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Prairie Schooner 80.2 (2006) 81-92
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From the Novel Indian Dancer
Simone's first journey is to the john and the second to the pill box and the third to the porch, where the fresh disasters of the world have been tossed by a black seventh-grader with the droll nickname of Laptop, and where they lie in the comforting ritual of ten-point serif. She carries the news to the kitchen (Diallo cops acquitted, McCain on the attack, bodies of WWII airmen discovered in Icelandic glacier, thousands drown in Mozambique) and flips on the coffee pot that Lizbett readied for her last night. She leaves the news and goes back to the Florida room.
He is probably not awake. It was bad from midnight to two and four to five. For the moment pain sits in his face as an undertow. When the spasm comes again it will surge over the top of his head and under his eyebrows that are still a full tangle of bleached seagrass; it will sink into the sockets of his eyes. She strokes the foot of the bed (fancy hydraulic hospital rental) and turns to pull up the covers on her couch.
On the wall is a patchwork of frames: the photomontage of "Indian Dancer" that Hester Puig sent years ago; the studio portrait with Darla in movie star regalia, the black and white snapshots of her father fishing in hip boots, her infant self in her mother's arms; a kodachrome of Larry leaning on a balcony over Budapest.
They sold up and settled finally, as so many do, in Florida. They retired finally, as so many do, to where the grandchildren are. When Larry suggested St. Augustine, she laughed, acquiescing, "Take and read." The house is a rambling yellow clapboard on the narrow spit between the San Sebastian River and the Intracoastal Waterway. Much too much house for a pair of septuagenarians, too many dust-catching crannies, too many stairs. But it has stained glass sidelights, shade in the breakfast room, and sunset over the river. To the east, the distant pulse of surf. The bedrooms are all upstairs, so he is dying in the Florida room, which is a generous [End Page 81] rectangle of windows and overweening plants, now reconfigured for the high tech bed, the non-slip rugs, the army of plastic bottles. Little yellow squares yap out instructions from the doors and mirrors. How people died before Post-it notes she can't imagine.
The pitcher is still full because he drank nothing yesterday. Nevertheless she takes it to the kitchen and changes old water for new. Pours herself a cup of coffee, glances at "The Living Arts" (two documentaries and a docudrama on the murder of JonBenet Ramsey). Now, knuckles on the pine table, she stops briefly for a pain of her own, which is either colon cancer or diverticulitis or flatulence. The old are not hypochondriacal, they are prescient. This slicing at the ribs is heart attack, though perhaps not now. This swelling in the lymph nodes is cancer, just perhaps not here. She takes the coffee and the paper and heads back.
He's awake. His eyes follow her, and when she says, "Good morning, love," he rises to "G'm," a gift. But it has cost enough effort to make him gasp for breath. If he starts to become restless he may try to get out of bed though he is too frail to stand. He may make accusations and demands. He might claim the need to change the oil or fetch Eudora home from school. If he tries to get out of bed she won't be able to stop him or hold him up. Therefore if she must she will give him the Ativan, but not until she must, because it will make him spacey, alien. She wants him with her. She reaches under the cover to massage his calves. There is nothing there. Ten years ago – yea, six months – she knelt naked in the shower and soaped these calves in which...