Have you thought about what your last words will be? It was a question asked by a teenage girl with cystic fibrosis.
I thought about that as I sat here, two stories up from the ground, looking out at maple leaves down below the plane of my seat. My seat. My ass. I’m such an ass.
I look out the other window and see Gloria’s car slowly disappearing over the hill. It’s a grayish car for a very small old lady who used to visit the other younger old lady who lived here in this house before she passed away.
I’ve written in blue ink lately. But it’s black ink today.
It’s quiet in this room. Except for the rustling of leaves. And a scraping sound coming from somewhere – maybe the farm down the road. And birdsong. Chirping, liquid warbles, mourning coos, all around, birdsong.
I’ve had no time to write. Four children. Running, calling. Falling, calling. “Come get me!” calling. Hungry, calling. I don’t know how to tend to all the necessities and clear a space expansive enough to flesh out tender new words.
Cystic fibrosis grows in the lungs, she said, like sand on a Caribbean shore. Hot and humid and the sand piles up. She coughs under the hard weight of unproductive lungs. Breath gets shorter over the years, shallower.
I hear the scraping again. But it doesn’t carry the echo of distance or the machinations of back hoes or ditch witches. It’s closer, smaller. Like maybe it’s just outside the window, under the eaves. It’s also more intimate, like instead of machining, it’s the work of an animated beak or taloned foot rasping away at drying mud plastered into a corner nest. Swallows build those kinds of nests.
My last words. The girl who’s dying recommended reading the last, wheezy utterances of other infamously deceased. Meditate on it. Death, that is. Not the pain so much as the passage.
I’m writing in black ink today, which is psychologically more daunting than blue. Because my thoughts come out stark. Black and white. Nowhere to hide amongst quibbles and nuances, shades or colors.
Gloria’s car has disappeared beyond the crest of the hill. Her kids are gone although once a week, a pick-up with a diesel engine rumbles onto her gravel drive carrying a young man and some yard implements. Her lawn is always neatly clipped. And she’s gone quite a bit, organizing visits and card games for the very old – those that are homebound. Homebound? Housebound? Homeward bound.
I’m tired. Seven nights of work. A nocturne of labor. And yesterday, a sudden shift to become once again diurnal. So that, woozy and weak, I could lead two soccer practices beneath a sun that roasted our pale skin. Hard time sleeping last night. And today, my muscles are slow, as if my body were just a limp sack of sand. But I found a black pen. And, across the glare of white paper, my words are frenetic, confused, hurried, and bright as birdsong.
A good last word.
from the collection of: d. heidel