“A certain shade of purple,” she said, her thin voice unsteady. I don’t think it was shaking from fear. Her eyes were unblinking on mine, and her lips had no tell-tale quiver. No, she was calm as she repeated, “A certain shade of purple….” I waited for her to complete the sentence. “Que Sera Sera” played on the Easy Listening station that had lately provided background noise every waking moment of her day. I thought hearing her favorite singer’s voice had caught her attention, so I waited for her to go on. I thought I heard a a quick intake of breath, and, instinctively, I grabbed her hand and examined her face. Her jaw slackened; her head slipped slightly to the side of the pillow which almost enveloped her head. “Miss Lucy,” I whispered. Please, God, not yet, I prayed.
Now, what remained when she was absolutely still was her tiny mortal coil, “shuffled off,” as she would have described it herself, Hamlet-lover as she had been all her life. My hand relaxed its grip on hers, but my affection for her was not as ready to let her go. The button to summon a response from the main desk was close enough to push without much effort on my part. In seconds, I knew her phone would ring, the employee of the morning would ask if she can be of service, and I would say I was her niece and Miss Lucy was gone. That would be that. Efficiency would take over the necessary details of dealing with her death. All I had to do was answer a few questions, then get out of the way of the attendants. Many months ago, Aunt Lucy and I had made arrangements for this inevitability. The easiness of simple efficiency would now replace the burdens of caring for an elderly loved one.
I looked around this bedroom that was one of four rooms my aunt called home since 1999. When she moved from her spacious apartment in New York City to an assisted-living facility in San Antonio, Texas, much of her furniture was sacrificed. What she took with her were a dozen or so carefully chosen pieces. Few, but significant and precious to its owner. Very old, very well-cared for, and very expensive. “Divestiture will be the business of my old age,” she said before the chaos of relocating, “not just of my money, but my other worldly possessions, down to those dust-catchers on that shelf!” She pointed to that shelf, where she had casually displayed a bejeweled silver egg, a porcelain figurine, a leather-bound volume of poetry, and two or three other portable items I never knew her to be without. They had accompanied her in all her travels, including the final one to Texas, as did I on the last “leg” of her journey through this life. They were mine now.
I hesitated to alert the efficient machine that runs the Hollywood Park Village. Miss Lucy deserved my moment of reflection on her passing, not unexpected, of course, with her 101 years of mostly frenetic living. I joined her circle of intimates late in her life, but I was the only relative who stuck it out for what was her final decades on earth. Her growing crankiness and sharp, unguarded tongue alienated one friend or relation after another, the ones who didn’t pass on before her that is. As long as her life had been, one would be surprised by the number of her contemporaries still living who knew her when Glen Miller ruled the airwaves. Of those she left behind today, I believe I loved her best (and last). I understood her better than anyone else, if it were possible to understand the complex, surly creature that now lay dead on the state-of-the-art hospital bed with the expensive linens. I had given up my big city apartment and my well-paying job to make the move with her to San Antonio. For her part, she tolerated me because we shared some things. I don’t suffer fools, and I love Hamlet, too, and could match her fondness to quote from that play whenever an occasion arose. (“Hamlet is life!” she believed. “Get me a tee shirt that says exactly that, girlie-girl, so I won’t have to keep repeating myself!”) So I found a company on-line to make that tee shirt, and I produced just about anything else she demanded. I was Horatio to her larger-than-life, rather tragic heroic persona. She tolerated me, but I loved her. She was my challenge. In a way, she was my crucible.
A sudden humming noise interrupted my thoughts. The flow of cooler air from the vent above aimed at my face identified the source of the hum, and it was intrusive enough to elicit the delayed response to push the red button on the wall near Miss Lucy’s headboard. Let me go, girlie-girl. I am dead, my dear. The rest is silence. I straightened her head, closed her lids, placed one hand over the other, and covered all of her with the still-warm sheet.
Ah, there’s the call. I sighed as I reached for the phone.