyond. Alarms and voices and rushed footsteps outside the chapel door, but it still manages to seem entirely too silent and still in here.

I stare at the over-sized crucifix hanging on the wall above the altar.

"I don't know how to pray," I say. "That was my mother's talent." But it's a lie. I'd spent every night of the first twenty-six years of my life on my knees, begging.

Fix her.

Make her okay.

Take my father away.

Burn it all down if you have to.

But just fix her, please. Fix my mother. Please.

And afterward, when they'd found her body and called me at work to give me the news it was two hours of staring blankly at the wall with the phone in my hand, running the shame shit over and over in my head:

It's not real.

It's not real.

Please, don't let it be real.

I'll take down every drug dealer and rapist and murderer in the fucking county if it's not real.

I'll torch the entire city.

The drug fields and the corruption.

I'll go to church and hate my father a little less, or more, if you just make it not real—

"But that shit doesn't work with you, does it?" I ask.

I wish I could pray or beg or scream or maybe just cry again. Something aside from standing on this stone floor, empty coffee cup in hand, glaring at a crucifix, exhausted.

"They're still working on her," I say. "They won't let me see her. I keep asking but they tell me to stay in the goddamn hallway. So now I'm here."

I sit on pew in the front row. Set the coffee cup next to me.

I keep trying to think of the prayers my mother taught me when I was a kid. Hail Mary and Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep and As I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but nothing comes.

And when the prayers don't form in my head I want to say:


You've taken everything from me.

But she's good, and right, and whole.

Don't break me.

Don't break her .

Instead, I say:

"Don't you fucking do this to me."

I say it to God or a statue or nothing at all.

"You can see her now," the nurse says.

God himself couldn't keep me from sprinting down that hall.

She's cold to the touch and the oxygen mask is still in place.

The heart monitor gives proof of life but staring at her is terrifying, like those precious, horrid few moments I held her to me before the paramedics ripped her away.

I slip my fingers through hers. Bring her hand up to my mouth, kiss the delicate skin around the IV port. And when she still doesn't stir I feel my eyes burn, and water, and I don't have the energy to care.

All I can do is lean down and kiss her temple and whisper how sorry I am.

Sorry for going behind her back.

Sorry for not going behind her back sooner, for not locking him away in time.

For not getting home ten minutes earlier.

For failing to pray or appease whatever force of nature or omniscience spun us around and twisted us up and left us to rot.

"Please," I say into her hair, for what must be the hundredth time in a mere hour and a half. "Please come back. Please don't do this to me. Please."

Whatever grip I have on myself falters; I hear my own sob before I feel it, and I feel my ribs close around my organs before I realize I'm bent over her, wanting to lift her out of the bed and cradle her against me but refusing to do so for fear or causing further harm.

It's just raw, animal anguish; the smell of her replaced by iodine and bleach and the sterility of the hospital, and the memory of how she used to look at me when she was happy, like I could do anything in the world, and how when she looked at me like that I was certain I could.

I think about the men I'd kill to protect her and the asinine jokes I'd tell to make her laugh and the hundreds of moments we should've had, the pieces of daily life that we were owed, and I cry for her and for us in a way that I never did when my mother died or my father was arrested.

I cry the way I've never let myself, because I spent decades shutting the world and its bounty and its wounds out, I've never let anything seep into me, wrap its way around my soul.

And she is, or was, my soul, I realize. The only part of me that felt human, and vital, and alive.

Everything I am belongs to her.

And she lays unresponsive, and the tears won't stop.

They don't stop until the need for oxygen outweighs my grief, and I take a strangled deep breath and try to dry my face on the sleeve of my leather jacket, and once my lungs are full and the blood rushes to my brain and I'm about to continue, I feel her fingers squeeze around mine and I look down to see two blue eyes slowly crack open, and hear the very fucking voice of God when she whispers:


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