August 21, 2008
Looking at my grandmother’s sleeping form, I felt a pinch of anxiety. Was this what I would be like before I died? Her mouth sagged on the left side: the result of a stroke she had suffered many years ago. The almost bald head tipped forward as if it weren’t able to support its weight any longer. She was sitting on an accident pad in case she wasn’t able to make it to the bathroom in time. I winced at my mental portrayal, feeling guilty as soon as the thoughts entered my head. She didn’t deserve this. She had no more asked for this than I would ask for it when it was my turn.

I transferred my attention to the clock mounted on the wall. Slowly, rhythmically, the second hand ticked away. Filing away at the log that measured how long we each had to live. They seemed to correspond with each rasping breath she took. How many more ticks did the ancient woman have left? How many more breaths?

Unable to bear with her presence and the angst it brought me, I left the living room and maneuvered into her bedroom. Not knowing what else to do, I reconciled myself to looking about it. It had been years since I had visited, and it burned my soul to think of the years wasted. In the interval of my absence, the room had changed drastically. There were now pictures of her deceased husband lying about. In my last visit, she had taken those down as the memory was too painful for her burdened mind. Now, I guessed, she is too feeble-minded to think anything of it.

In addition to the photos of the handsome man, there was a young lady. Her face was agreeable, but it was her eyes that commanded your attention. They were not an unusual color. In fact, they were the most clichéd shade of brown imaginable. Yet there was a spark of self righteousness behind the color. They demanded you to take them seriously, and somehow, there wasn’t a way not to. Wondering who this inspirational woman was, I took the picture out of the frame and read the back. Marianne Aldington. Was there any possible way this could be the unconscious being in the other room?

Replacing myself in the doorway of the adjoining rooms, I shut one eye and held the picture up until it was aligned with the old lady. I could decipher no resemblance between the pair, yet the name on the back of the photo said otherwise. I glanced once again at the picture. I could imagine the girl walking the streets of a small town, head held high, exuding confidence. Did she ever think that one day she would be an invalid, unable to do anything but produce illusions of dementia? Had I?

As unsettled as I was by these depressing ideas now entering my mind, I was unable to staunch the flow. More and more came pouring out of my subconscious and into the foremost parts of my mind. There were so many things that we took for granted. Every bite of food we took could be our last. Every key we typed, ever sheet of toilet paper, every intake of breath. Who was to know when it would stop?

I slowly resettled myself into the chair next to my grandmother, closing my eyes in an attempt to shut down the images. They ignored this effort and continued forward, enhanced by my lack of sight. They gave me an image to see. Suddenly, I was the one who was old. I could barely open my eyes; the weight was almost too much for my weak muscles. My ears were useless. They could pick up no noises; only the gravelly pattern of my lungs taking in the sweet air. It seemed so scarce these days. I wished for the end. I longed for it more than anything. I wanted peace. As soon as these thoughts went through my head, I felt it. Each of my organs shut down. I could no longer breathe, but that was okay, because at this point, it wasn't necessary. I lost control of each finger and toe. I hadn't moved them in hours anyway. My pulse weakened, and it finally halted. My brain was the last to go. With my final thought, I sent the command to smile down to my mouth.

My eyes flew open. As my heart beat quickened, I was relieved. It wasn't real: just my overactive imagination striking again. I allowed my eyes to settle onto the clock once more. There was something wrong with it. After a moment, it registered in my head. The second hand had ceased its ticking. At this same moment, I realized something else: the raspy breaths had stopped as well. My head whipped in Marianne Aldington's direction. She had a smile resting on her forever stilled lips.

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