Another Gift from the Magi.
Another Gift from the Magi
She splashed some lukewarm water on her face and stared into the hollow eyes reflected in the mirror. Eyes that could change color, but today they were gray, just gray. The empty, expressionless face in the mirror looked old, wrinkled from weight loss, sallow from the lack of sun and overwhelmed by dark sunken circles surrounding those dull gray eyes. By habit she put on some mascara and lip gloss and tried to smile, the face didn’t smile back, just stared at her with a haunting impassiveness. She gave up and slowly stepped down the heavily padded stairs, softly, just in case, and turned into the sunroom.
Dawn was starting to dimly light the exquisitely decorated room, with floor to ceiling mullion windows artfully topped with semicircle transoms. The wide Victorian crown molding, painted soft white like the rest of the woodwork, added to its grandeur. A smiling room whose light had vanished.
She looked over at the skeleton in the hospital bed. His eyes were open as she crept toward him. He moved his eyes to meet hers. Those beautiful almond shaped green eyes. Those eyes that had reassured her for over 30 years.
Those eyes that glistened with love and humor on their wedding day when she briefly panicked. “Aren’t you scared?” she had asked.
“I am right where I want to be,” he reassuringly replied.
And that made all the difference. For the next 31 years, those eyes comforted her, sparkled at the birth of their children, flashed pain and hurt when angry. In those eyes she saw their story.
Those eyes were all that was left now, his 230-pound frame, sallow, wrinkled, fewer than 100 pounds. A living corpse, except for those eyes.
She tried to keep her eyes clear; but the tears flowed unabated down her cheeks.
He grimaced. She nodded and picked up the almost empty morphine bottle. She filled the oral syringe with the clear liquid and squirted its contents into his mouth.
The tubes and hanging plastic bags were gone now. The port had been removed. All that was left was the rapacious disease devouring the remainder of his body in a relentless march to its own oblivion.
She waited until he closed those eyes before balancing the tray of medicines. She went into the kitchen to make herself some coffee and prepare the materials for the day. She filled a basin with sudsy warm water, gathered some washcloths and prepared for her morning ritual.
She returned to the room now bathed in sunlight and softly washed the flesh wrapped around his bones, careful not to wake him from his sedated, dreamless sleep.
Cancer, the cruelest of adversaries, had greedily hijacked his body claiming all the nourishment and returning excruciating pain. He could still see, talk and move his head even though his muscles, fat and organs had been consumed by the cruel beast.
She finished, sat back in the armchair next to him and tried to close her eyes. Her brain flashed back to yesterday, replaying that image of those eyes pleading with the hospice worker to help him die. Together they devised a plan to keep him sedated. Morphine under his tongue every two hours.
Numbly, she turned her head and stared at the gardens outside the window. Gardens that they had created together, challenging nature, losing most battles, until nature finally grudgingly accepted some of their offerings. Many years, digging and weeding, mud crusted fingernails, scratches from barberry unwilling to relinquish its position. It was late summer now, the gardens were tired, the rudbeckia and sedum were all that was left. Their perfectly sculpted English perennial garden, waiting to be reclaimed by nature.
She dozed off awakening to the sound of an old-fashioned doorbell.
“Ma’am,” said the delivery man.
“Thank you,” and she closed the door, unpacked the small cardboard box from the compounding pharmacy.
She lifted the 8 oz bottle of morphine and looked over at him, softly moaning. She checked her watch, filled the oral syringe with the remaining liquid from the old bottle and delivered another dose into his mouth.
Eight weeks ago they removed the tubes, the beeping and whirring instruments stopped. There would be no more glum-faced doctors and evading nurses. They nodded in shock as they listened to their new instructions.
“We are delivering a bed to you today. Tomorrow, the hospice nurse will be calling. We will deliver enough medications to get you through tonight. Then hospice will help you.”
She numbly gathered a few things, put them in a plastic bag and followed as they wheeled him down the cold sterile corridors of the hospital. The orderly gently eased him into the back seat of their car. She slowly drove home, trying to avoid bumps. She put in a CD of songs from long ago, when all was new and perfect, he leaned over and touched her elbow.
She leaned back into the armchair and closed her eyes. It had been ten months since they received the life-changing news. A rare and virulent form of cancer. She repeated the words.
“Widespread cancer with unknown primary.” There were no treatments, no protocols, no experimental studies, no researcher seemed interested in failing. An aggressive chemotherapy provided discomfort and a brief stay of execution.
Time stood still now, soaked with fear and anxiety and disappointment and sorrow.
Another ring at the doorbell, she had dozed off again. She accepted a second package from the pharmacy. She opened it, another 8 oz brown bottle of morphine.
She vaguely remembered hearing the hospice worker order one bottle. She stared at that second bottle. She picked up one dark brown bottle, shook it to make sure that it was full. Then she picked up the other and felt its weight. She carefully placed them on the bedside table. It was a warm August morning, she opened the windows so that he would be able smell the garden and hear the splashing water fountain.
She stared at the two bottles. It could be over. All she had to do was refill the syringe over and over. Her face flushed with shame.
She leaned over and kissed his strange, gaunt, disfigured face. She drank in his smell.
She saw him rustle. He blinked his eyes, surveyed the room. His gaze stopped at the bottles on the bedside table. “What do you think?” he asked.
She shrugged. “This is your decision.”
“Could you move the bed so that I can look at the garden?”
She gently turned the bed so that he was facing their garden.
“We just borrowed it didn’t we? We thought we were claiming it, funny, when you think back on it.”
She stared at the garden, blurred green by the tears filling her eyes.”
“We were only claiming the moment, weren’t we? Just time, that’s all we claimed.”
“Mother nature always wins.”
He continued. “You know, we attacked that garden like we attacked life. We treated it as a battle that we had to win.”
“But we did eventually win,” she whispered.
“Did we? I think that she just decided to wait us out.”
The silence filled the room and hovered over the sunlight that vainly tried to brighten it.
“Your mother came to me in a dream. She is going to be waiting for you.”
“I know,” he closed his eyes. He motioned his head toward the two brown bottles. “Can you live with this?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know.” Her eyes filled with tears again.
“I hate to see you like this, so tired, so worn.”
“It is not me that you should be thinking of right now.”
He turned his head to look into her eyes. “I have the easy part.”
She looked away.
“I want you to remarry.”
“Don’t worry about me.”
“I want to give you permission.”
He forced a smile, “How much longer?”
“Not sure. The nurse said it could be today or another week.”
He closed his eyes and turned away. “I am only half living now.”
“I know,” she whispered and lightly touched his hand.
They returned their gaze to their weary garden.
The wise men found the Christ child by following a star. They brought him worldly gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gifts that are celebrated to this day. Hollow gifts compared to the gift that was shared in that moment. For in those moments they thought only of each other.