And we have the more firm prophetical word: whereunto you do well to attend, as to a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts. – 2 Peter 1:19
“Time for breakfast, Celia. You ready for it? First, let me wash you up some. Get out this new wipe with the lemon smell on it. That’ll freshen you up right good. Here—first on your forehead … then on your cheeks … now round your neck … Sure enough, isn’t that good? Makes you just like new.”
I feel the sun. It must be morning. But Harlan? Where is he? Still away. Such a long trip again. He takes so many trips. But today he’ll come home, I know he will. Come home to me; I’m sure of it.
“She’s gonna die today, Gemma. I know she is.”
“No, now you just hush up that talk, Corda! Celia is not gonto die. No, she’s gonto eat this breakfast I brought her, that’s what she’s gonto do.”
Must get breakfast ready before he comes. Can smell the sausage and bacon now. And some coffee too. Oh, he’ll bring me some little gift, some trinket from where he’s been; he always does. Then he’ll hold me and tell me things are getting better. This time it will be better; he’ll insist that it is. ‘More sales solve all the problems.’ He always says that. ‘Nothing for you to worry about,’ he says. Oh, I’m not worried, Darling, not when you’re home.
“I’m tellin’ you, Gemma, she’s gonna die. I can prophesy it cause I’ve seen it all before. First, they get confused. Then they get real quiet, just like she is now. Then they die. I’ve seen it happen in that same bed three times before. Each of them died and so will she. Me, I’m still here, even if I don’t want to be. I’ve seen it all, Gemma.”
“No, she’s taking some of this oatmeal right now, see that? So you just hush. Ginny’s comin’ in a minute or so to wheel you down to the cafeteria, so’s you can get your own breakfast.”
The children? Oh, where are the children? I don’t hear them yet. But here’s the sun, so warm on my face. Must get them up to greet Harlan, I must! It’s only right that children should greet their father. It’s their duty, all three of them. Little Ethan. He’s usually the first to come down. Need to get Lisette and Raymond up too. Oh get up, children, get up!
“But she’s gonna die today. Celia’s going to die. I’m telling you that, Gemma. I’ve seen it before. I really have.”
“No, she’s not. Now, Corda, you just hush up that talk, like I said. Don’t do neither of you any good to talk like that. Here now, Celia, take some more of this oatmeal. You got to keep up your strength. Today’s Sunday and your son Ethan’s gonto come visit you, just like he always does. I bet he will. So’s you got to be ready for him. Now take some of this orange juice, too. That’s it! That’s good! You’re doin’ great now, Celia!
And what is that TV chattering about? Can’t make sense of it? Turn it down, or just turn it off! I can’t reach it anymore; I don’t know why. Nothing but bad news anyway, bad news for evermore. I leave all that to you to do with as you will, whoever you are. … Oh, but that sun’s so bright on my face, and feels so good! And Harlan will be here soon and kiss me hello. I know he will. … Why do you have my hand? You’re not Harlan.
“Don’t you listen to ole Corda talkin’ bad over there, Miss Celia. Some roommate you got, honey, I swear! Now let me get this shade pulled down a bit. Get that old sun off your face. … There!”
Harlan’s coming home any minute now. Got to be ready for him! Children, get down here right now! Get ready to greet your father.
“Good morning, Gemma. How’s Celia doing this morning?”
“Oh hi, Doctor Crowder. Well, she’s takin’ a bite of oatmeal now and then and a sip or two of juice, but no more than an iddy-biddy bird would eat. It’s like the body part of her takes a little food, but the mind part has already gone somewheres else. Don’t know where, since she don’t talk any more. Hasn’t for days now.”
“Because she’s about to die, Gemma, like I told you. I told her so, Dr. Crowder. I’ve seen it before.”
“Lord God, Doctor Crowder, I wish Ginny would get here with that wheelchair and take Corda to the cafeteria!”
“Here I am, Gemma. … Sorry to make you wait, Corda. How are you this morning?”
“Expecting a new roommate soon—that’s how I am. This one’s a goner. Today, probably. Help me get to the restroom first, Ginny. Need to go there before I flop into that wheelchair.”
“Okay, if that’s what you need.”
“Well, it is!”
“Now, Gemma, let me scoot in here and listen to Celia’s heart a minute.”
“Sho’ enough, Doctor Crowder. You just go right ahead. … Well, what’s that stethoscope tellin’ you today, Doctor? Your face looks mighty cloudy. Don’t tell me Corda’s right and Celia’s about to die. You’re not gonto tell me that, are you?”
“Can’t say for sure, Gemma. Weak heart, though. Very weak. … Tell you what, I’ll be back before I leave for the hospital, about lunch time. Doesn’t Celia have someone come visit her on Sundays?”
“She sure does. Ethan, her son, he always comes right after his church. Probably be here late this mornin’, like he mostly does. Goes to his church then comes here before he goes home. Then the pastor of his church—Father Richter—he most likely will come too, but in the afternoon.”
“I thought so. That’s good to know. Celia’s lucky to have you looking after her the way you do, Gemma. Maybe I can see her son before I head off for my rounds at the hospital. Call for me if you see him before I do. Okay?”
“Why, I sho’ will. … You still waitin’ on Corda, Ginny?”
“I am … Oh, here she is! Now then, Corda, you ready to go? Here’s your wheelchair, come sit down. Let me help you in. … There! Okay, off we go. See you later, Gemma, Dr. Crowder.”
“So long, Ginny. So long, Corda.”
“That one’s gonna die today, Ginny. I can feel it. Felt it like this before.”
“Lord Almighty, how she carries on, Doctor Crowder! Thank the good Lord, Corda sleeps most of the afternoon. She ‘bout drives me crazy sometimes.”
“Well, Corda can certainly be annoying, that’s for sure, but I’m afraid she could be right about Celia. Now I know you’ve got other patients to care for, Gemma, but check on Celia today all you can.”
“You can count on me, Doctor Crowder. I’ll do it.”
“Thanks, Gemma. Now, I need to make some notes in her file. Let me see . . . here it is— “Celia Rader Evans.”
Oh, where is Harlan? Can’t make the children wait on breakfast any longer. Surely any minute now the door will open, and he’ll be home.
Good thing I come here right after Mass. This parking lot is already crowded. Later on, no one will be able to park in here at all. The nursing home needs a bigger lot, that’s for sure, or at least access to another one close by for weekends. Lord knows that’s one thing we got plenty of around this town these days is empty parking lots!
Oh well, have to wonder how many more times I’ll even be doing this. Mom wasn’t very alert last Sunday. But didn’t get any calls about her this week, so no changes, I guess. Maybe I’ll catch one of her doctors before I go and find out more. Or at least talk to the head nurse. No reason to think that either Ray or Lisette will have done anything. Neither one calls or visits, let alone contacts Mom’s doctors or nurses. I don’t think Mom could handle it now even if one of them did visit. Probably wouldn’t know who it was. Sad that it comes to this—not recognizing your own children. Sadder still to have your own flesh and blood abandon you when you get old. Not their fault to have moved away, I suppose, but their fault not to stay in touch with their own mother. No, they leave all that to me!
“Good morning, Carol, for what little is left of it. They got you in here on a Sunday, have they?”
“Why hello, Mr. Evans. Yes, the other girl’s sick today—flu we think—so I’m covering for her. We don’t want her in here sick, now do we?”
“No, you’re right about that. Okay to go on back?”
“Sure, breakfast is over by now. Should be no problem. But check at the nurses’ station first. Gemma should be around there.”
“Thanks, I’ll do that.”
At least the staff here is good. Not a lot of turnover like they have at the other nursing homes. And the odors are not as bad here either, not like the first place Mom was in. Glad I got her out of there! She complained about it right from the git-go, and she turned out to be right.
“Hello, Gemma. How’s my mom doing today?”
“Oh, I’m so glad to see you, Ethan! Well, she took a bit of food and drink for breakfast, but not enough to fill up a newborn chick. Still, she tried, God bless her soul, even if she didn’t know what she was doin’. Doctor Crowder came in earlier and looked about her some, then said for me to come and fetch him when you get here so’s he could talk with you. So if you just go on down to Celia’s room, I’ll go find him for you.”
“I appreciate it, Gemma.”
“Oh, one more thing, Ethan. Don’t pay any attention to Corda. She’s been carrying on again about how Celia’s gonto die any minute. And she’s real bad about it today. Got herself stuck on it like a housefly on honey. But don’t you pay her any mind.”
“Hah, I never do anyway, but thanks for the warning.”
Gemma’s an angel if there ever was one. Given what they pay here, I’m surprised she’s stays. Just pure devotion that keeps her going, seems like.
“So here you are, the faithful son, Ethan, right on time!”
“Yes, Corda, here I am. Just go on and watch your television shows now while I visit with my mother”
“Probably going to be your last visit. So say your farewell, that’s my advice.”
“Please, Corda, just watch your TV. … Hello, Mamma. It’s me, Ethan. Can you hear me?”
Ethan, yes! I’ll hold your hand, but then get the others. Wake them up, Raymond and Lisette! Wake them up! They must get up to greet their father. Then I’ll make breakfast for all of us.
“Talking about the old times again, ain’t she?”
“Please, Corda, just watch your TV and leave us alone.”
“Oh, Ethan, I found Doctor Crowder. He says for you to meet him at the nurse’s station.”
“Thanks, Gemma . … I’ll be right back, Momma.”
I could strangle that Corda! Bet a lot of other people feel the same way.
“Yes, are you Ethan Evans?”
“I thought we’d talk out here for a minute, if you don’t mind, away from your mother’s roommate.”
“That’s a really good idea, Doctor, especially today!”
“I checked your mother this morning and again a short while ago. Her heart seems to be growing progressively weaker. Also I’m sure you’ve noticed how she has gradually lost contact with us over the past week or so. As a result, she has only been able to take small amounts of food and drink and that in turn means that she is growing weaker still. To be frank, I’m afraid she hasn’t much time left. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but at her age and condition, there is little left to do for her except to keep her as comfortable as possible. It may even be that she wants to pass on.”
“I understand, and I think you may be right about her wanting to pass on. I’ve had that feeling about her for at least the past month myself. I think she’s just given up on this life.”
“Gemma tells me how good you’ve been about visiting her. I’m sure that’s meant a lot to her. I can tell you from my experience in nursing homes that not every son or daughter does that, even when they can.”
“Well, she has no one left here. I have a brother and sister, but both of them live out of town. However, Father Richter, our parish priest at St. Benedict’s, he’s good about visiting her on Sundays—if not then, some day during the week.”
“Yes, I’ve already met Father Richter several times in the two months I’ve been serving here. He seems like a very dedicated man. … Well, I have to leave for my rounds at the hospital, but Dr. Kramer will be in early this evening to check on your mother. In the meantime, there is always the head nurse, Mrs. Lattimore, if you need assistance. Any questions for me before I go?”
“No… no, I think I’m all right with what you’ve said. None of it’s a surprise. I’ll just visit with Mother a bit, maybe even stay until Father Richter arrives. Thanks, Doctor Crowder.”
Well, he seems to know what he’s doing. Good of him to take the time to talk with me. Wonder if Corda is out of the room now.
“Hope the news Doctor Crowder gave you wasn’t too bad, Ethan. You okay?”
“Well, the news wasn’t good, Gemma, but not a surprise either. But, yes, I’m okay.”
“Well, I have a little good news. I got Ginny to take Corda to the exercise room for a while. When she gets back, she’s usually real tired and goes to sleep right away.”
“Gemma, you really are a jewel! But these must be long hard days for you. I don’t see how you do it with all these patients. Don’t think I could.”
“Well, you just got to think about all these people that need your help. It’s a good thing to have people need you. Makes you feel real good inside, like maybe there’s more to people than just skin and bones and wanting for themselves all the time. Does that make sense?”
“Yes, I think that makes a lot of sense. Still, this is hard work. Tell me, if you don’t mind, how did you come here? Aren’t you from Georgia originally? I thought I heard one of the other attendants here say that.”
“Yes, I sho’ am from Georgia! But got family right here too—family I didn’t even know I had until one day back home I got to talkin’ with my granny when she got down sick, and we all thought she was gonto die. She told me how some of our kin folk left home back before the Civil War and Emancipation. They ‘scaped up the Underground Railroad. Away they went, she said. All of them left Georgia lookin’ to be free. And when they got here to Parkeston, they stopped. Didn’t go any farther, she said. Didn’t want to, far as she knew. Granny told me I should go and look for them someday, just to see what happened to them and what they’d become. So after Granny died, that’s just what I did. Came up here and found them. And then, just like the others, I got me a job, this job, and soon enough I had a husband and children, too. So here I’ve stayed. Sure been happy I did!”
“And your husband, is he from Parkeston?”
“Yes, he is. Doesn’t sound anything like me at all when he talks. When he wants to josh me some, he says he only keeps me ‘round just to hear my Southern talk. So I told him, if that’s so, he just best get himself a Georgia parrot. That’d be a whole lot cheaper!”
“Hah, and what did he think of that idea?”
“Well, then he said, ‘But a man can’t get lovin’ from a parrot like he can from a woman.’ Well, then there’s that, I told him. Maybe there’s more to being married than just someone talkin’! Our three children sure didn’t come from a stork droppin’ them out of the sky. I know that for a hard fact!”
“I guess you do.”
“But what about your family, Ethan? Have they always been here, for you don’t sound like a foreigner the way some folks here do?”
“Yes, both my parents and their parents were born here, and maybe even another generation or two before them.”
“What did your daddy do for a livin’? Celia has talked about it some, like he was selling somethin’, but I could never make out exactly what it was he did.”
“Well, he was a salesman for the local glass factory. Sold that fancy glassware and ceramic jewelry and such that they used to make here. Sold it to stores all over the country.”
“Well, don’t that beat all! Why, I got me some of that glassware. My husband bought it for me one Christmas. Sho’ is pretty! I always keep it out where everyone can see it.”
“Fact is, Dad sold that glassware until the business slowed way down, mostly due to foreign imports, I guess. Finally, he got laid off. Now the whole factory is closed, and the buildings torn down.”
“Yes, I remember when that happened! That was so sad.”
“Dad was never right after that layoff. It was a job he loved, and at his age he couldn’t get another one. He got depressed and just puttered around the house. He told me once he just wanted to die as quick as he could so Mom could have the insurance money to live on. After about five years that’s just what he did.”
“That’s pitiful, Ethan. Just pitiful!”
“I know, but it’s happened to lots of other families around here, not just ours.”
“You’re sho’ right about that. I’ve seen it too. Some men, just like your daddy, come in here to die as fast as they can, just like you said. And they manage to do it, too. Sho’ am glad my husband’s got himself a good job.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a mechanic. Works on all the cars for people down at the Ford dealership. … Well Ethan, I got to visit with my other patients. It’s been right nice talkin’ with you, always is. But I’ll be back in just a little while. That okay?”
“Sure, Gemma. You go do whatever you have to. Don’t worry about me.”
I’m sorry, Children. Your father is still not here. Not home again. And now it’s dark. So sorry! Go to bed now. So sorry, so dark!
So much to do! And next month having to change to the new order of Mass on top of it all! Too much. And here, twice around this lot and still no parking space! Patience, God grant me patience—that slow virtue. But looks like I’ll have to risk parking on the street again. Not sure if my clergy license plate will ward off a collision or encourage one. Well, anyway, here I am. …
“Carol, what a surprise! Why are you here today?”
“Oh, good afternoon, Father Richter. I’m subbing for a sick coworker. Believe me, it’s not all together voluntary. So that’s my confession for the day, Father!”
“Well, it’s always good to see you, confessing, communing, or working. Anything I should be aware of before I begin my visits?”
“Yes, I’ve heard from Gemma and Ginny that Celia Evans is worse, so you might want to start there. I believe Celia’s son Ethan is still back there as well.”
“Okay, that’s where I’ll start then. Thank you, Carol.”
I communed Celia last week, I’m sure of it. Good thing, too. She may not be able to take communion today. Barely could last week. At least she’s had Gemma looking after her. The day star rose early in that girl’s heart, and it’s been shining there ever since.
“Ethan, I see you’re still here.”
“Yes, Father Richter, thought I’d wait for you this time. I’m afraid Mom hasn’t much longer to go, according to Dr. Crowder, and I believe he’s right. I don’t even think she even knows I’m here.”
“Today’s her last day. I’ve already told you that, Ethan.”
“Yes, Corda, I know you have—several times, in fact. Now go back to sleep.”
“So she is not able to commune?”
“No, I don’t think so. Gemma said she had a bite or two to eat this morning, but she’s had nothing since. Not really been awake enough to eat.”
“Well, she’s a good woman and she did commune last week. I’m certain her soul will pass without blame, if that’s what must happen. But I should administer Extreme Unction for her now, if you’re ready. I have my Viaticum kit right here with me.”
“Oh absolutely. I’m positive that’s what Mom wants.”
“Very good. Let me put the kit here on her chest-of-drawers, if you can move those few things she has there.”
“Oh, sure . … Wait, here’s her rosary. Let me put that in her hands . … There, how’s that?”
“That will do nicely, Ethan. We’ll place the crucifix here … and light the candles . … Now let me put on the stole … and open the vial of oil. … Now we’ll begin. Will you kneel, Ethan?”
Per istam sanctam Unctionem et suam piisimam misericordiam, indulgeat tibi Dominus quiquid per visum. …
“Is there anything else now, Ethan? Anything else you’d like me to do? You still seem troubled.”
“No, I knew this moment had to come. I just wondered how much Mom ever knew about Dad’s trips. When we were settling his estate, a woman from Charleston came forward with a common law spouse claim. Of course, it got nowhere, but it showed that Dad probably was not always faithful. I kept it from Mom, but always wondered if she knew anyway. You probably know more about that than I do—from their confessions.”
“You know I can’t say.”
“Yes, I realize that. I just pray she didn’t know.”
“But you realize too that in these last days she has escaped from the present into a happier time—one in the past when you and your brother and sister were still quite young, and your father’s work was still prosperous.”
“Yes, I’ve seen that. Time has become so jumbled for her recently. Maybe that happens to everyone.”
“I believe it does. As we approach death, chronological time has less meaning. All of time becomes compressed for us, the past and the present intermingled with the future, just as all time must be simultaneous for God. In your mother’s case, it’s because she wants to remember the days before pain set its claim on her. Losing her husband and having her children move away were very hard on Celia, as they would be on anyone.”
“You’re right. Well, I guess there’s nothing more we can do right now. Dr. Kramer will be in soon and check on Mom. And I know you still have other parishioners here to see, but thank you, Father, for being with her today—and all the other days.”
“Good night, Ethan. God be with you—and with Celia.”
“O poor Celia, you’re still not awake. Gone this whole day with nothing to say and pitiful little to eat. Ethan has come and gone. So has Father Richter. Sho’ glad Corda’s asleep now, else she’d be squallin’ about somebody dying before she gets to. About time for me to leave you, too, Celia. It’s the end of my day has come.”
That light! Harlan’s at the door. At last! He is opening it! But that light is so bright I can’t tell who . … Can’t see his face. Is that a star instead? O, Harlan, it must be you. Kiss me and tell me everything is all right again! Everything’s forgiven!
“Ginny! Ginny! Go fetch Doctor Kramer. Seems like Celia’s done passed!”
Carl Parsons, a former manufacturing manager for TRW Automotive, has had a secondary career as a college instructor of rhetoric and literature. Now retired, he serves as a Master Gardener for the University of Tennessee Extension office and contributes essays on botanical subjects to Hey, Smokies! (an online travel magazine). He has also served as associate editor for Heater, a crime fiction magazine. Currently, he is an active member of Scribophile online writers’ workshop. Born in Parkersburg, WV, he now resides in Kodak, TN. Publication Credits: • Crime Novella, Jukes, to be published in March 2020 by Dark Passages Publishing • Short story, “Judith and Phillip,” published by Foundling House (2019) • Short story, “Another Bus Ride for Sunny,” published by Spillwords Press (2019) • Two poems published with Literary Yard (2019) • Two poems published with Plum Tree Tavern (2019)