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LAce Posted Monday, April 25th, 2005
Purgatory
J. Anna McDougall

Out of nowhere the old image of Grandma in elastic waist jeans and stylish red jacket emerged in my mind as I filled the kettle. Gradually, an updated vision replaced it, reminding me of what she has become. Grandma sits on a vinyl chair all day at the nursing home; soft white strands frame her staring face; withered hands resting on her lap.

When these flashes come, I refuse to feel sadness. For a moment I forget all that has transpired in three years. I am grateful that my memory can bring Grandma back for a quick visit. Not all tricks played by the mind are unwelcome.

Secretly, Grandma’s disease stalked her for years before he began snatching her memories and reason. Our family could never be sure of what he had taken because his host covered for him. Grandma’s courteous way disguised the gaps. Hope returned during some conversations but inevitably Grandma would betray the disease with, “Do you live around here?” or “Are you married?” A few months passed before he surprised us with another visit, robbing her repeatedly until there was nothing left but a shell.

He kills many of his victims, stealing the brain’s ability to communicate with the heart and lungs. Death has yet to relieve my grandmother.

The kettle’s whistle calls me back to the kitchen. I regard the ceramic teapot beside the cook top. Turning to a cupboard rarely accessed, I take Grandma’s fine china teapot from the top shelf. The green details hold new interest today as I carry it to the sink. I dry the pot with a fresh tea towel and pour the hot water.

As the tea steeps, I am drawn to the mantel in the adjoining room. A framed photo of my grandparents sits on a white doily Grandma made for me when I was first married. Slipping it out from under the decoration, I take the yellowed doily to the bathroom sink to rinse it. The water isn’t helping to improve the color. Tears bubble up in my lower lids and my nose tingles. I think about the two of them and the pain she must have felt the day she was widowed. How she worried about his heart for years before that day. How frustrated he would have felt as he was forced to retire. When I asked her about the day the heart attack killed him, she always said the same thing, “He had no regrets.” Her dreams sacrificed for his, I know. She was a good wife and now she doesn’t even know she was married.

I think about my own husband and how much time we’ve lost to worry. The doctors couldn’t provide answers. He wasn’t part of any risk categories. Now he obsesses about his body daily. We’ve been back and forth to the hospital four or five times for false alarms; “panic attacks” the doctors call them. I like to think that Grandma would tell me what to do, if she could think.

One day after Tom left the hospital I went to visit her and I said, “My husband had a heart attack last week.”

“Oh dear,” was her answer.

“He’s going to be okay.”

“I see.”

How could I be disappointed? It’s not like she’d had a coherent thought in months.

I squeeze out the doily and lay it on the pale green counter. Pushing with an index finger I flatten each scallop on the circle. Spotting my rosary on the counter, I shove it into a drawer. Why pray? There’s no one listening, watching over me.

Back in the kitchen, I sip the cooled tea. From the fridge, I pull out a two layer chocolate cake wrapped up for tonight; a gift to myself for my thirty-sixth birthday. Rather than wait for my family, I decide to enjoy this moment alone. I set the treat in the middle of the dining room table and return to the kitchen for a plate and knife and fork. Taking a seat, I close my eyes and wish that she will be able to hear my prayers soon.

Comments [post a comment]

Posted by Sharon Hurlbut on Wednesday, April 27th, 2005 at 1:08 AM
Anna, this is powerful, poignant, and heartwrenching. It truly must be purgatory, waiting for the body to follow the mind. Your narrator has a wonderful sense of grace about her. Thanks!

Posted by Truusje Harwig on Thursday, April 28th, 2005 at 11:08 AM
What a beautiful piece of writing, really captures you and pulls you into the poignancy of the moment. I am looking forward to reading more stories by this Author.

Posted by Ashley Minihan on Thursday, April 28th, 2005 at 1:06 PM
This is very well-written and moving. Thank you.

Posted by Katrina Denza on Saturday, April 30th, 2005 at 4:58 PM
Anna, So sad and poignant. It's quite moving.

Posted by Cecilia Miller on Friday, May 13th, 2005 at 7:29 PM
Your writing of this was perfect. It felt like I was inside the author's head, living this out... that's the realism you brought to this piece. Well done!



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