Her children had been accurate in their earnest descriptions of the residence. It was a pleasingly designed building, pretty and very comfortable. The wood floors shone mellow and soft in the sunlight as only fine floors do. The wallpaper (each room a new pattern) carefully chosen (probably by a professional decorator with a good eye) was appealing and almost beautiful.
He had painted every room for her, three coats.
Her daughter had driven her past this place over and over again, pointing out the pastel-colored benches, half-covered in snow now, where she would sit in the spring and watch as the gardeners planted hundreds of flowers, a rich selection, all wonderfully planned. The local paper had printed pictures of the garden last year, accompanied by a long article.
Once, he planted a huge flower garden
and added corn and tomatoes and carrots
for fun. He could make anything grow.
From the last step of the staircase, she can see into the dining room where one frail latecomer is still seated at the square table meant for six. There are flowers at every table and nice china. Breakfast had been good. The rolls were warm and the coffee delicious.
Some young nurse had checked to see if she had taken her medication.
He always asked how she liked it.
In a room at the end of a short hall, three men are exercising gently. A male instructor absently counts as they bend over to touch their toes. They are laughing.
He walked miles instead – always slender
with a small waist.
In the main front hall, nurses gather at a small desk and whisper together. Off the hall in the Reading Room, the sun lights up all the yellows of the walls and pale couches, probably silk. The big wing chairs are yellow, too, with small blue butterflies, and they are all over the long room. A few are occupied by readers. People look up and smile. Nice people who will befriend her tomorrow.
A beautifully bound collection of someone’s life’s work sits untouched on a low pine shelf. From tiny rooms with individual television sets, the sound of clicking travels through the halls. All the soap operas are on and people will have to make choices.
Climbing the stairs, she marvels again at the beauty of the architecture and wonders who the man was that could plan such comfort. The marble of the stairway pleases her. At the landing, she notices the window for the first time. It reaches from floor to ceiling with endless square-cut panes, and the sun comes through, drenching the blue window-seat cushions. She knows the blue material will soon fade from the intense light.
She can see the familiar shopping mall at a distance from the window, and, though the figures are almost dots, a mother, young, pulls two colored balls from the snow-covered car (red and blue snowsuits) and carries them into Macy’s. Cars drive along the road, some stopping, some going on.
The mother with the two babies leads them by their hands, back to the car. She places each in a safety seat and drives away.
In her room she admires the silver comb and brush set her granddaughters gave her yesterday.
She had always longed for a set, had always planned to buy one. She thinks of yesterday. Her daughter stayed for a long time, and her son. Her son-in-law had come in the evening with the grandchildren. The gift from the girls – so silver.
It made him proud.
She likes the room. It is large, with lovely furnishings and so convenient. Lamps in the right place for reading and a small couch by the window for looking out. Who planned it all so well?
every morning, early, as she looked out
the window – No, George, I haven’t
even washed my face!
I’ll kiss you anyway, just for that!
She sees that she has been carrying her pocketbook on her arm all this time, all this morning, as if she were visiting a museum or theatre or in a foreign country. The thick straps have made red marks on her arm. She places the pocketbook next to her on the bed. Before lying down on the delicate blue of the coverlet, she removes her shoes. In the pocketbook is the round glass pill box with the silver cover, quite old. She had meant to collect varied glass boxes with silver lids. Instead, she has collected 16 identical pills. She takes the pills without hurry, without water. “I plan well, too,” the words rise from the center of the big soft bed and echo against the high white ceiling.
and is still pretty
with almond eyes
She laughed a lot
More than most people
He loved her looks
He always told her how pretty she was
He laughed a lot
He noticed her
This is alright.
Author's CommentAfter a number of visits to nursing homes for my mother several years after my father’s death, my brother Harold and I sat in the car and cried. The repeated cheerful tour guide patter, the description of the food, the game room, the lounge – it all contrasted so much with the life my mother and father shared. I must have watched them so closely throughout my life and seen how they loved each other, and that this should be the next chapter of her life was painful to witness. The story is of that relationship and the prospect of facing this new life as seen through my mother’s eyes.
7 Comments on “Of George”
A poetic and sensitive insight into old age. It is our memories that enrich our final years. They sustain us when confronted with a new and strange environment.
Marvelous litany of losses balanced by compensatory comforts the narrator graciously acknowledges, until she quietly carries out her well-planned rebellion. Terrific piece.
A quiet grace ushers the reader between the outer and inner world of then and now, of life and loss, of George and the determination of one woman’s heart. I hold the unique perspective of a daughter’s eye view but I say without bias that I am drawn in and holding my breath, riveted, with each reading of this beautiful piece.
Beautifully written, Eleanor. The back and forth; the poetry of the language is bittersweet. “She had meant to collect varied glass boxes with silver lids. Instead, she has collected 16 identical pills.” Thank you.
Am I wrong in seeing that this woman is quietly and patiently taking her own life, fully appreciative of all the beauty in this world, but most decidedly opting to join her late husband? Beautiful writing, and not at all tragic.
Everything is new for her and, yet, she sees it through her past. It is all so connected. And, oh yes, the purse. We cling to what is familiar.
What a tender story. I loved your mother’s optimism, her deep love for her husband and all the descriptions of her new surroundings. Life changes for all of us and your story offers hope for our future.