Daily. A constant parade of guests to the bedside, the same narrow people and the same mindless conversation. How are you, does it hurt, do you mind, can I sit, do you need help, where is the nurse? And then? I’ll be back tomorrow. They were never back tomorrow. Or were they?
Today was Wednesday, yesterday was Saturday, and tomorrow would be Friday.
She was alone inside herself.
No visitor was constant. The only constant visitor was Helene, the nurse. And then the pain of course. At first she was told to keep hope, that she could beat whatever it was that was tearing her insides apart. But what good was hope? It keeps a person living in a world apart, a world that doesn’t really exist. For some people it is a relief from life, but what kind of life would that be?
The one thing Margaret could be sure of was the nightly call from Ollie Cabot; every evening without fail, but only when she was alone.
Why don’t you come to see me?
I’m afraid that can’t be possible.
You’re too far away?
Yes. I suppose, in some ways, I’m too far away.
There was silence. Always silence.
You know, I loved you a little bit, she said. At the beginning.
Ollie laughed a little.
It’s true; you looked like you understood everything.
No, he countered. I understood nothing. You helped me.
Well, what does it matter now? It’s too late.
Don’t say it is too late, it isn’t ever too late, Meg.
Well, maybe it isn’t. But too late to do anything about it.
Downstairs something else was happening. Susan was sitting at the small, beaten kitchen table going through a box of her mother’s old things. Letters, cards, and small things she picked up in her travels and then tossed aside. Sitting next to her was her husband, a small man named Amory. They were a distant couple, but not unhappy. The past few weeks brought them closer than ever they had before; death had a way of doing that to people.
Susan sighed and dropped another card into a pile of things she meant to discard. “All of these, Amory. That card was from Christmas 1987. Honestly, can you believe she kept something that old? And this here, she motioned to a small letter, who on earth is Ollie? And why does mum care that he isn’t planning on coming back from Bruges?”
This too, she tossed aside.
“Don’t you think it’s strange that we are sitting down here running through all of your mother’s things while she is upstairs on her deathbed? I know that sounds morbid, but shouldn’t you maybe see her? Go and talk to her at the very least? You’re her only child, and she is the only mother you’re ever going to have.” Amory was never cold, but this was an unexpected moment of kindness and compassion on his part. Death changed people, it seemed.
Nothing felt right. Nothing was right.
Turning to her husband, Susan replied with frankness. “No. I honestly have nothing to say to her right now, and what is there to say? All of this shit, she swept her arm around the room, is an immediate problem. My mother always cared about her things, so now I’m going to take care of her things.”
Upstairs there was silence.
Meg was being lifted out of bed, and then gently falling to the ground. She caught onto a leaf and let it take her away. Over the wind she travelled to all the places she had forgotten.
The small café in Aix-en-Provance where she met Andrew. The cutter sailing out through Newport Harbor where they had those little finger sandwiches and the gin and tonics. The bodega in Posillipo where she had gotten sick after eating some bad clams. All of these memories and more flooded back to Meg, she travelled the world in an instant and relieved her memories in merely moments. I love you, I want you, I’m here for you, we can start over, this is over, I hate you, the child, our child, what were we thinking, why did we do this, don’t talk to me, I can’t look at you. Why?
Helene administered more morphine. Meg’s leaf began to flutter to the earth, back to her house, back through her window, into her bed. And darkness.
“Honestly, Amory. Look at this nonsense!” Susan tossed an old throw at her husband, it was a needlework blanket with images of the forest on it. The moose was surrounded by large redwoods and some rabbits. In the sky there were little scarlet pheasants and small pale quail. “All of this. All of her things, this house, it’s just some very old dream she can’t seem to wake up from.”
“It has to be trash, just get rid of it. Please.”
Amory stood up, folded the blanket, and placed it on the table. “Susan. Think for a moment, relax. You’re upsetting yourself. These things are hers, and so they are yours. Do not hate them to hate them; don’t be upset at your mother. She hasn’t done anything wrong to you, she only did the best she could.”
“Best isn’t enough.”
Upstairs Margaret heard her phone ring. Why wasn’t anyone going to answer it? Could anyone hear it? Meg lifted herself off the bed and reached for the receiver. She knew who it was before she said anything into the phone.
Are you ready, sweetheart?
Ollie? Meg’s voice broke.
It’s time to go, I think.
I’m not ready… look at me? I still haven’t done enough.
Anything is enough. Now say goodbye. Go downstairs and say goodbye. We need to leave.
The line went dead, Meg replaced the phone. There was no going downstairs, there was nothing. There was blackness. Ollie didn’t call the next night, or the day after. He never visited, nobody visited again.