The aides wheel my chair to the window, out of their way. They say to each other, “Does she even know where she is?” They think I can’t hear. They think because I’m old and can’t talk right that I don’t have a mind. But I do. One of the nurses sets a vase of lilacs on the table next to me. “Aren’t these cheery, Betty?” She doesn’t know the torture that scent brings me.
I loved spring when I was fifteen. After school, my best friend May and I would race home through the woods, stopping at Indian Creek to look for crawdads and tadpoles, or simply to throw rocks. May liked to be near water. On the warmest days we’d strip off our shoes and socks and wade up to our shins. I’d go to May’s house for help with my homework. She got better grades than I did, especially arithmetic. She took after her father, a banker. I told her she ought to be a teacher, but she said she’d rather own a dairy farm in Wisconsin—she liked black and white cows, and have a house by a lake. May could dream. I teased her about that. I could never settle on my future. May thought that a tragedy. “Betts,” she said, “you’ll probably have a hardware store, being how you like to fix things, and a husband that looks like your dad.” We almost shared a birthday. Hers was May eighth and mine the thirteenth. I never forgot her birthday.
“Look, Betty, here’s some apple juice.” The nurse slips a straw in my mouth and I suck. She’s got blue eyes, big like May’s. Only May had black hair and small ears. I used to brush May’s hair after homework, me sitting on the couch and her on the floor, resting against my knees. “Joined at the hip,” her mother would say and offer me cookies for my walk home. One Saturday, May and I explored the old Needer place—Mr. Needer had died in November. Spring rain brought the weeds that overtook his yard and porch. May looked in the windows and imagined herself keeping house. “I’d paint the kitchen yellow and keep daisies on the table. And I’d build a garage for my car, one I’d drive.” Her mother wouldn’t dare learn. “I’ll teach you this summer,” I told May. “On Dad’s truck.” May hugged me. Her long hair smelled like rain. “Look.” May ran to Needer’s well. When she leaned over, the wind caught her flowered dress--beige with red rosebuds--showing me her petticoat and a glimpse of thigh. I came over. I touched her upper leg—I couldn’t help myself―the texture of a tender clover petal. May giggled. “That tickles.” She reached for the well bucket, tangled in rope, and yanked, but the rope wouldn’t yield. “Help me up.” She turned and held out her foot, wanting me to jimmy her. I made a stirrup out of my hands. May stepped on, leaving behind the grit from her shoe. “Be careful.” I grabbed her waist to hold her steady. May put her hands on my shoulders and peered at me. “Fussy Betts.” She pursed her lips. A pout. A tendril of her hair tickled my nose. I pulled her toward me. I’d never understood a kiss until then. Lips bypass the mind with their own notions. May pushed herself away. She looked at me a moment, puzzled, though not with anger. I let loose of her waist, afraid of what she’d say. Next thing I see are her arms, flailing, her mouth wide. Her foot hits my chin, knocking me backwards. Above, I see sky, a settling blue, and when I blink, I realize I’m too late.
“Is that sun in your eyes?” An aide pushes my chair away from the window. I move my hand, batting at air. She wheels me to a corner and faces me toward the room with its checkered tile, the endless blocks of black and white.
Lynne Whiting Robertson "Into the Light"
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