The Mural

December 2, 2011
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Macy gazed straight into her grandpa’s light blue, glassy eyes. He looked back at her, but he seemed to be looking through her. Abruptly, he blinked and averted his gaze to his lap where he twiddled his pale, dry thumbs. Macy followed his gaze, and a single warm tear rolled down her face. Her grandpa cocked his head slightly to the right as his eyebrows tensed up and his eyes returned to a squint. With a shaking hand, he slowly picked up a small square mirror by his bedside. He looked into the mirror intensely. Still, Macy watched him, inching closer to her grandfather. He slowly ran his wrinkled fingers over the mirror’s smooth surface; his fingers stopped upon reaching the end of the mirror and quivered. He lifted the same hand, now shaking, to his pearly white hair. He grabbed at the little bit of hair left as Macy’s eyes over flowed with hot, salty tears. Her hand, also shaking, began to move toward her grandfather’s. Their hands touched as Macy began to stand up. Her grandpa’s stare fixated where Macy’s hand met his until his eyes glided up her arm to her face.
“Come on, Grandpa. It’s time for dinner.” Macy whimpered.
“Thank you, Tina.” Her grandpa responded with one final look at his mirror before putting it down on the hospital bed. Macy guided her grandpa around the small bed, past the corkboard full of dozens of pictures of his family, of his wife, of his only son and his daughter-in-law, of his only grandchild. Together they stumbled through the door of his room and into the hallway, heading for the cafeteria.
Macy said hello to a few of the patients and nurses as they passed, finally turning the corner to the long hallway to the cafeteria. This hallway was easily her favorite among the other depressingly sterile and drab corridors. The South wall was a mural; well, a portion was. It was still a work in progress. The mural was a collaboration of paintings done by the various patients at the hospital. To the far left were the oldest dated contributions, one of which was signed by Macy’s Grandfather, Arthur A. Wallaworth. Macy hovered over the mural every evening when she took her grandpa to dinner. He stopped alongside her. Together, they inspected the far left section of the mural, a picture of a family. In it stood an elderly woman in a long black summer dress. She had aged beautifully, still radiant in graying hair. Next to her, hand in hand, stood a middle-aged couple. The man was tall and handsome with light blue, glassy eyes. The woman was about a head shorter than he was, blond and welcoming. The two smiled, but sorrow was behind their eyes. Close to the couple lurked a child in her early teens. She was not smiling. Rather, the viewer was drawn to the sparkling tears running down her face and the small square mirror she held in her hand.
Every evening, Macy’s grandpa would say to her, “This is a beautiful painting, Laurie, who is the artist?” But Macy never became comfortable with such a question. How could she tell her grandfather that it was he who had painted the mural just eighteen months ago? How could she tell him he painted a mural of his family but forgot to add himself? Or did he not even know that was his family? To him, those were just the friendly faces who visited him every now and then, passersby. Macy responded to hid question just as she did every day, “You painted this mural, Grandpa.”
Her grandpa then looked at Macy with the same squinty-eyed confusion he always did.
“Don’t be silly, Abby, I don’t know those people.”
Sorrow swelled in Macy’s heart once more as the smell of baked potatoes filled the hallway.
Macy feebly stared at her grandfather. How could he not know his own family? How could he not know the name of his only granddaughter who had spent every dinner with him for the past eighteen months? Macy took her grandfather’s hand once again as they finished their walk to the cafeteria. Soon they entered a small room filled with elderly people, nurses, and various family members. Macy sat her grandfather down in the same seat as always, next to Tabatha Greene. Tabatha was an elderly woman and her age was clearly apparent. She had developed a skin cancer, which caused her kind to discolor. She wore a purple floor length nightgown that showed her lanky features. She had deep gray eyes that always watered and pale white hair. Unlike many of the elderly patients, she was always smiling through her bright red lipstick.
“Oh hello, my name is Tabatha,” Tabatha said to Macy’s grandpa.
“Hello Tabatha; I’m Arthur. It’s very nice to meet you,” he politely retorted. Tabatha, also a patient at the Alzheimer’s hospital, continued a conversation very similar to ones past with Arthur as Macy went to get them all some freshly cooked dinner. Macy returned with three trays of food and tried to talk to her grandfather. “Do you like the food, Grandpa?” Macy asked.
“Yes, it’s delicious. You’re a fantastic cook, Lena.” With every mistake of her name, Macy grew sadder; her heart sank deeper, and her tear ducts filled easier. She finished her dinner in silence as Tabatha and Arthur continued their recurring discussion on the wonders of Velcro.
After dinner, as Macy led her grandpa back down the hallway, she did not even glance at the mural. Quickly, Macy turned the corner to room 116 and slid the door open. Macy hated this room. She hated the smell of Vaseline and stale laundry. She hated the unnaturally white sheets and over inflated pillows. She hated the little red button centrally located for emergencies. She hated the glass cabinet full of dozens of ironically colorful pills. But most of all, Macy hated the room number; especially when she was lying upside down.
Macy placed her grandfather on his stiff bed and shuffled over to the bookshelf. Her grandfather rested his head on the freshly fluffed pillow and looked at Macy. She inquired, “What book do you want me to read to you today, Grandpa?” Macy skimmed the small selection of overly gloomy titles. “How does Percy’s Final Plunge sound? No? Okay, do you want to try River of Blood and Tears? Oh, I got it; I’ll read you The Last Goodbye.”
As Macy opened up the cover of the book, her grandfather implored her. “Emma?” He said in a raspy voice. Macy glanced back at her grandfather, now accustomed to answering to anything but her own name.
“Yeah Grandpa?”
“Can I have a glass of water?” he requested in the same raspy voice.
“Yes, of course Grandpa. I’ll be right back.” Macy placed the thick book on the bedside. As she was filling up her grandfather’s cup, she heard voices around the corner.
“Arthur A. Wallaworth of room 116. Yes. I’m guessing less than 24 hours,” a man’s voice said slowly.
“Should we let him know, doctor?” A woman responded, also with hesitation.
“We could, but he wouldn’t remember anyway… We might as well. But we should wait until after his granddaughter leaves. Don’t want to upset her.”
“I’ll mention it to the night Doctor. What did the test results show for 207?”
The conversation continued but Macy did not care to listen any longer. What did the doctor mean when he said less than 24 hours? Why did they not want to tell her what was going on? Macy looked down at her hands, which were now wet with spilled water. She quickly began to walk back to room 116, her mind occupied, when she accidentally bumped into a nurse.
“Oh I’m sorry! Excuse me!” said the familiar voice. Macy broke into a run as she found her way back to her grandpa’s room where he was fast asleep. He was just asleep right? Macy’s heart was racing.
There was no response.
“Grandpa? Wake up!” Macy ran over to her grandfather as he opened his eyes slowly. “Oh thank god!” Macy said, relieved as she sprawled herself over her grandpa’s chest in a hug. He did not mutter a single word but looked at Macy with the most content expression. He smiled slowly as Macy pulled herself together. “I thought I lost you!” Macy said breathlessly. Macy’s grandfather looked at Macy and then closed his eyes. He opened them again after a few seconds and squeezed Macy’s hand tightly. Then, in the clearest, most lovingly voice, he whispered, “You’ll never lose me. I will always be here for you, Macy.” And with that final statement, his grip on Macy’s hand loosened. His eyes closed. But his smile did not fade.
Macy new exactly what was happening. And for some odd reason, she did not cry that night. Not a single tear swelled in her eyes. All night, she did not let go of her grandfather’s hand.
A few days later Macy attended Arthur A. Wallaworth’s funeral. It was a large gathering of family members and friends who Arthur would not have recognized. They gathered and shared their wonderful memories of Arthur: of how he helped Mrs. Higgins get her cat down from the tree every morning; how he walked his son to and from school for seven years in rain, snow, sleet, and wind; how he was a volunteer firefighter and saved poor little Jenny Kraznek from the fire of ’83. They exclaimed how he rocked his only granddaughter to sleep every night in his lap for half a dozen years, survived the horrible motorcycle accident, and more importantly dove in front of his wife to save her first when the truck rolled them into a ditch. And of course, they told of how in his final moments, he was not just a patient with Alzheimer’s, but a loving, caring, peaceful, genuine, perfect grandfather to, as he said correctly, his granddaughter Macy. Macy knew that in those last moments, Arthur remembered everything. He knew exactly who he was, what he had done, and who was sitting in front of him at that moment. How else would he have remembered her name? Could it be coincidence? No. He remembered. Macy knew he remembered.
In the front pew, Macy twiddled her thumbs, but after countless stares from distracted speakers, Macy could not bare to watch her young hands perform the gesture she was so used to seeing from her grandpa. She shoved her hand into her pocket and unexpectedly pulled out a small square mirror: her grandfather’s mirror. Macy stared deeply into the mirror hoping to see her grandfather in it now as he did every day at the hospital. All Macy saw was the reflection of a blond haired girl with light blue, glassy eyes.
“Macy! Come here darling!” Macy heard her mother yell from a few yards away. Macy looked down at the mirror once again and as she looked into her own eyes, she saw her grandfather. Macy’s vision blurred as she walked over to her mother, the mirror still gripped tightly between her trembling fingers. “Macy we are going to take a family picture now.” This hardly seemed like the time to be taking pictures. Macy walked up to her grandmother who was wearing a long black summer dress. Her parents stood hand in hand next to her grandma. They were smiling for the picture, but their eyes were filling with tears. Next to them stood Macy, tears streaming down her face, mirror still in her hand. They all looked at the camera as a white flash showered their faces. Similar to the white flash that Arthur must have seen, yet different entirely.

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