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Goodbye to July
Ms. Ruth loved sunshine. I knew by the way she gazed—how the sun misted her eyes and teased a blush from the pastel-white of her cheeks. She dreamed of out there, but she was in here, barred from July by a set of porch steps. Her wheelchair could not carry her down those steps.
I sat, powerless, beside her. A frayed copy of <i>Pride and Prejudice</i> rested in my lap. Fifteen minutes ago, Ms. Ruth had giggled at my deep-throated impressions of Mr. Bennet, but now she was a thousand miles beyond my reach. She dreamed, perhaps, of fairies, as she watched the trimmed grass and square hedges for a flash of sparkling wings.
A car rumbled by on the road beyond the lawn. Ms. Ruth started; I clasped her withered hand.
“Lunch time,” said a voice from the door behind us.
Tucking <i>Pride and Prejudice</i> under my arm, I climbed to my feet and wheeled Ms. Ruth back inside the nursing home.
After she died, I remember every one of her favorite flowers. I never knew their names, but I remember how she loved the pink ones and the violet ones and the bed of sunshine beside the fountain. We watched as July kissed the snoozing petals and tugged them into bloom.
Sometimes I wheeled her around the garden, as slowly as possible, to savor each passing moment. Other times we sat and discussed idle nothings, like the blue of the sky above the nursing home walls, or the little brown bird who built his nest in that little brown tree. She seldom talked about her family though I must have rambled for ages about mine. She listened, head cocked, as I filled her ears with all the woes and oh-noes of my plans for the future.
One of those hazy afternoons, we sat in simple silence. I want to remember how prettily the birds sang or how arrogantly the butterflies flapped their too-bright wings, but I can’t. I can only remember Ms. Ruth’s expression—her half-lidded eyes searching the garden, the frail line of her mouth fluttering into a smile. Her hands with their newly painted nails—violet, like the flowers—were clasped in her lap. I’d knocked on the open door of her room that morning to find her seated before the TV, gazing at her chipped nails. I’d known then that it’d been time to fetch the nail polish. That same day, she kissed me on the cheek and told me she loved me.
I didn’t cry when Ms. Ruth died. I couldn’t. Did my dry eyes make me a little less human? I didn’t, then, believe in intuition (strange voices inside my heart), but now I wonder: maybe my heart had a thing or two to teach me, after all. Maybe my heart knew, from the moment I picked up the phone, that Ms. Ruth had said goodbye.
She’s a thousand miles away from our sunlit porch, and she’s planting a garden.
Note: I have used a pseudonym for Ms. Ruth to maintain anonymity.