Danny walked slowly toward the entrance, though the rain saturated his lightweight jacket and plastered his dark hair to his forehead; he was in no hurry to get to his destination. There were many things worse than being rained on. Many things sadder than the rain.
The door felt heavier as he gave it a tug for the thousandth time. How many times had that old door met with his reluctant hand, he wondered.
Whoosh and thud, the door closed behind him and by so doing sealed him inside the jar of wasted souls, befuddled minds and the indifferent guardians of their final days. The air wore a perfume of antiseptic, age and grief. If tears had a smell, Danny thought, they would smell like this place. If broken hearts required real estate, they would live here. Danny’s shoes squeaked a lonely tune as he made his way to room 232.
Nora did not look up when Danny entered and it had been years since that was the case. The days when he could see the spark of her lighting up a room. The days when the wry smile that teased the corners of her mouth upward was quick and constant. The days when the connection of them was still there.
“Ma?” he asked, always hopeful there still existed a neuron somewhere deep within Nora that recognized his voice and could make her see him.
Nora, remained still in her chair – tiny and frail, so very alone behind the closed door that was her mind. She faced the only window that looked out on a small birch and some grass, and it seemed to melt as the rain clung to the windowpane.
Danny crossed the room to Nora and gently squeezed her shoulder to make his presence known. Her head turned slightly and he saw the suspicion in her eyes, where once love and adoration lived.
“Hi Ma,” Danny smiled. “It’s me, Danny. Your son.” And his heart ached and fell back when Nora’s eyes went vacant again, as they usually were.
It was the dinner hour and an orderly brought in a tray for Nora, nodded to Danny and was gone like a ghost on a mission of invisibility. Though Danny tried to get Nora to eat, the only thing she would open her mouth for was the tapioca. “Mmmmm,” she murmured after each spoonful and her eyes glimmered as some tapioca memory went live from the sensation of the taste in her mouth.
“You always loved your tapioca, huh Ma?” And he flashed on his own memory of being two and stuffing tapioca by the fistfuls into his mouth as a proud Nora egged him on.
“Where’s Daddy?” she asked, suddenly inhabited by her former self.
“Not here, Ma – maybe later.” There was no way to explain death to someone who doesn’t know who they are.
“Oh,” she murmured and was gone, leaving just the shell of what she was behind. They sat and watched the rain and millions of memories mimicked the millions of raindrops that tapped out a lullaby on the windowpane. Their connection had always run deep. Danny’s first memory was of her. The auburn curls he reached for. The bright blue eyes that spoke to him without words. The infectious laugh that always captured his own funny bone.
She taught him to love nature. To care for his dog, Snuffy. To cook. To say his prayers. And to always give others a second chance. Everything he knew about people he learned from her. Everything he held dear she’d given him one way or the other. What hurt Danny the most was that Nora no longer remembered the gifts she’d bestowed upon him and countless others. No longer knew the value she had given the world.
Danny came out of his reverie to find Nora asleep in her chair, snoring softly and twitching her nose. How that twitching nose had always endeared her to him, like sweet bunny rabbit entices a child.
Gently, he picked her up and marveled at her lack of weight and mass, seeming no heavier than Danny’s eight year old, Katie. With practiced care, Danny lay Nora in her bed and covered her with the thin, blue hospital blanket.
The rain continued to pummel the outside world and Danny sat with Nora a while longer – until the nurse told him it was time to go. Danny bent and kissed Nora’s forehead. “I love you, Mommy,” he whispered.
“I love you too,” Nora replied from her cocoon of sleep. And for a moment the connection re-ignited and Danny felt whole again.
Danny thanked God for that rare gift, walked out into the rain and let it join his tears.