She was parceled out, divided up, numbered, and written down. My beloved wife. Her urine, her blood, little bubbles of her cholesterol, her sugar. I’m a chemist, so I understand the limits of medicine.
I imagined in some laboratory, test tubes, jars, bottles gleaming under buzzing fluorescent lights: graduated beaker sets, cylinders, filtration kits, and the graceful erlenmeyer flask. Emerald, amber, and blood-red liquids beautiful as jewels.
I sat beside her hospital bed. Outside the window, the spring afternoon was mistily green; dandelions, her favorite weed, grew on the lawn across the street. When we used to take walks, she would pick a stalk and blow the filaments into the air.
She said to me, “Ah, Jamie-boy, remember me fondly, but don’t grieve more than seven years. That’s how long the cells take to renew themselves. You’ll be a new man then.”
As if a new man could forget her.
She stored and savored odd bits of misinformation: that drinking bottled water could ward off panic attacks, that dyed eyebrows made a woman seem younger, that playing Bach made plants more luxuriant. That love would protect against cancer. She later demurred: “I didn’t mean it prevented cancer. I meant that love helped the cancer go down better.” She smiled a wobbly smile as if she might correct herself again. “Love is like cinnamon. It goes with everything.”
“I thought it was supposed to be like chocolate.”
“You’re a trouble right to the end, aren’t you, lover-boy? Can’t you just agree with me? Can’t you just say Good-Night and let me go?”
“It’s only four o’clock. It’s full light outside.” Actually, I had turned on the ceiling light, and outside it was overcast.
She sighed, turned her head on the pillow, and closed her eyes. “Tell them to give me morphine now.”
I asked the nurse if Belinda could have more morphine. The nurse looked at the chart, then the clock on the wall and nodded. It was not a good sign that the nurse was willing to give her the morphine two hours early.
Belinda had said she would meet death alert, unmedicated. “I disappoint myself. Some artist I am. I’m not going to see the end clearly.” She waved her hand in front of her face as if a fly were annoying her.
“You never disappointed,” I said.
“How about the time I accused you of spending all our money on that frivolous guitar?”
“That wasn’t disappointing. That was enraging.” I brushed a strand of hair from her forehead. Wan light broke through a cloud and seeped onto her pillow and my guitar case.
“Remember the time you serenaded me with a song about endless love? ‘Unchain My Heart.’ Pretty.” She inhaled a small breath. “But now I’m tired. I need a nap.” She looked up at the ceiling and smiled. “Please turn off the light. But don’t leave. Sit here a while.”
I took out my guitar and played that tune, but I could not sing the words.
published 3 July 2013