Where She Goes
I knew it would happen. I thought about it all the time the way any wife with a sick husband does about what it would actually be like when he went. All those nighttime runs to the emergency room, all the phone calls and the drugs and the tubes. What would be the moment? And when he did finally–and finally it was everything that got him, kidneys, heart, lungs all of it–what a relief. Not that I was prepared, I wasn’t, how could you be really but it wasn’t a surprise, not at all, no. On the way to the cemetery I was looking out the window, amazed that it had actually happened. I may even have said so out loud which would have been embarrassing if I did. If I did, nobody remarked but who would?
I knew my whole life I was meant to be alone though I never had been, not ever, with him fifty three years, imagine. I was the oldest of six brothers and sisters. As each one came along, I shrank more and more into the background of the family but where somebody else might have felt bad about it, being left out of things, being last, being an afterthought, I was actually glad of it. We grew up and all lived near each other except the one brother who joined the Navy and stayed out west.
My sisters and I saw each other at least once every week and were in telephone contact daily.
This went on for years and years and years knowing the details of each others lives, what we put on the table, how the children gave us pleasure or worried us, our husbands’ quirky ways.
Then they both died, one demented, out of her mind and puffed up with anger and she had been the smart one, the one who married a little money, who saw the world and let me know it oh did she ever. Wait till you see Canada, she’d say, wait till you’ve seen France. Yet she died first after carrying on one Christmas Eve to my face oh why oh why did her husband die and mine, mean and unloved, live on and on. Who would have dreamed she’d be so cruel to ever say such a thing but I didn’t really mind, had even wondered it myself the unfairness of it but just was surprised she actually came out with it after all this time. My younger sister, the youngest of all of us, the prettiest, the one who kept the peace and funny too, went next, bone cancer, the only cancer in all of our family including in-laws and cousins. That was a surprise and a sad one. Two of my brothers went next, one after the other, from heart disease, both overweight and heavy smokers but with good dispositions, though one had a conceited wife who never stopped bragging about this surgery and that surgery and lives on to this day.
I trusted my sisters. I never had a friend I trusted that way without even thinking about it. I could say anything to them. I didn’t but I could have. And when they went, one right after the other like that, well, I knew I wouldn’t ever be able to, not to them or anyone, and something dropped out of my life. How often do you come across people you feel that way about? It’s inborn. My sons are something else. They’re always going to be my boys but if I were ever to really rely on them I don’t think I’d be in a very good position. I’m not even sure I would know how. One is young and very selfish, he can’t help it and you can’t help noticing it. The other one lives far away. I don’t ask for what I’m not going to get. I’ve got myself. I’ve got my cleaning lady. I’ve got the superintendent of the building. They know my name in the deli downstairs and that I go for the Post and the 2% skim. My doctor is nearly as old as I am, a brilliant man formerly a chiropractor. You’re fine he tells me every time. I am. Oh my hands hurt but I can still make dinner for myself and wear a pair of high heels when there’s a gathering.
My brother moved into an apartment down the hall with his wife. I introduced them originally. I first knew her years ago when we worked in the shipping department of Mallory’s. We’re like sisters, she says and it’s true that she’s my closest friend in the world now that I have no one but it’s not the same. I have always had my suspicions about her. She loves costume jewelry and can’t buy enough, wears pearls big as marshmallows, rubies the size of cherry tomatoes and a face to match, two big circles of rouge on her cheeks and blue eye shadow at her age.
We talk about everything. She insists on being right. My brother never intercedes because he’s a good husband who loves his wife and better be on her side if he knows what’s good for him.
He’s afraid of her I can tell. Our father was afraid of our mother, so. I never argue with anything she says. It’s not me. I have no one else but her and my brother and I’m lucky they live right down the hall. We meet in front every morning then get in their car and shop. On Friday he takes us to have our hair done. I would never go without that and Rick really knows how to give it body. I come out of that chair and feel like a million. She still colors her hair. Red. Isn’t that the limit? It’s not my business to say anything but how lovely how smart how young. I don’t like to make a fuss or stir things up because what for?
Then of all things the wind knocks me down. Go figure. One minute I’m standing in front of the building waiting for my son, I mean Mickey, Joe, I mean Joe, my brother! to bring the car around. I’m wearing my wool coat with the fur collar because they said it was going to snow and thinking about getting a nice lamb chop for dinner that I could make in the toaster oven and I hear a snap and the trees are swimming and I’m upside down. Hip. Hospital. Rehabit… rehabitate… that’s where the animals are! My sons are very nice about it. One of them is here every day all day the other ones lives somewhere else the south but he comes when he can I think yesterday he was here or, no he called. My sisters also come and….no no that’s a dream, that’s right I know that. They’re both gone, that’s very sad. The nurses are adorable. No fat ones except that Wanda one at night who is and then she’s gone.
In my apartment the girl comes and wakes me up but first there’s no milk or but no, sometimes it’s sour. OK I don’t mind that much but my son gets red in the face and then there’s another girl she kisses me when he’s here but I don’t think he knows. I don’t ask her to do anything. She’s a nice girl but oh the stories about her family. The one child has a mental problem and the daughter dropped out she’s pregnant. Her husband beats her…the one in jail, no not now not in jail now, the one who comes over who I met. He picks her up after work. He has a key. My brother’s wife pays me a visit in the afternoon to check on me. She always has something to say. No apples? No pears? No fruit at all! What does she have to check on me for? We’re strangers. What is it her business?
He can’t talk my brother any more. He can’t make any sense. Oh it’s very sad. He looks at you he listens but he’s shaking his head you can see in his eyes he doesn’t know what you’re talking about, so no more driving, no more shopping. She puts him on a leash so he can’t wander away, then she’s ashamed. And now all of a sudden he’s in a wheelchair. He can’t walk! The man can’t walk! She wheels him around talking as if he can understand. Then she puts him away. My own brother! I go to see him in the home. It’s nice. They’ve redone it, it looks like in Miami. And then the next thing is, what happened is, I’m staying there myself in a room with another girl. My one son insists I would burn down my house. When he comes to see me I put on some lipstick and a string of pearls. I tell him I’m ready to die.
I call out from my room to my brother. I tell him to get out of that wheelchair he’s embarrassing us. He sits at the end of the corridor staring out the glass door. He’s all slumped over. On my way to my room I pass his room I look in then I look away. I can’t stand it he’s all slumped over staring at his shoes. One of these days he’s going to fall over on his face! Who ever thought we would live together like this?
I’m watching TV where you have to know the word and what’s her name…the one with the baseball cap…she has the nerve to tell them I stole her roasted nuts! Can you imagine? They’re on the table in a little jar right between my bed and hers so why is she leaving them out like that? I don’t even like nuts! I like Chiclets. Then she passes me in the hall and under her breath curses me. The nerve of her! Bitch. You heard me. I don’t care.
The peas taste like paste. Oh they’re awful. The peas aren’t even green. They’re like mush. They taste like paste. The chicken has white paste on. Everything needs salt. Why can’t I have 7up? The red haired one sits with me sometimes with some special spoon oh it’s so special to her all right throwing paste wiping my face she never wanted me to do better than her and now she’s glad I can see that.
And all of a sudden it’s warm! How do they do that? He wheels me out into the…plant thing, the…green… What is that….it’s a…it’s a… Don’t tell me it’s…a red… Oh… a breeze. Oh that’s nice. I feel good. My hands don’t hurt. So what do you think? Should we go in?
They say me stop screaming.
… my sisters…
I want 7Up!
…my baby the old man.
Gbye. Done forget me.
Barry Jay Kaplan’s stories have been published in Descant, Kerouac’s Dog, Bryant Literary Review, Upstreet, Talking River, Storyglossia, Apple Valley Review and others.