The nurse strokes the old woman's hair with a rare sort of tenderness, affected as though this was the first and not the thousandth passing on her watch.
Jean dear, she whispers, nose-to-cheek for distant ears. Is there anything I can get for you? Anything at all?
Today is her last day of 95 years. Figures stand against the wall, sit in chairs at her bedside. People she knew when they were children, and whose children now have children. We imagine it was strange for her to leave her house, to be carried from it knowing she wouldn't be back. To be thinking Well, this would be it, then. Strange for everyone, the dame of the town.
Yes, there is something I’d like, forms her mouth with effort. She lifts her head deliberately and says with a weary smile: a rum and a smoke.
Last night I sat up in bed, milkmaid, grasping to remember Liam. With each month he feels more distant, trapped down the smudgy viewfinder of a pinhole camera, fading, the memory of him breaking up and drifting in all directions. Sometimes I squint, try to see double. Sometimes I feel irrevocably messed up. fucked up. broken.
We spend day after day cultivating callouses, willing tough patches to spring from pain to bear the constant pressure, to maintain a grip on anything solid. I don't know why, but in recent days my callouses have gone soft. After what felt like a near-sane spell I suddenly can't think of Liam without my throat swelling shut.
I don't begrudge Jean her 95 years to Liam's six weeks. Her funeral was today and I can't see straight for longing, for desperate unfairness, fondness. I still like the way an old wooden church smells, polish and incense and reverence, the ticket booth of god. Being there made me feel like I had a secret, like going to a magic show knowing by one's own witness that the man behind the curtain may actually be for real. Not in the typical bearded sense, but in the way of energy, life, spirit. It made me feel watched.
It's hard to be around the leaving of a soul. Even when that soul has had its due and more, peace and prosperity and the admiration of many.
It is unfair that I am his mama, yet I don't know where he's gone. I'm supposed to know these things. I want to know why he couldn't stay, why he was ever hurt in the first place despite what should have been the refuge of my body. It's not only his absence that aches. It's the knowing that his absence will never make sense.