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The Noisy Portrait

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Your mother had been sick for years. You never did know exactly what was wrong with her, though. Countless doctors had examined her and all had to admit she was suffering some something they had never seen before. However, even though they could not pinpoint the disease itself, they all seemed to agree on one thing: it was terminal. Eventually, this mysterious illness would take your poor mother's life.

You can remember back when your mother first got sick. It happened after visiting family in a small town in West Virginia. The trip had ended abruptly when your aunt became furious with your mother for accidentally breaking a picture of your grandmother. You never did understand why your aunt had become so upset, it was just a photo. Regardless, your family had to pack up and leave that next morning.

On the drive home, your mother seemed to be dealing with some allergies. Assuming it was just some of the local fauna getting to her, no one thought much of it. Everyone assumed it would clear up shortly after returning home, but it never did. Weeks, and then months after returning, your mother's new "allergies" were still steadily growing worse.

It was always slow, but she never got even a little better even for a day. Back before it really got bad she always used to joke that "those darn allergies must have moved in and loved me so much they decided to stay and take over!" Eventually, though, she stopped joking about her sickness. It took so much out of her that it made her angry and bitter. She would snap and yell at you for the smallest things, and she would become exhausted and just fall asleep at random times.

A few times you even saw her fall asleep while walking. She would be walking one way, then her eyes would slowly close as she drifted off in another direction before jerking awake. You tried to help make things easy on her as much as you could, but there wasn't much you could do. Every time she yelled you tried to remind yourself that it was just the disease and exhaustion talking so you wouldn't start yelling back and just make her feel even worse.

The disease affected more than your mother though. Her slow deterioration began to wear out the rest of the family emotionally. As she grew worse, you watched your father and little brother grow worse as well. You felt yourself crumbling too, but you did your best to fight it and pretend like nothing was wrong. Eventually, it became too much for your father. You woke up one Thursday morning to find a note from him explaining that he couldn't stand to be in the house with your mother anymore. He said he had left for good and taken your brother with him. The note didn't say where he intended to go. He was gone, and you were left to care for your mother alone.

For years, it was just the two of you. She continued to worsen everyday, and everyday you fought harder and harder to keep from breaking as your father had. Every week more and more doctors saw her and gave you the same clueless, useless answers. It was something they'd never seen before. It worked in unusual ways they couldn't understand. It didn't make any sense.

It was terminal.

It was terminal. There was always that.

Eventually, you gave up on doctors completely. Your mother was almost entirely bedridden by this point, and there was nothing they could do anyways, so why should you waste what time you had left with them? Instead, you stayed home everyday to care for her. In those brief moments when you were not occupied by some household chore, you would sit and try to read.

You never did process very many of the words anymore, but it was easier to deal with books than it was to deal with television. Besides, if the TV had been on you might not be able to hear your mother when she faintly called out for you because she needed something. As the months dragged on, those calls became much more frequent and much more faint.

In those final few years, there seemed to be only one thing you could do to bring a tiny smile to your mother's face: take her picture. She had always loved having her picture taken, even as a little girl. You could remember all the stories she and your grandmother had told you about how she would run to anyone she saw with a camera and beg to have her picture taken, even if the person was a complete stranger. As she grew older, she obviously learned not to approach random strangers for photos, but she never lost her love for being photographed.

So, every single day you would get the camera and go into her room. You would sum up all the cheerfulness you could as you raised the camera and called to her, "Time for your picture, Mom! Say cheese!" That faint smile you came to know all too well would slowly crease her face, the flash would go off, and then you would put the camera away until the next day.

One evening, while your eyes were sliding over the words of a book whose title you could not even remember, you realized you hadn't heard your mom call for you in a while. Concerned that you had zoned out and missed her call, you put the book down to go check on her. As soon as you entered her room, your heart dropped. She was dead. After all these years, the disease had finally claimed her life. In a small way, you were glad because she no longer had to suffer, but that did not change the immense sense of loss you felt. Now you were completely alone.

With your mother gone, you had no idea what to do. For years, taking care of her had consumed your life, but now she was gone. Unsure of what to do, you remained in the house alone most days, still running your eyes through books without ever realizing what you were reading. A day or two after your mother was buried, you remembered the camera and all the photographs you had taken.

You printed out that final picture, dug out an old picture frame from a dusty box in the attic, and hung it above the headrest of her bed. You stood there and cried for hours after you first hung it; you couldn't believe she was gone. Some nights, while you were "reading," you even thought you could hear her faintly calling you as before. You would close your book and start to stand before it would hit you again - she was gone, you were just imagining things. Most of the time, this realization sent you into another uncontrollable fit of tears.

One night, as you were making your way to your bedroom, you thought your heard your mother's voice again. You knew that you were imagining things, but still you decided to go and look into her room. On your way, you absentmindedly grabbed the camera and took it with you. You poked your head into her room like you always had, but this time you looked up to her picture instead of her bed.

Noticing the camera in your hands, you brought it up to your face, aimed it at the photo on the wall and said, "Time for your picture, Mom! Say cheese!" choking on every word as the tears began to well up in your eyes. Just before you took the picture, you almost thought you could see the smile forming on her face again, and that was when you lost control completely.

In a fit of tears, you threw the camera to the far side of the room where it bounced harmlessly off a pillow. You dove onto your mother's bed and ripped the picture from the wall and hurled it into the ground. As the glass shattered and spread across the carpet, you fell down on top of it on your knees, snatching up the now-broken frame. Cutting your hands on the bits of glass that remained in the frame, you tore the picture out and began ripping it to shreds, sobbing. You spent that night curled up on the carpet crying, clutching firmly to the shreds of the photo.

In the following days, you returned to your habit of attempting to read. Everything seemed normal, or at least as normal as things had been since your mother had died. However, you no longer thought you heard her voice. You guessed that your tantrum with the photo had served as some sort of release to help you accept her death, and that that had gotten the illusion of her voice out of your mind. You were extremely grateful for that, as it was easily the worst part of your suffering. Now the only suffering you had to cope with was some minor new allergies.

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