The first request Amy made, when they arrived at Milo Grant’s room, was for Gina to open the curtains and blinds to let the light in. Advantages to being unable to see expression on the human face included not being able to read negative reactions such as the skepticism that Amy suspected occurred when a blind person requested light. Gina like most people assumed light was unnecessary to the blind. Perhaps it was to some blind people, but in Amy’s case light gave form and definition to the shadows.
Once the blinds were open, Amy managed to orient to Milo’s room—bed, bureau, night stand, an IV stand and chair—the shapes though hazy had distinct auras based on their size, density and position in the light from the window. Looking up at Gina, who was the only moving form in the room, she used Gina’s eyes to clarify some details not allowed by her visual disability.
She began her questions with the patient. Describe Mr. Grant. What direction was he facing? Amy could hear his raspy shallow breaths, but could not distinguish any movement in the faint human frame that barely created a bump in the bed.
“He’s on his left side, facing the window. He’s all curled up and there is some sort of wedge—you know a pillow-like thing—up against his back.” Gina replied.
“Is there a chair, over there, by the window?”
“Yes.” Gina answered.
Amy navigated her scooter between two dark shadows, the bed and the bureau.
“Could you help me into the chair, Gina?”
Once settled into the chair, Amy unpacked her instrument and dismissed Gina, who tried to protest though really relieved and ready to leave.
“When should I come back?” Gina asked as she pulled the door closed behind her.
“Don’t worry about that. I need to learn to navigate to and from in this building. If I get lost or in a tight spot or Lord forbid run into something, I’ll call for help.”
Amy smiled in the direction of the door, but Gina had already gone.
Opening the violin case, she tuned the instrument and then pulled it lovingly to her chest. Taking a couple of deep breaths she studied the ambiance as only one who depends on a heightened awareness in a few senses can.
Amy had thought Milo’s room might remind her of her mother. She thought she had steeled herself for that possibility, but the aroma of human organ failure, the shallow breaths with apnea spells that hovered airless for increasing lengths of time and the depleted figure under the sheets cast a shadow over her.
She sank back in the chair as she remembered her mother’s last day—even now as then she seemed to be in an audience watching a death scene played out by actors. In this state as in that state then her vision was perfectly honed. With no control over the action she became both participant and observer.
The gaunt flesh covered skeleton bore no resemblance to Emily Davidson. Shrouded in a fresh sheet Emily lay in a tightening fetal posture. Amy watched as if observing the hospice nurse bend to whisper in the ear of the patient’s daughter—her ear. She wondered then and now with the memory so clear, why whisper when whispering seemed unnecessary.
The nurse repeated the behavior as she headed for the door, leaning over to speak to the husband—Amy’s Dad—he sat staring forward, his eyes empty, not focusing on anything. He nodded at her words, rose and escorted the nurse to the door, although she protested that was not needed. Ever the gentleman, the nurse thought as she crossed the lawn to her car.
She knew her next visit to this house, if indeed she was the one on call, would be to tidy up, see to the family and offer comfort. Perhaps another would come, she considered, perhaps this had been her last visit to the Davidson home. She cast a final look at the house as she pulled away and headed to her next appointment.
Inside the house Amy watched herself walked to the door of the bedroom, glance out at her father in the living room, and then close it. The presence of the hospital bed changed the layout of the room slightly, so she used her cane as a guide. Crossing to the hospital bed, she stood next to her mother, stroked her cheek, and traced her features when she felt Emily Davidson’s eyes open. Startled, she drew her hand away.
“Don’t go.” The words were hushed, barely audible. Emily had so little breath, so little time.
Amy, the observer, watched as the other Amy paused, remembering in a swirl of memory, all her mother had been to her in a life that had been split in half, delineated by “before the accident” and “after the accident.”
At age eight Amy had awakened from a dreadful nightmare complete with screeching brakes and the tearing of metal to a reality that frightened her more than the nightmare had. In those long first days Amy clung to her mother; she’d been the one pleading, “don’t go.” In those days, Emily Davidson would climb into bed with her young daughter and hold her until she fell asleep.
Amy sensed from her earliest days in the hospital after the accident a grief in her mother that far exceeded her own. Emily Davidson felt responsible for her daughter’s injuries and her blindness.
It was only after Emily’s diagnoses of cancer, followed by the discovery that Amy’s balance problems were not from the old injury, but instead were caused by Multiple Sclerosis, only after that did Amy consciously acknowledge feelings of condemnation directed at her mother. The action of a careless driver could be forgiven, but discerning—not so much by the facts as she knew them but from a new appraisal of her life since the accident—that her mother had been culpable.
Looped with Emily’s hovering presence, her dominance over every morsel of her daughter’s life, which continued to her death bed caused Amy’s anger to deepen into a root of bitterness with a gall so nasty denial was the only answer Amy could embrace. So it happened as Emily Davidson diminished daily, Amy despised her more and hated herself because she did.
Her fragile mother, with her life dangling on a raveled thread, begged her to stay. The plea released the cauldron of rage in Amy that had sputtered near the boiling point for so long. The simple request of the one who had given her life lifted the lid of denial unleashing a cascade of gall. Amy began to shake uncontrollably. The emotionally charged atmosphere compelled Emily to turn her face on the pillow toward her daughter, though the effort sent waves of pain through her body. Emily released a tiny gasp when she saw the malice in her daughter’s face. Amy struggled against the anger. She stepped back unwilling to lose whatever self control she had.
The good daughter’s voice tried to change the course of the injured one At first the tender voice shouted, “Crawl into bed with her!” Then dropped to a plaintive tone, “Hug her.” Finally, at a level of defeat, a level barely audible above the madness that rumbled to be set free, the voice murmured, “Forgive her.”
The resentment, so long denied a voice, stomped its foot and demanded center stage. So with a heart set like flint, she chose distance rather than closeness, callousness rather than grace; she chose to embrace her violin rather than her mother. With her ire tangible, her head throbbing, her mouth dry and the tension in her muscles as tight as a cat set to pounce, Amy poured her feelings into the music, choosing selections that expressed the depth of her fury. Ignoring Emily’s faint protests that lapsed into mournful groans, Amy played until her mother lapsed into unconsciousness.
The intercom in Milo Grant’s room startled her as someone tried to locate Helen Marcum. Amy opened her eyes experiencing a slight disorientation. The music in her head lingered. Tears streamed down her face and her breaths came in gasps. She steadied her hands, remembering her purpose here in Milo Grant’s room. With the will of a professional, she lifted the violin and bow. With the assurance of one who trusted the music, Amy let the music lead until her whole being was spent.
Before she departed more than an hour later, Amy managed to pull herself out of the chair and move closer to the bed. Once stable she stroked Milo’s cheek with the thumb of her right hand, while tracing his nose and mouth with her fingers.
“Don’t worry, Momma, it won’t be long now. The music will pave his way, just like it did yours.”
Amy removed her hand and fumbled for his night stand. The top surface was bare; no framed photographs suggesting family connections, nothing. Amy’s hand continued moving down. The top drawer slid open easily. With the touch she had cultivated for thirty years, she surveyed the contents, which consisted of a box of tissue, an eyeglass case, a comb, and leather bound book, she determined was a Bible. Her finger tips told her Milo Grant was embossed on the lower right corner of the front cover.
So little remained of the man, Amy thought. Tears welled in her eyes; his soul longed for release—the anguish she sensed in Milo grew palpable as she stoked his face—Milo cried out to break loose from the depleted cocoon of a body that no longer nourished him and yet refused to let go.
Amy scanned again the night table’s contents. The scarcity of memorabilia represented by the bare table with its nearly empty drawer seemed to resonate with the man. It was so unfair. Amy felt him move under her hand. He twisted, then relaxed.
She opened the eyeglass case, extracting the spectacles. Utterly useless, just like Mr. Grant himself, she thought as she dropped them into her pocket, closed the case and the drawer.
Exiting the room, her violin on her lap, Amy almost collided with Helen Marcum who was surprised when Amy called her by name. Helen recovered quickly.
“Do you need someone to escort you back?”
“No, I need to learn to navigate.” Amy beamed at Helen and started to move away then turned, “Ms. Marcum, were you going to check on Mr. Grant?”
Helen held back a retort. Few people dared question anything she did. Instead she took a breath and nodded. Then realizing Amy probably could not see that slight movement, spoke.
“Yes. Was there something wrong?”
“Oh, no”, Amy remarked, “He seems rather peaceful. It won’t be long for him will it?”
“Sometimes at this stage,” Helen halted, wanting to tell Amy that the process of dying even when someone reached Milo Grant’s stage could pause. Sometimes it happened because the patient was waiting for someone. For Milo that was not the case, so she thought better of what she should say. “It’s hard to tell, but yes Milo appears to be weakening rapidly.”
“And he has no one?”
Helen thought that a curious question and her response came out tarter than it should have. “Nonsense! He has us!”
“Oh, of course. Well good-bye.” Amy scooted away.
Helen baffled as ever by people and their strange assumptions entered the room. The light from the windows flickered across Milo as if a thousand Tinker Bell fairies danced. The effect much like that of a reflective ball over a dance floor originated from the cottonwood outside the window. Its leaves fluttered with the breeze sending flashes of light and shadow across walls, floor, ceiling and Milo Grant.
Helen, on who aesthetics were wasted, strode across the room and yanked the curtains closed. Turning back to her patient she noticed his side table drawer ajar. A bump of her hip closed it. Only then did she look directly at Milo as she reached to check his pulse. Empty eyes stared out at nothing. His mouth hung open. Her deft finger tips felt for his carotid, while she pushed the button of the intercom with her other hand. Milo Grant was dead.She issued a command when the ward clerk responded, then ran her fingers over his face, closing his eyes and then his mouth. Helen reopened the drawer she’d closed, took out his Bible and opened it to a passage she knew was must be a favorite because it fell open to the spot and he or someone had underlined it.
Helen pulled the chair closer to his bed, knowing only a few seconds remained before a stream of people came through the door.
She read, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions. . .”