HIS DEATH

By

Elaine Rosenberg Miller

They drove up to the house. It remained unchanged from the first time she had seen it as a young bride. Harsh scrub grass sprouted on the attenuated lawn. The same Chinese lion squatted beside the cinnamon colored door, its twin forever lost. The low overhanging roof dripped fat Florida raindrops on the heads of visitors rather than shielded them.

She was dressed in black.

Tall, strangely fragile, she was consumed with grief, not for the dying man, but for herself.

She accompanied his elderly aunt. The woman had asked her to drive her to the house. Mutely, she agreed.

She wondered if she would see him, her husband and the father of her children. She hadn’t seen him in months. She crossed the threshold.

The interior was dark and humid. Immediately to the left of the entrance was an étagère with figurines, mugs in the shapes of pirate heads and fading photographs. She recognized her elder son holding a rubber duck. He had been wailing. Then, someone handed him a toy and he smiled. Though he looked joyful, his eyes glistened with the remnants of tears. They haven’t removed the pictures yet, she thought. She walked in. Quickly, she realized that her husband was not present. She was grateful. They would stay a while and then leave.

His sister’s boyfriend sat before a television set watching cartoons. A prairie dog was chasing a rabbit.

In the kitchen, his father’s much younger wife, his second, leaned against the speckled acrylic counter, arms folded. His adolescent granddaughter looked up. Her thick make-up obscured her expressions. She turned to her father, her husband’s half-brother, a passive, obese young man and announced that she was planning to see a movie later that night.

The aunt had been married to her late husband for sixty years. It had been a love match. She called him “Gig”. He called her "Babe". In her own, non assuming manner, the way of many women who are underestimated, she understood much.

“Where is he?” the woman asked.

In his bedroom, she was told.

"You go," she said.

She walked slowly, drawing her breath. She hated illness, death, was afraid of hospitals, medical equipment.

The last time she had seen him he had been sitting in the same chair that the sister’s boyfriend occupied. He had been a strapping man. Six foot two. Swarthy. Barrel chested. But he smoked. Rolling vapor would exit his car as he stepped out. He would light one cigarette with the stub of another.

She had read his medical records. Black artifacts. Tar. Emphysema. Cancer.

She wondered what it had been like for her husband to have had him as a father.

Sensuous. Lethargic. An attraction for some women. Not his mother, a brittle, caustic woman of porcelain beauty.

Her husband had told her that he had no childhood memories save one. Eight years old, fishing pole and bait bucket in hand, he started out for e the pier adjoining their hotel and found his father and a strange woman having breakfast in the coffee shop. His father said nothing. “Bubbles”. That had been her name. She had been a dancer in the nightclub.

Years later, as she flipped through an album of family photographs, he said “That’s her.” She had short hair, cut in the “avocado” style once popular and promontory bosoms. She wore what seemed to be a bathing suit dress, and placed her hands on her hips. Her arched eyebrows seemed to go on forever.

She entered the room. He lay in a hospital bed. It was the first time she had seen him lying down.

Stanley?”

His eyes remained closed.

She heard the noise of machinery and was startled. The air conditioning compressor jostled into motion. She realized that there was someone else in the room. A woman. A member of his wife’s family.

They nodded at each other.

“Is he…?” she asked.

“We give him drugs.”

She wondered if he could hear them.

The woman rose and walked out of the room.

He resembled her husband or her husband resembled him. The great genetic amalgam. Her husband had inherited his black hair and stature as well as the delicate features of his sylphlike mother. He had neither of their personalities. His mother was a virago, his father nearly comatose when he had been alive. “Had been alive?” she thought. “Had she really said that?”

She wanted to flee this house, her house, this town, her memories, her failed dreams, yet she was rooted in the cold, damp room, needing to understand what had happed to them.

Stanley?”

He remained unmoved.

Her eyes filled with tears.

She heard the sound of the television. Raucous laughter.

He had been the son of an industrialist. A tough Russian immigrant. Tall and dusky as well. None of her children were dark, except maybe the baby.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

He remained immobile.

“I’m sorry we weren’t closer.”

She recalled his call weeks earlier. It was one of the few times he had ever telephoned her.

"Get as far away from him as you can,” he said. "He’s crazy.”

She had sat numbly on the side of her bed, the sunshine peeking though the blinds and felt her heart pound.

She stood and wept.

She said a prayer, silently at first, then aloud.

She recited an affirmation that she had said every night before she had fallen asleep. That there was but one God. And that people, the nation, should listen, hear. She hadn’t said it in a long time. She turned and walked out.

 

Women in Judaism: A Multidisciplinary Journal Spring 2009 Volume 6 Number 1

ISSN 1209-9392

© 2009 Women in Judaism, Inc.

 

 



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