by Mikki Aronoff
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” my aunt whispers, one hand stroking the mauve chenille bedspread handed down from her grandmother to her mother to her. It’s fading more with each purpled breath she takes. Her other hand sinks into the scruff of her border collie, Rosie, stretched out along her side. “But I thought the footsteps would be deeper.” Nothing to say to that, so I’m quiet, watch for the breathing changes the nurse prepared me for.
Yesterday my aunt talked a blue streak. “The day I got my first job and plunked down a tenner at the shelter for some old mutt, the thermometer broke a hundred and three people died. Two of them were waltzing.” She said all that without stopping. That’s the kind of story I’ve been listening to for three months now. The kind that just asks for a nod and a hand pat and a referral to a visiting nurse. But somewhere buried in that whoosh of words I knew I’d better bring Rosie next visit. Rosie’s been staying with me.
The dark curtains in the room are forever pulled shut against the light that hurts my aunt’s eyes. Still, I watch the chenille change from mauve to lilac. My cell phone breaks a long quiet, tinkles an email download like fairy music. “Another angel got its wings!” laughs my cousin Larry. More of a snort, really. He’s fidgeting in a folding chair squeezed into the corner farthest from my aunt’s bed, looking anywhere but at her. I decide to be grateful he’s there at all. I don’t like to leave her alone, and I need to pee and grab another soda. It’s really just down to me here. I do my business, get back, and it seems Larry’s already made his excuses, though I don’t know to whom.
I flip through two tea-stained People magazines and a dog-eared Popular Mechanics, then take Rosie out for a run. When we get back, the bedspread turns a dusty rose. Rosie jumps up and settles next to my aunt, and the chaplain enters the room with a guitar. I’m not in the mood and I can’t imagine my aunt cares one way or another. Rosie’s growling, so I suggest he might like to visit the woman across the hall. Yesterday was Harp Day, and that was something to deal with.
The evening news comes on, and my favorite nurse is on shift. She just listens and doesn’t talk much. She comes in, does just that. After a few minutes, she says, “Soon” and squeezes my hand.
I feed Rosie and take her for a quick walk, then brush my teeth and pull out the cot for the night. At dawn, Rosie’s paw is on my chest, and she’s whining. I glance up at the hospital bed. The chenille spread, now a pasty white, has wrapped itself around my aunt’s body.
The morning nurse brings a large bowl of water with lavender picked from the garden floating on top. She hands me a washrag. We peel off the chenille and cleanse my aunt from her chipped red toenail polish to the dyed red hair on her head. Two men come to take her away. I grab a Sunset and take Rosie home.
Mikki Aronoff’s work appears in The Ekphrastic Review, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Intima, Thimble Literary Magazine, London Reader, SurVision, Rogue Agent, Popshot Quarterly, The South Shore Review, The Fortnightly Review, Feral, The Phare, Sledgehammer Lit, Flash Boulevard, New World Writing, The Disappointed Housewife, Tiny Molecules, Potato Soup Journal, and elsewhere. Her stories and poems have received Pushcart and Best Microfiction nominations.