Word count: 741
I didn’t want to see her because I didn’t know what to say. She was dying. After months of fighting disease, this is how it resolved; an eighty pound body decorated with wispy patches of brittle hair. I was heartsick, but not blind. Her wasted mind craved some morsel of truth; some sustenance, to carry her from here to there. My relationship with God is why she called for me.
I entered the room, unable to avoid her glare. She looked like a defunct royal, sitting on a brown leather throne of sickness, her tiny body floating uncomfortably in the large chair, withered and waiting and worried. Her once strong eyes were glazed with sadness and an insecurity I hadn’t seen since the day her daughter passed away.
“I’m here, Linda.” She nodded slowly, her eyes stuck to my heart, pleading, wondering why it took me hours to fill her request and come to her room. “How are you feeling?” It was senseless question, meaningless and trite considering she had one foot planted in the hospital room, while the other tested the firmness of where she was about to spend eternity. “Alright, I guess” she said. Her voice too soft for the outspoken woman I know; the forceful mother-in-law that on occasion, delighted in trumping my authority with my children, and jealously clung to her son, my husband, with more interest as a married man than when he depended on her as a child. The harsh tone of judgment was lost now, burned away by radiation and chemical cocktails. All that is left is soft, and venerable, and afraid.
I ran my hand across the translucent skin of her arm, covering streaks of red and blue tainted blood. She watched like an infant, tracking the movement of a mobile, until our eyes met and the looming question locked us mysteriously together. “Are you worried,” I asked, horrified at the bluntness and assumption of the question. She whispered, “So worried.”
A nurse broke the tension, delivering a tray with a bowl of oatmeal, and a cup of coffee. “I think you can handle this,” she said, giving me a wink. I removed the wet plastic film from the bowl, and sprinkled the solidified cereal with sugar. The paradox of lifting spoonfuls of food to the mouth of a body that would not make it through night was almost more than I could bear. “I like oatmeal,” she said, slowly lifting her hand to her mouth. She was confused, feeding herself though in reality, it was the spoon in my hand that delivered the food. Our eyes locked again, her woeful expression demanding my arms to wrap around her.
“How can I help you, Linda,” I asked, with a vacant heart, knowing that there was nothing I could do; nothing anybody could do. For a moment I held her and felt the desperate condition of her small body; colder now. “I want tea,” she said as the embrace came to an end. I lifted the lid from the cup on the tray. It was coffee. “I’ll ring for the nurse,” I said. But before I could reach the call button, she lifted an invisible cup to her mouth and made a sipping noise. “No, just this tea,” she commanded.
For several minutes we sat in silence, the aching question as invisible as the tea she lifted repeatedly to her mouth. The power of the mind, commanding the moment, making her wince as the hot, imaginary liquid hit her delicate, dry lips. She leaned back, looking smaller than I could have imagined. “Worried. Worried,” she repeated, her eyes red and bloodshot, pleading in frustration.
“Do you want me to pray,” I asked, trying to escape the depth of what was happening before my eyes.
“I love my Lord.”
“I know you do.”
Relief warmed my heart at the sincerity of her confession. The tumultuous relationship of the past, melting like wax in the sun. “You will see Him.” I stroked her arms, as if I could smooth away both of our failures, with a simple touch. “You will see Him, and your daughter. You’ll be with them both. Soon. It will be okay.”
I watched as the red of frustration between us mixed with the yellow of His grace. It melted her fear. She wasn’t perfect, she was forgiven. All she wanted was to be orange, and to finish her cup of invisible tea.
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