11 May 2011

Author, Author

“Wherefore art thou, Violet?” Precious Martin had a habit of asking this every time she walked into the nursing home. She would ask it even before the urine and fecal matter bouquet assaulted her nostrils. She would ask it even before the sight of that bent and crooked frame made the color empty out of her face. She would ask it and care not the least if anyone heard.

On a very typical day on that very typical street in that very typical Midwestern city, Precious walked once again into the residential care facility that had been her daily destination since her sister was admitted to the Alzheimer's unit some three years ago. “Wherefore are thou, Violet?” she called out, almost audibly. She smelled the onion and fish-stick melange from the kitchen even before the urine and fecal matter. “Wherefore art thou, Violet?”

It was a small thing, to be sure, the brief visits, but maybe they meant something to Violet. They sure as hell meant something to Precious – they meant a dread fear that she would end up in the same place in a few years. Precious was the baby of the family, and she watched the onset of her oldest sister's disease for years. And Precious tried so hard...so very, very hard to keep the wolf of that disease at bay. That bastard wolf that took the mind and left the body – the neutron bomb of diseases. Take your fish oil capsules. Eat the leafy greens. Plenty of water and exercise. Best of luck, Precious.

“Wherefore art thou, Violet?” Her voice was just a little sing-songy today. She knew this visit would be different, though, and it seemed right to sing a little bit. The onions and fish sticks were less noticeable now, she thought. Other aromas had crowded them out as she neared Violet's room.

It is amazing, Precious thought as she looked at her sister, how similar the teeth look to the fingernails. Not so much in color as in composition. A little washcloth had been rolled up and tucked under her sister's chin to keep it from curling tightly against her chest, and her mouth was open a little bit, allowing Precious to make this observation about her teeth.

It had been several hours and already the effects were evident. Death comes quickly and keeps on working, she thought. Efficient. Thorough. Violet's skin was already appearing kind of waxy and foreign – nothing like the skin of the sister with whom she had grown up and laughed and lived and cried and joked and grown up and grown old. The skin on this corpse was just that – skin on a corpse. A husk. A rind, more or less. Precious would wonder about this over a big glass of gin four days from now after the family had gathered to say goodbye. She would swallow a chewed up olive and want to vomit it all over the floor of that banquet hall. Rind. Skin. Husk. Violet. All that was good mingled with all that was bad and all that was scary and all that would never again be and she would just want to vomit all that right up onto the floor.

“Would you like her eyeglasses in the bag or do you want to just take them with you?” The nursing assistant broke the silence and Precious lifted her eyes away from her sister.

“Thank you. You've been so good to her. I'll take them with me. Thank you.” Precious hardly knew what else to say. The eyes on the face above the chin that was propped up on the rolled-up washcloth were not fully closed, and even though they no longer needed the eyeglasses, Precious could almost feel them looking at her. The nursing assistant obliged and closed the door behind her as she left. No hint at all of onion or fish stick was in the room.

“Wherefore art thou, Violet?” Precious sang out in a tiny, tiny voice.

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