Winter Sweeps Away the Old

Winter Sweeps Away the Old

Winter Sweeps Away the Old 1920 1134 Marilyn Duarte

It was early March—not yet spring, but not entirely winter—when you stopped eating. There were still traces of snow on the ground when you stopped talking.

O inverno limpa os velhoswinter sweeps away the old—you used to say in your native Portuguese. I repeated your words to myself as I paced back and forth in the hospital emergency room, waiting for you to complete a series of tests.

My mother and sister—their faces ashen—sat fidgeting nearby, not noticing when their cashmere scarves and wool gloves slid off their laps and landed at their feet.

Somehow my messy, long, brown hair had been morphed into a loose bun; my black jogging pants, frayed along the bottom, dragged across the hospital waiting room; my glasses’ lenses were covered in my fingerprints.

A short, male, heavy-set doctor eventually emerged from behind the automatic doors and approached all three of us. He listed each of your pre-existing ailments—diabetes, asthma, stroke paralysis—and presented them as evidence for us to accept the inevitable. My sister and I waved away his arguments, and demanded a cure for your ninety-five year-old, breaking-down body. My mother remained silent. It irritated me when he said, We do what we can do. This wasn’t enough.

I went for a walk alone while they got your bed ready—you were being moved from the emergency ward to a quiet wing—a room somewhere on the fourth floor. I lost track of the time, but my eyelids ached and my stomach growled so I figured it was the middle of the night. I wandered into the empty cafeteria and sat at a large, round table. I stared at my barely-there reflection in the nearby window, and all I kept thinking was that I hadn’t made you proud of me yet.

Long day after long day, my mother, sister and I took turns sitting next to you as you lay in your bed. I often asked you questions:

Do you remember those hot, summer afternoons we spent at the Sanderson pool?

Do you remember the time you farted during physical therapy and the therapist accused you of stinking up the room, but you denied doing it?

But you never answered. Your once light blue eyes, now a hazy grey, stared over my shoulder and fixed on the wall behind me.

Quiet night after quiet night, we checked your breathing as you slept. Your eyelids sometimes fluttered; you must have been dreaming.

For weeks at meal times, we wiped away the mess of steaming orange, green, and beige mush after you let everything dribble down your chin. Just eat, I pleaded. Why won’t you try harder? To live? I never said the last part out loud.

On one of your last nights, while you lightly snored, I sat alone on the stiff, pale blue chair, and compulsively checked my phone looking for a message from Him.

He didn’t know you were in the hospital, that I rarely breathed in fresh air anymore, and that I missed having a home-cooked meal. If I told him, would he care? Refresh, refresh, refresh.

I miss talking to you, I heard you say.

I sat upright, and faced you. A swoosh signaling an incoming message diverted my attention and I looked back down at my phone, still in my hand. Hey, the subject line read. I opened it.

I miss talking to you, you repeated.

Did I even reply? I sunk into the stiff, blue chair as much as it would allow me to, and read His message, devoured each word, and searched for deeper meaning than it offered. I think I heard you speak to me again, but don’t remember what else you said.

Was it a few seconds or a full minute before I admitted to myself that His words  were empty and disappointing?

I set my phone down on the chair. Grandmother? I stood up, walked over to your bed and held your hand. What were you saying?

You shrugged.

I was tired. Exhausted. Depleted. Talk to me. Your hazy, grey eyes stared straight ahead.

I let go of your hand, walked across the room and looked out the window. It faced a rusted, brick wall. In between your window and those bricks, there was a lone extended tree branch; buds were forming along it. I scanned the ground below for remnants of snow, but didn’t see any. Winter was leaving.

O inverno limpa os velhos.

Header photograph © Chris Nielsen.

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