Standing there in the doorway, gaping at the television, spooning ice cream into my mouth, I felt more than ever that I was not one person. I was the awkwardly shuffling, distracted dad that the boys may have vaguely noticed as he opened the freezer and rummaged; I was the kind of fussy, self-involved husband who pestered his dying wife with petty issues about his work life, until she had to beg him: Please. I can’t; I was the kind of man who would sit by your bedside and feed you ice chips from a spoon; I was also the one who thought that the ending didn’t have to be so grim, if only you tried harder. If only you’d be less pessimistic. The old ones and their children weep for the gossamer mothers who have floated away. The children pray for their mothers to die. Such a kind and terrible wish. My sister and I allow it on the telephone. We cannot speak it looking one another in the eye. The driver of the ambulette brings in a wheelchair. Mother lets herself be placed without a murmur, as though this happened every day. Amazed, we suddenly remember how to breathe. I fetch her doctor's order: “DNR — Do Not Resuscitate” off the kitchen wall. My hand bursts into flame. When I talk to Mother, she looks vaguely at someone else, as though they were the speaker. But she gets jealous and sarcastic if two people talk and don't include her. What I do is: talk to another person but look at her. She is making converts to her ways. Sometimes amidst her jungle of gibberish, Mother says, “Is everyone all right?” Or “Do you need any money?” Bless her! Even if it’s just mechanical: a phonograph needle dropped into one or two surviving grooves. For awhile I reminded her what a wonderful mother, wife and teacher she had been. “Really?” she said, trying to find that person in the fog. Now those nouns are meaningless. So I can only tell her she is beautiful. Her beauty still matters to her most. For the first time, my sister and I are glad that this is so. Have you sensed the nothingness of my nature, that I am as empty as the carriages of the trains that pass, dusty, used, in the morning sun? A novelist must be that way, I think, and not complain of it, otherwise how shall the characters accommodate themselves in his mind? “...And now she’s going to die, and there’ll be nothing left.” (the voice stopping suddenly breaking off, and Louise standing there, panting a little, as if surprised, furious at having talked so much, still staring at whatever it was that he couldn’t see—that he knew he couldn’t see, that he wouldn’t see, even if he turned around, staring in his turn over his shoulder in the direction where whatever it was seemed to be... José Palacios, his oldest servant, found him floating naked with his eyes open in the purifying waters of his bath and thought he’d drowned. He knew this was one of the many ways the General meditated, but the ecstasy in which he lay drifting seemed that of a man no longer of this world. When de long, cold———Oh, I tells you, breddren, when de long cold. . . I sees de light en I sees de word, po sinner! Dey passed away in Egypt, de swingin chariots; de generations passed away. Wus a rich man: whar he now, O breddren? Wus a po man: whar he now, O sistuhn? Oh I tells you, ef you aint got de milk en de dew of de old salvation when de long, cold years roll away! Her face is wasted away so that the bones draw just under the skin in white lines. Her eyes are like two candles when you watch them gutter down into the sockets of iron candle-sticks. But the eternal and the everlasting salvation and grace is not upon her.
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