Andrea did not expect dying would be so gassy. Things were escaping: air, memory, blood. Her heart flitted inside her chest. Outside the window, autumn was golden, leaves were falling, clouds wisping away. She remembered when Ralph brought her that kitten on a bright October day, and she named him Copycat. He liked to sniff the fruit she ate--apples, oranges. Where was the cat now? Dead. And Ralph? Also dead. Ralph was the copycat. And soon she would be too.
Pish. No self-pity. Life was an endless--no, an ending--hallway of rooms and she had knock-knocked on most of the doors and enjoyed what she found. She and Ralph married and had a wonderful daughter who had gone on to make her own life.
Connie visited yesterday and repeated her father’s joke: “Olie wore both of his winter jackets when he painted his house last July. The directions on the can said ‘For best results, put on two coats.’” Connie laughed after making the joke, just as Ralph used to. The hospice nurse by the door also laughed.
“I’m a little cold,” Andrea said. She sat up. “I’d like my mother’s shawl. My shoulders are cold. Where’s Copycat?”
“Mom, Copycat died a long time ago.”
“Oh, that’s right.”Andrea smiled as if she had known all along. “I’m a copycat too.”
“Don’t talk like that. The grandchildren need you. I need you. Jim needs you.” Connie draped the shawl around her shoulders.
“Still at the office.” Connie plumped the pillow, hitting it hard.
“He works too much.” Andrea held her stomach as if it were escaping. What advice could she give her daughter? There was not much time left. Her ear popped. How trivial. She had been Executive Director at the State Arts Board, had distributed money that enriched the lives of the citizens. Her ear popped. “Tell him . . . .”
She wanted to understand how Jim could ignore his beautiful Connie, why people argued, why everybody didn’t love Chekhov, why there was consciousness although oblivion was simpler.
When she was little, she was not allowed to go in the basement. Bluebeard didn’t allow his wives to go into his secret room. Was it always monsters behind doors?
Endless doors. Her hands lay unmoving on the quilt–it felt good to be still after decades of heaving to and fro. The print on the wall was Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers,” an unoriginal choice, but she liked their aspirations, their ordinariness. Something popped. She put her hand over her heart.
Connie leaned over. “Mom, what is it?” Her forehead was tight.
The nurse hurried behind her. Andrea couldn’t remember her name. The nurse seemed alert, unafraid, accustomed. Andrea thought she should be that way. “Open the window, please.”
“You’re cold,” Connie said.
“I’m fine.” Ralph had always been kind, even to insects. He would catch a wayward moth with a glass and a square of cardboard and release it outside. She recalled the sweet smell of apples. “I’m fine.”
published 9 January 2013