Morning broke over the 4th floor but no one noticed. The hallway lights stay on all night for those little girls in blue who come in to turn us on our sides every now and then like sausages browning in the pan. Mornings as I knew them are gone. They used to be spectacular. I would cook breakfast while the house flooded with sunlight. I would start to hear the rustling of sleepy heads as they drew up off pillows and the hiss of a shower turning on. My five precious angels, each of them like a portrait of all that is hopeful would come running down the stairs to me. I remember the smell of bacon and coffee and shampoo. I remember the feeling of wet heads against my waist and the inside of my arms.
One of those gals comes in and checks the dozens of tubes protruding from my weary vessel. She is a big woman, strong and sturdy. She manages to lift my body from the bed to the chair without a discernable effort, but she struggles to look at me when she says good morning. I remember when I was younger, when I had only had one stroke and I could still use my left side, I would take my left hand and wrap it around his chin as he stood above me, gently waking me with a kiss. I couldn't cook his breakfast like I used to anymore, but he didn't care. We bought frozen egg sandwiches from the Food Lion and I microwaved them. He still complimented me on my cooking. One day I woke up and reached out my left hand but found no face. His sweet hand was still wrapped in my right one, just as it had been when he went to sleep. I put my good hand over his and thanked God for letting me be so lucky for so long.
My chipper little girl comes in with my breakfast. She sets it down and chatters away about how nice it is outside and can I believe a 70 degree day in December. She picks up a spoon and feeds me the cream of wheat. She knows that I can't help making a mess and frankly, I don't think she notices. She is going on about sister and her momma and some argument over who actually owns the Corningware. I listen and like it. It's nice to see life, no matter how mundane. She wipes my chin and continues and my mind drifts back to my babies and how I would feed them just like this, gossiping on the phone and smiling deeply into their eyes. I don't know how many bowls of cream of wheat I fixed over the years, how many times I traced up a little chin with a spoon. I can still see those faces: Audrey with her bald head and bright blue eyes, Tom with his grin that seemed to betray his plans, Tessa with her little head tilted, always dreaming, and my twins, side by side always, feeding off of eachother, bouncing emotions back and forth. How they terrorized me and how I miss it now! How I miss them. My Tom is in New York. Wall Street, big shot, unhappy. He calls me and the nurse puts a phone to my ear and he tells me that he loves me and that he will be here as soon as he can. I make a noise that is nothing like what I want to say to him. I want to tell him no more flowers. I want to tell him that his frustration radiates across the phone line. I can't.
My chipper gal clears my tray and puts my arms into a robe and my hearty gal moves me into a wheelchair. They steer me into the room with the television, but I sit and watch the people. Myrtle does her make up every day even though her hands shake so bad that it looks like someone left their cake out in the rain. We are a sight, all of us. A line of wheelchairs on the highway to the grave. It's almost like a junkyard for people. My mind is fine but my body is caput. Ernest Strahler still moves on his own but can't put together one coherent thought in a month's time. Emma Wilson can't control her bladder, but thinks she can. Rosie can't see. Joe lost both his arms in Korea. If you put all of our good parts together, you'd have a damn fine human if you could look past the wrinkles. But I don't feel sorry any of them. Not one bit. I feel sorry for the ones who have lost the use of their hope. I can always pick them out. They are the ones by the windows who look at the floor. My Tessa did that for seven months once. To this day, I don't know why. Tessa was always everyone's favorite. She had auburn hair and emerald green eyes and was stunning from the minute she was born. She had a quiet manor and sharp sense of humor, so unlike the others. They were a boisterous bunch, always assuming that volume determined rank. But my Tessa, she was different. She seemed to float above the noise and the grabbing. She would sit in silence through it, wait for an opening in the conversation, and slay us with five or six words. No one could make me laugh like that. But little by little, the light left her eyes. More and more time passed between her little interjections. My daughter dissolved into a sadness that snuck up behind her and claimed her. I should not have been surprised to see her little body in a crimson tub that morning, but I was. I should have been surprised that it was my daughter who taught me the value of hope, but I wasn't. Maybe she knew how badly I would need that value.
I am tired. It seems like my body wears out from the slightest of efforts. Just sitting up like this is enough to make me feel ragged. One by one, the gals take us back to our rooms. The hefty girl lies my head on a pillow and my chipper gal puts pillows under my feet. They wait for my face to relax as they give me the shots that make being old bearable fo one more day and they leave me to myself. My head is turned toward my window that doesn't open and I long to feel a breeze. I see the little rosebuds on the wallpaper start to blend with each other and I doze. It's another morning. One that would have been occupied by hopscotch or peek-a-boo or a sweet lover in any other season of my life. But in this season where the temperature is constant and the lights stay on, it's a morning of futile hope for a sunset.