After His Conversation With Kathleen
He died on St. Patrick’s Day. Which meant nothing to him. The day, not his dying. He was never a holiday person and he wasn’t Irish. He wasn’t Catholic, either. He wasn’t anything by practice. Or belief. Which was not important and had no meaning to him. Until at last he gave in, gave up, and admitted to himself that he was dying. Some weeks later, two days before his death, he was taken to a hospice where his passage was greatly eased by morphine. It was more greatly eased by a conversation he had the night before he entered hospice care. Kathleen had come to see him at his home that night. Kathleen, who had been cleaning his home for the past 11 years. They were comfortable with each other. Kathleen was 60 and Larry was 79 when they met. The first thing he said to her was, How do you do, I’m Laurence Booker, but you can call me Larry, I’m on Viagra. - Recognizing this as a threshold moment, Kathleen shifted her grip on her vacuum cleaner and stared fixedly at a point just above his head, saying, Well, Larry, her voice easy but firm, how can I put this? Let me see.. -- And after a second or two, shifted her gaze back. It’s like this, she said. If a man needs Viagra to be interested in me, ppfffftttt. - And she waved a dismissive hand. Pausing first, to let it sink in, she added, You may call me Kathleen and held out her small hand for a shake. A firm grip, he noted. Now she sat by his knees, ignoring his patting at the space beside him in the bed and taking his large hand in both of hers asked, What is it? What is it, Larry? - Well, I’m dying, he said, his eyes blinking slowly and it seemed sadly. - I know, she said. I’ve watched four people die, Larry. My mother, my husband, my son and a fiancé. So, what is it? What is it that you’re upset about? About dying? --- He was bony and withered. Sunken now. It had been a long year. Wasting disease, is all he would say of it. Refused to say cancer, as his trousers slipped further and further and the women all said, Pull up your pants, Larry or Time for braces with that belt, Larry-boy, and he’d just smile and wink and say I’m on Viagra, you know, and they’d all bat their hands at him or flap their magazines and say things like tch, tch tch or pshaw, or just frown. --- Larry, Larry, love, she pressed his hand. What’s the problem? Are you afraid? - He raised his head, moving it from side to side in a no, but saying, I don’t think I would be if I knew where I was going. - Now he kept his eyes on hers without blinking. - Larry, well, and she sat back, a tiny woman who moved like a water bug, fast and purposefully, but stilled now. - What can I say to you? --- There was a moment then in which the house creaked in the wind and the only other sound was the old pendulum clock as it clicked its way onward. --- Well, let’s see, how to put this. She sat straight now, hooking her feet on the bed frame and joining her hands on her knees. - Larry! Do you remember being born? - Why, why, no, he said, sounding between confused and offended. - Well, you know that women have what’s called labor? - He nodded. Sure, he said, to birth the baby. - And you know they have to push and work hard to do that? she continued. - Well, yeah, he replied, now a bit nettled, uneasy even. - That baby, she said, don’t want to be born, Larry. It’s got everything it needs. It’s safe and fed and warm. And a woman has to really push that baby OUT, her hands illustrating her words, making shoving motions. And then, Larry. You were here. And born. - He was intent with staring at her and listening to her. - Now, she continued, I don’t know about Heaven, she shook her head, I know here, and she motioned around them, here is Hell, but Larry, and now she took his hand again resuming her earlier place close by his knees, what’s to say you won’t be in a whole new life? I don’t know what kind, her small head disclaimed any such expertise - or belief. It makes sense to me, she said. Another kind of birth, is death. Just another new life. - And she was smiling now as she looked in his eyes. - Well, he said, withdrawing his hand to pull at his robe, gathering it around himself. - Well, he said. I think I like that, Kathleen. I can do with that, I think. --- And that was his last conversation. The next day at the hospice care center, the one his long-estranged daughter, back to do this one last thing, had picked for him, he was put on a heavy morphine drip. So he wasn’t in pain. He was at ease when he died on St. Patrick’s Day, two days later. After his conversation with Kathleen.
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