A Cold February Night

As I stared out into the blackness of the cold February night, I could hear
the joyful sounds of children playing in the loft of an old barn, some fifty years
ago. I could hear their playful laughter as it echoed through the dark window
where I sat in a small hospital room. I sat there thinking about the first memory
of my sisters, and how far we had come from that day, there in the loft in an old
barn in Paris Illinois, and how my youngest sister had fallen from the rafters
and broken her leg, and how worried mother was as we took her to the hospital.
It seemed like only yesterday that I was there in the hospital room with her.

Now here I am in this small hospital room with mother. I’ve been here for days
just staring out of the window, wondering when this will all be over.
The nurse would occasionally come into the room and check the
equipment. She would monitor blood pressure, body temperature,
and respiration, and then she would ask politely, “How are you doing?"
I would usually just nod my head, and she would leave.

The room was small for a two-bed hospital room. An old curtain hung from
the tiled ceiling, creating a barrier between the two beds, a barrier between
two worlds of sickness. Above each bed, a florescence light flickered between
dark and light, between that invisible point, where what is real and unreal merge.
I would often watch as the faded white walls moved within the flicker of
light, hoping to see into that unknowable darkness that hung so pervasive all
around me.

I thought about how my sisters and I had grown up, so poor, and yet
happy in a childish way; never having the things that others seemed to have,
yet we always had mother. I thought about all the times father would come home
drunk and mother would hide us from his fury, sending us to our room, hiding
us under the bed or to stay over night at the neighbor’s house. Mother seemed
always to be there, to protect us, and keep us safe.

The Nurse entered the room and walked over to the bed, she attached a small pump
to the intravenous line that ran into the right arm. I couldn’t say anything,
I just watched as she attached the pump with a small bag of saline
and the words morphine sulfate written on a red sticker attached to the bag,
the NG tube had been removed days earlier. The time had come, after all these years
just lying in bed.The time had come to end the savagery of dementia.

I sat there holding her hand, feeling her pulse and listing to her breathe.
Just when it seemed as if my heart was in tune with hers, her pulse became
irregular and her breathing shallow. I sat there watching her die, as she must
have watched me come to life. I couldn’t help but feel the joy of the moment and
the sadness of the memories. I sat there holding her hand until her very last
heart beat pulsed through her vein, stopping at my finger tip.

© 2000 Jim Cain