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2013-11-23 - 8:39 p.m.

caregiver

he's in a hospital bed, and when i arrive in the afternoons, one or the other of them is snuggled down beside him. sometimes, he's resting alone and they are curled up together like kittens on the couch. "hi mignonne," i say. "hi there, nora."

nora is sharp and razor-thin, implacably pedantic; the sort of person to whom i am often drawn. mignonne is somewhat scattered, a little dotty. if she has a few glasses of wine, she might try a high kick from her showgirl days. her kohl-penciled cat eyes are sometimes lopsided, and there is almost always lipstick on her teeth.

she is almost always smiling, but her eyes are sometimes very far away.

mignonne calls nora "bitsy;" the pair of them are her bits and bobs. "if i don't know and you don't know, and you don't know and i don't know, do you know?" she says, smiling singsong. nora's face is very still, like a mask.

in the bed, bob is a quiet cipher. "those are my girls," he whispers. "aren't i a lucky fella?"

illness makes the world grow very small. nora prepares a meal for bob and mignonne, but she forgets to eat anything herself. if i offer her something, she will take a distracted bite or two, and then put it down. i hand it to her again, as often as i notice. one evening, i catch her in the darkened room untangling bob from his oxygen tube and helping him with a cigar. she looks at me like a predator, a force of nature. i look away.

another evening, i hear the shower running, a little whoop and some laughter. mignonne and nora come downstairs with wet hair and faces flushed. "my girls," breathes bob, "i'm such...a lucky fella." i am supposed to be cleaning, but i read to him from the dorothy baker i brought in my bookbag, one chapter and then another. i stay until he is asleep, finishing long past my hours.

nora says, "you're like a breath of fresh air in this house - the agency usually sends us such idiots as you wouldn't believe."

"i'd probably believe it," i reply, putting on my jacket. inside, i feel as if my heart is bursting.

i try to figure it out. bob and nora look a lot alike, but that might just be an artifact of extreme thinness and similar spectacles, center-parted hair, the way they turn toward mignonne as if she were the warm and radiant sun. mignonne and bob share a surname. nora is some twenty years younger than the other two. this house is very bright and spare, just two women and a dying man.

one evening, nora perches on the counter and lights a cigarette. "minnie won't last long once he's gone," she says abruptly. "every goddamn day, she slips a little farther."

i keep my face toward the dishes in the sink. "what will you do then?' i ask.

"oh, i'll sell the house, probably move back west. i have a friend living in burbank."

i smile. "that's my plan, too - a friend in burbank, but i'll only stay with him if he quits smoking."

"you're married, though, right," she says. it might be a question.

"right," i answer, and after a beat, "hey...the three of you here, together?"

she looks at me, and i think she is really seeing me for the very first time. her face crinkles. "kid," she deadpans, "you'll find out when you're older." she hops off the counter with a little breathy noise that might be a chuckle and pads out of the room. i finish the dishes slowly, and then i shut off the lights.

* * *


reading: dorothy baker, cassandra at the wedding. i really like this book - i've read it before and I will surely read it again.
listening to: late-season crickets and distant trains.
working on: making things that no one actually needs.
in the garden: there are two little pomegranates remaining on the bush. i should remember to pick them soon.


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