by Jane Andrews
He visited her every day, the brush of his pant legs whispering down the hall. But she would not remember his visit of the day before. And he would tell her that he had been by, although he knew she would not remember this day either. Still, it made her smile in the moment as if he had given her a small, but thoughtful gift. Once he had found a birdfeeder with suction cups and stuck it outside the window so that she could gaze at the goldfinches eating seeds. But it was her stroke immobilized roommate who had the bed by the window and she kept the curtain closed against the sun. There was only the TV mounted high on the wall to see. The sound was always off so the melodrama of movement played out like shadows in Plato’s cave. But there were sounds — monitors bleeping and IV counters ticking, of course the shush shush shush of the roommate’s ventilator, and garbled voices in the hall and over the speakers. Should he try to bring her home? The last time he’d asked, she’d said, I am home. Hearing that, he felt his chest tighten and his throat constrict. Home. What could the meaning of “home” be? A place you’d lived? The place you’d lived? But they had moved several times for his job. Schenectady. Boise. Louisville. Roanoke. Would she believe she was in one of those places? Which one? Or was the home she lived in the one from her childhood. Danish Modern. Macramé. Posters of horses.
Home, he decided, wasn’t a where, it was a who. Who you were and who was with you when you were at your best, that was what and where home was. A place could be left behind. Like, say, Boise. But the person you took with you, the person, mind, wherever you both ended up, well, maybe that was “home”. She was asleep now and he watched her, his breathing in sync with hers to keep it going. But after sitting in the hard chair for twenty minutes he was grateful to finally be upright, his body doing as he wished without a struggle. A small triumph at his age, a small spur to guilt. Standing, studying her, he saw she was still beautiful. But she looked bleached. Like a conch shell on the beach. The lines and symmetry, grace rendered in the empty house of a sea creature, the Golden Ratio that bespeaks Intelligent Design tumbled, broken, turned to the color of salt. He reached for one of the controls leashed by a grey cable to the bed and pushed a button. The voices of dead actors and dead studio audience captured in a sitcom forty years ago flooded the recycled air in the room. But his attention was elsewhere. The thick light-blocking curtains hung in stiff pleats. Would he be guilty of a greater sin than relative good health? But who would know? Not her. Not her. Would it be a mercy or a crime? It had to be done. Less than three steps, a tug on a cord like starting a lawnmower as Jeopardy! came on, louder than the sitcom. Half an hour was probably enough. He moved to the window, grabbed the curtains and yanked them apart. July sun struck the tile floor in a wash of yellow. He returned to his chair under the television and waited.
Would the goldfinches come? Would she wake in time to see them? And would he finally be home?