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‘We Spoke in a Language of Wild Hope’

Outside my window at the people below who have somehow, amazingly, managed to dress and get outside to walk on the street. How did they do that?  Miracles, each one of them.

I can’t translate the refrigerator items to breakfast: eggs, cheese, here’s oatmeal, avocadoes… everything becomes blurred by memory, all these memories moving around me with language and dialogue and narratives. I watch them. They are like companions, understanding me, warming me.

Without them, I am afraid.

* * *

The last thing she ate was lime Jell-O, that early September evening in the hospital. Carts moved behind our conversation with the wheels turning, static on loudspeakers, sounds of feet rushing.

She sat up in bed.

They are feeding me food the color of ogre skin.

She laughed, then got serious.

Let’s plan a trip to the Berkshire Mountains for October.

Oh, the leaves!  And the sky!

I watched her smile, though her lips looked strangely swollen and lopsided from all the medicines.

I answered her with a rush of images of the imagined bed and breakfast: small rooms, beds with aspirin-white lace spreads, chintz wallpaper, porcelain teapots in every size lining sideboards, and all the pumpkins. Everywhere, the scent of cinnamon rises. Warm rain plinking onto the clapboard. Orange and pink sunsets with black branches in the field.

“Yes, all so beautiful.” She reached her hand up and felt around her skull.  “But I have no hair.”

“You don’t need hair, and if you really want it, we’ll buy you hair,” I told her.  “Men do it all the time.”

“October hair’” she smiled, “long and dark and witchy. With waves all the way to my waist. Easy to find. You really think they’ll let me go?”

I laughed and said in a low voice, “These doctors are all wrong.  Their machines are calibrated in crazy. None of this is true. Ok? None of it.”

“You don’t think?”  She opened her arms for a moment, just for a moment, like the flutter of wings. “So we’ll wear jeans and thick sweaters in the mountains?”

“Yes. And boots with fleece lining.”

“The thick lining”, she said, “so it feels like we’re walking outside in slippers. We can get gourds and spicy drinks. Well, not spicy. Warm and sweet with nutmeg spice. And we’ll wear the Uggs with the thick, thick lining.”

I nodded.

“Oh, those are the best. I can’t wait to go…”

She grew very quiet after that.


For hours.

She had no more words or plans and later that night,

                                    no heartbeat.

I was watching her, holding her hand. I squeezed her palm. I felt a tiny squeeze back, more like a pulse. She shut her eyes. Her lips parted, briefly. A tiny puff of air came from her lips, and then stillness.

I sat there for a few minutes. The staff came in and told me to take my time. They wore their hushed and reverent faces, but I knew they wanted the bed vacant.

I thought about that word, vacant, for a few minutes. I felt the word enter me.

“Take all the time you need,” the night nurse said as he disconnected wires.

It was as if she were next to me.  I heard her voice whisper, “When people tell you to take your time, they are really waiting for you to be done. It’s like hurry up’ in secret.” I imagined her smiling.

Only I couldn’t smile back. I couldn’t do anything but sit there and think about the mountain trip and the pumpkins and the hair we were going to buy her.

I sat there for a long while. The woozy vapors of heat rose up from the radiator, and the hospital let the steam escape through giant pillars.

* * * 

In my dreams now, I keep touching her hands. I pull them over one another and they make a muffled, final sound like the shutting of a drawer lined in velvet.

I always wake up after that.

For a few minutes, I think we are home, together, and I am just

waking, hearing her, in the kitchen, meowing back at the cats, moving papers on her desk, starting the coffee.

Anne Spollen is widely published in both the fiction and nonfiction realms and has authored two novels, both published by Flux. Twice-nominated for Pushcarts, she has just completed a middle grade novel. Currently, she is working on a series of pieces that traces a family member’s addiction journey and how medical resources and the justice system unwittingly enable addiction. She lives in New York City, right near the Staten Island Ferry, but spends a lot of time roaming the Jersey shore beaches.

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