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24 THE MINNESOTA REVIEW MARCIA BLUMENTHAL PASTURES WHITE WITH CLOVER Every night at bedtime, after the nurse has dried Azure and tried to quiet Indigo and given Cobalt her morphine, I repeat to myself instead of a prayer this reassuring definition learned long ago: "Not dependent on food from the soil, a bromeliad is a free plant living on nothing at all: sunshine, dew, wind—its soul nourished by the music of spider webs vibrating in its leaves. The pineapple is a bromeliad; so are the air ferns. So is the Vriesea imperialis, tall as a man, anchored for balance in sand and filled with twelve gallons of rainwater that supports algae, plankton, wigglers, and a few small fishes—a magnificent, spike-leafed plant that harbors life within." I am Vriesea imperialis. For years I have been keeping this incongruity to myself. I do not wish others to turn aside, embarrassed. The person they see now with the necklaces of chins, the cobwebs of hair, the legs keglike with dropsy is an accident. They might laugh at the disparity between my body and my self but their bodies are accidents too and they will someday be in a nursing home, just as I am, too frightened to escape the wheelchair and too restless to endure it. They too will cling to a chosen self. One must, to avoid becoming like the rest. Who could bear to be an Azure, whose only individuality is her odor, or an Indigo, now and forever screeching to die in such a repellent voice that she puts off Death himself? I hear her every time I wheel past our room in my rounds of the Home; today her "Owwww" is pitched a little higher than usual. When I was a girl, choices of identity were limited. My female family members were either the caretakers or the cared-for—either earth around roots or plants rooted in earth. Not one of them simply stood on her own two feet. They were clay, humus, clod, clot—or they were fir, fern or pine. There wasn't a mountain goat in the bunch and I am the only Bromeliad to come from the family. My sister was a Venus flytrap aiming to become a shark, but she BLUMENTHAL 25 died young, God rest her soul. My spiky leaves, my fishes, my anchoring roots like toes curled in the sand: this comfortable identity becomes all the more precious as other values disappear: home, health, friends, and now, worst of all losses, the mental acuity that gave my character its bite. It's true—my mind is slipping—one blood vessel at a time; I feel a ''ping" in my head and the date of my husband's death is gone. A ping, a blank spot, a chapter gone—and sometimes the index altered so that I don't even miss what I've lost. But I'll not dwell on that. I'm far more acute than anyone else here. Wasn't I picked over Rainbow to be the Girl Scout Grandmother ? There has to be a reason. It's because one's chosen identity dictates one's development and behavior. Sister Flytrap wouldn't have been picked as a Grandmother either. It does seem, however, that my being here amongst the caretakers and the cared-for is an uncomfortable irony. I do not fit, yet this is the place for me. Actually, I belong. . . Well, there hasn't really been a place designed yet that would suit me. The physical environment, for instance, is depressing: wipeclean furniture in the lounge, non-slip floors and guard rails, a sling-and-hoist to ease the helpless into the bath, the odor of Air Wick chasing the odor of urine. And the intellectual environment is even worse. Our nurses, always promoting a facade of cheerfulness, use on us, their elders, that tone of cajoling enthusiasm used on children. "Let's have our bath now, dearie," they say, or worse, "Let's sit on the potty." No one here objects; these old women want to be treated like children; they yearn only to be taken care of. Except me. I am not...


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