Today’s my last day and you know it. Heck, everyone knows it. The dang screen door’s been slappin’ against the jamb all morning: neighbors with casseroles, the paid help who stop in more regularly than my own flesh and blood, and Sadie. God knows Sadie’s never left my side. None of you understood my marryin’ her. But age difference aside, we had lots in common. Meetin’ the way we did, seated side by side at all of the Pats’ games, I knew she had that fine quality of loyalty, and she ain’t let me down yet.
You, my little Marie, don’t show up eager and obvious like the rest, taking inventory of my power tools, or my prized Patriots memorabilia. From my bed near the window I watch you pull up slow in that shiny hybrid car of yours barely stirring up a dirt cloud; turn off the engine and sit staring at the wheel. First I think you’re waiting out some song on the radio, but when nearly ten minutes pass, I know you’re dreading setting eyes on me, the way my flesh barely hangs on its frame. The dark shadows around my eyes that look like the hollows of an old skull. I don’t much like the look of it myself, skin like crumpled tissue and that’s just how I feel. Like somebody’s used me up, and I’m heading for the trash bin. Least I can do is divvy things up before I check out of this place. Not that there’s much left.
I had Sadie round y’all up. Who’d a thought you’d put off coming till the third call. Guess “The old man’s not gonna last much longer,” wasn’t definite enough. Playing the “He’s asking to see you,” card was desperate, I know. But I thought it would be the sure fire way to get you here. I’ll admit it hurt when you still didn’t come. I know you don’t think I’ve got a heart. You think I’m tough as gristle. But I had to be tough on you. How else would you grow up and be able to handle yourself in this world. Some thought that after your ma died I’d go soft on ya, trying to fill her shoes. After all, how’s a nine-year-old girl supposed to get on in a house full of brothers and a crotchety old father? But If I had pussy footed around, blathered on about love and support and gave in to tears and wailing, you’d have leaned on me like a crutch and you’d never be where you are today. I can take credit for that. And I do. I tell Sadie all the time ’bout how you manage that place up there in the city.
It’s funny what it took to get you here today. But I won’t go reading too much into that. Don’t have the energy for it anyhow. You’re here now and that’s all that matters. You come in and close the door softly behind you. You’re put together real nice, just the way I imagined you would be. You don’t have a smile for me, after all these years, but then today’s not a day for smiling, is it? I close my eyes for a minute or two, and then feel your hand on my arm. Ain’t like the thick fingers of that snippety old nurse checking my pulse for the umpteenth time. I swear she’s more eager for the blood to stop pulsing than the vultures gathered outside the bedroom door, already fighting over the best morsels. No, your touch is warm, almost hot. You look a little flushed. I hope you haven’t caught anything in that fancy medical place you’re working.
Your brothers are waitin’ on me, expecting to hear me tell ’em what goods they can load into their trunks today before they head back to their homes. Homes I ain’t never been invited to. But I’m tired and don’t feel like seein’ the disappointment on their faces when they find out that most everything’s gone to paying nurses to come in all these years when they was too busy to do the carin’ themselves. Who am I kiddin’? We all know the treasure they’re hopin’ for today, even more than the house itself, will fit right into their pockets: my Patriots season tickets. No, I don’t need neat goodbyes or wasted tears. That’s why Sadie called a lawyer last week and had everything drawn up nice and legal. The only reason they’re here today is for me. I’ve allowed myself a last bit of selfishness, wanting you all nearby when the time comes.
Your warm touch moves over that thin vein in my hand, along my forearm, and up to the hot fold where the vein bulges at the surface. Then you take your other hand from your jacket pocket. You pump the syringe. “Little prick,” you warn me before it pierces my flesh. I watch your eyes as you empty the thing.
“I love ya, Sweetheart,” I say. I can’t help myself. You don’t respond. Don’t bat an eye. Don’t shed a tear. Just slip the needle back in your pocket and rub your thumb over the vein. Then Sadie hands you the envelope with the blue and red Pats emblem in the corner, and you tuck it into your purse. A chill runs through my blood. I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and know that I raised you right.
Ruth Schiffmann puts pen to paper always hoping for that magical moment when the words take on a life of their own. More than a hundred of her stories, articles, and poems have appeared in publications both in print and online. To read more of her work, visit www.RuthSchiffmann.com.