The drapes are closed
against the sunlight, but Ginny can feel someone in the room. She
peers through barely open eyes so as not to let on she’s awake.
She adjusts her position in a way she hopes mimics sleep, turns
her head to the side. A woman sits in silhouette.
Ginny doesn’t hear the TV. Ed must not be home.
remembers. He told her last night that someone would be coming to
stay with her today. He had to take the truck into
Clayton’s for a lube and oil change. He’s been taking
his trucks there forever. Ginny used to tag along, years ago.
She’d ride with him into town, wander through the
Woolworth’s, look at yarn and buttons. Sometimes she would
eat lunch at the counter, a fish sandwich and a Black Cow, before she
headed back to Clayton’s waiting room with its ripped,
vinyl chairs. She remembers the vending machine that was always
half full, the smell of overheated coffee and car exhaust.
Ashtrays were rarely emptied, you just pushed out a little clear
space so your ember didn’t catch the rest of the butts on fire.
Sometimes she would try to tidy it up a bit, but Ed said he
didn’t like his wife cleaning up after other people, so she
stopped. They closed the Woolworth’s down almost thirty
considers letting the woman sit in the half-light until Ed comes home
and sends her away. Nothing would seem amiss. But she may
be needing her pills. She doesn’t know how long she has
slept. She never knows time any more. Often she
doesn’t know she has slept at all unless Ed tells her.
She could move a bit, shift her position, make some sound. If the
woman’s worth her salt, she should realize what Ginny needs and
offer it to her. But no, that doesn’t work. Now the
woman is out of the chair, honeying, pulling the drapes aside, opening
the window. Fresh air, she says. When she tells Ginny it is
good for her, Ginny nearly laughs in spite of herself. The woman
is coming close to look at her now. She doesn’t want to be
seen, half-gone, skin slack, nails thick and spooned. Ed took the
mirror off the wall over the dresser so she is left to imagine what she
must look like whole. She risks a glance at the woman, meeting
her eye. She sees her blink it back. Quickly—she is
skilled. But Ginny sees it.
honey,” she says, “My name is Pat. I’m going to
sit with you today while your husband runs some errands.”
When Ginny says nothing, just holds her gaze, Pat walks closer,
surveys the bed. “I bet you’d feel a lot more
comfortable if we got you cleaned up.”
she’s off, out of the room. Ginny hears cupboards opening
in the kitchen, water running. Footsteps, now the dry squeak of
the linen closet door.
and sets the bowl of water on the floor by the bed. She
turns back the covers and raises Ginny gently, spreading a beach
towel underneath her. She eases her back down and begins to
sponge her with the washcloth. The warm water feels good.
She’s put lemon in it, it seems. Ginny remembers
making lemonade in the hot summers, taking a glass out to Ed
as he worked in the yard. The smell of cut grass and citrus.
The sun warm on her skin.
the fact that a stranger is bathing her. Although
that’s no longer unusual. Her life, her body,
what’s left of them, have become open to strangers. They
have discussed her, taken her blood, infused things into her,
radiated her bones. Not so much anymore, though. She thinks
they’ve given up, decided to move on to battles they
stand a chance of winning. She battled, herself,
for a considerable time. Now she waits to feel the peace she
has heard comes with giving over.
that she doesn’t have fear. She does. Not for
herself, because try as she might she can’t think of anything she
might have done that would send her to eternal damnation. She did
the best she could and asked forgiveness when she did wrong. Her
mark is no greater and no less, no better and no worse than most, so
she believes she has reason to expect some sort of salvation.
She is afraid
for Ed because she has taken care of the two of them. Of course
he worked, earned their living, but she did the daily-life things.
Shopping, cooking, bills, savings, taxes. Things he
can’t even imagine needing done, let alone knowing how to do.
She tries to go over these things with him, but he will have none
of it. He brings her the files and notebooks she asks for and
listens, arms crossed, brow knit. Then suddenly he remembers
something he has left undone. Did he lock the back door? Put gas
in the truck? Always some reason to up and go. So these
things remain untold, and she fears that when she is dead, Ed
won’t know what to do.
has finished bathing her. Ginny thinks about making an attempt at
conversation, but the thought tires her. She does feel better.
Her skin feels clean and cared for. Pat has put lotion on
her, and she is soothed. It feels good to wear a fresh nightgown.
She can’t recall the last time she had a bath.
I’m going to go ahead and change your sheets, if that’s
okay with you.” She doesn’t wait for permission,
though, simply begins the tricky process of changing a bed with a
person in it. Ginny knows know the routine from the hospital, and
she finds she can still manage to roll onto her side. It is a
tiring effort. When the bed is changed, Ginny lies back against her
pillow, breathing hard. Pat stands above her, smiling, as she
quickly wads the sheets into a manageable ball. She is a sturdy
woman, medium height. Her hair is a steely gray helmet, sensibly
cropped. She wears a light blue cotton dress with small yellow
flowers, washed to a faded softness. Her blue eyes in her round
face are warm and kind. Her smile reaches them.
offers her something to eat, she says that all she can keep down
anymore is Ensure. There is a supply in the kitchen. Pat
says she has brought a Thermos of homemade chicken soup, maybe Ginny
would like to try a bit of that. At first she thinks not.
Then she drifts, remembering the fragrant steam from a bowl of
soup, the broth golden with small, shiny islands of chicken fat, the
vegetables orange and green. The noodles. She hears herself
saying yes, she would like to try some of Pat’s soup.
is back out to the kitchen then. Ginny hears cabinets open, bowls
on the counter, the hum of the microwave, the ding that signals the soup is
ready. She bunches her pillow against the headboard, places her hands
at her side, tries to move herself upward. Rests and tries again.
Settles for arranging the bedclothes neatly over herself.
She folds her hands. Waits for the soup.
carrying a bed tray, and the steaming bowls, two of them. She
helps Ginny sit, then places a bath towel over her chest, the tray
across her lap
hot, honey. You need to eat it slow and be careful. If you
find that it’s making you feel sick, you just let me know and
I’ll go get you one of your Ensures.”
Ginny doesn’t want Ensure. She wants soup. She wants
to feed it to herself. She leans forward a bit and feels the
steam soft on her face. She breathes it in and it warms and
moistens the inside of her nose. Slowly--her hand shakes--she
dips the spoon into the soup. Skims the surface. Just the
broth first. She sees her arm is so thin, watches her shaking
hand move toward her mouth. She has planned for this, though.
She has taken a very small spoonful so she won’t shake
everything off before it gets to her. And she has done it.
She has raised the spoon to her lips. She blows on it a bit, then
sips the soup into her mouth, feeling its heat, tasting its salt.
She holds it there, testing it in different places on her tongue
as she lowers her spoon. Then she swallows, rests her head back,
closes her eyes and smiles. She has an entire bowl of this soup.
As they eat, Pat
talks about how she knows Ed from the Safeway pharmacy where she works,
how they got to talking about Ginny’s illness because of the
prescriptions he was having filled. She is finished long before
Ginny, but doesn’t offer to help her along, just keeps talking of
this and that. And when she can eat no more soup, Ginny tucks her
spoon beside her bowl and continues to listen, as if she were at a
friend’s kitchen table. As if she had just stopped by for a
visit. As if things were still the same.
must have drifted again. When she opens her eyes, Pat is gone.
The bed tray is removed, she is covered with her quilt. The
afternoon light has shifted, and the shadows are longer. She
hears the television now. Ed must be home. Her pills.
She turns her head and sees that the water pitcher is full.
Condensation has run down the sides and puddled on the plate
beneath. Ginny works herself onto her side, reaches toward the
pitcher. Her hand settles on its cool metal handle. She
closes her fingers, tries to lift it, hopes to pour herself a glass of
water. She feels a slight tensing of her bicep, a soreness in her
wrist. The pitcher doesn’t move. She lets go, and as
she does, she sees a basin on the floor, the basin from her bath.
Pat must have forgotten to take it away after lunch. The
water in it is murky and brown. She touches her arm, feels its
unfamiliar softness. She thinks about the look on Pat’s
face when she first came to her bedside. She thinks about her wadding
the sheets so quickly. And she knows.
is twilight now. She has been watching the sunset play on the
wallpaper. There is a rectangle over the dresser that is sharp,
bright. The colors are those of the paper when it was new, red
cabbage roses on a golden background, trails of green vines. She
chose this paper years ago when she and Ed first moved into this house.
Over the years, she thought about replacing it, but never could
find anything she liked as much. Now this rectangle is all that
remains of what she remembers. The rest is faded, the colors no
longer true. She wants to cover it, to protect it, to keep it
like it was. The mirror is just across the room, in the closet,
but she can’t get over to it. She can’t put the mirror
back. She knows that. She knows there’s nothing to be