She tells me I should rest, that I need convalescent time, but I want to tell her, “why, it isn’t like they stuck a needle in my eye, so why rest?” but it actually is just that, but the rest of my body is none the worse for the wear on my face, and it hurts less when I am doing something other than thinking about it.
The eye will feel better in a day or two, they say, and I have great faith in them, why else would I let them stick a needle into my eye, and anyway, I have a spare and that is the one that still works like new, well, almost new normal wear and tear excepted.
We were told the average background color of the universe was turquoise. She said “that’s because a coyote ripped it from the mountains outside Cerrillos. But now they say it’s actually a shade of dark beige, drying mud colored.” It was a glitch in the software, the astronomers said. The coyote was unmoved.
She sits on the floor sorting coupons and roughly clipped articles on herbs and natural remedies. Occasionally she looks down at the hollow of her chest, at the still reddened slash left by the scalpel. “I’ve got no veins left. I hate those damn needles. If they want to poison me, I’ll drink it gladly. Socrates had nothing on me.”
I rub her feet as she slides into the MRI tube, and pull on her toes. “I can pull you out at any time.” I look at my wrist but there is no time in this room, checked at the door. Just the metronomic magnet. As she emerges she grabs my hand, presses it against my chest. I cradle her head and trace the scar across her scalp, trying to touch the missing brain matter, the tumor it nestled, pushing aside the brittle hair. “Lightly toasted,” she whispers with a weak smile. She hates white coats and stethoscopes. “They’re the new morticians.” They take her in small sections. She is a slide collection in the back of my closet, on the pathologists shelf. I want to gather them all and reassemble her. I want her to be a young girl of fifteen again.
Coyotes wander down from the Sandia hills. They gather outside the Santo Domingo Pueblo, sensing the slow seepage of heat from the sun baked adobe. There is no moon. They know each star. They stare into the darkened sky. They see only turquoise.
After all that has happened, after all of the changes tumbling one upon another, after breathing again new air, after ceding fear to hope when I sit down to write it all I have at the end is a small glass of snow in the middle of July.
I want so to say that i feel your pain, but we’d both know that was an utter lie.
I can tell you abut my pain, describe it at great length, and I will be utterly disappointed when you admit you can only imagine it as a reflection of your own pain, which I am certain doesn’t begin to rise to the level of mine, but that is your failure, and I will forgive it for I know that my pain is unique and beyond even your imagination.
So let us just agree that each of our pains is beyond the contemplation of the other, secure in our own uniqueness.
Of course, she’s sitting there, calmly, staring off onto space. She has to know something is amiss, no one has come to visit her in days, but she knows that whenever, if ever, whatever it is that is happening is finally over, that they will once again return, stare at her, wonder aloud and silently why she is smiling, and she will as always say nothing, for she was once told that it is better always to leave them wanting more.
Tomorrow Paris will count its newest dead, and the hospitals will pray the tide of bodies has been stemmed, or diminished and none of those in the battle will pause and consider DaVinci’s lady imprisoned forever in her sterile room, an eternal prisoner.
First published in Dreich, Issue 20, Autumn 2020 (Scotland)
He awoke this morning, and was surprised to be there, he said, because when you are ninety, and can’t get around at all, you don’t look forward to tomorrow, for it will simply be a repeat of today when nothing will happen. And it is harder still, he says, because he can’t remember much anymore, so it’s hard to say if today is any different than a week ago or a month ago, though they say he was in the hospital then, but he don’t know why he was there. When I stop for a visit the next day his is surprised to be there, he says as though it was a new thought that just came to him in the moment.
I have two mothers, now both dead, I have three fathers, one unknown, one buried outside Washington and one lost in a corner of his shrinking mind. I am growing older, I have aches and clicks and pops and groans, which each remind me that I am aware and alive and that isn’t a bad way to start a new day.
I was twelve at the time, would have chosen to be anywhere but there. I hated visiting her at home, but this took my disgust to a whole new level. We were never close, never would be, she so old, so old world, so unlike anyone I had known, so like the women sitting outside the old hotels on South Beach waiting for a wave or death, whichever first flowed in, life having long ebbed. The room as I remember it was barren, bleached to a lack of any color, the bed a white frame, white sheets, a small white indentation staring up at the ceiling, up at heaven, and everywhere what I imagined were steel bars through which we and the doctors and nurses could pass, but which held her tightly within, serving out what remained of her ever shortening life sentence.