A handful of times before her sons came to box up her things, I let myself into her room with the master key and ate cookies from the jars her Greek friends brought her that she would pawn off on me to make it look like she’d eaten them. I don’t go into her room often lately but the door was open a crack today. I sat on the standard-issue adjustable bed that had been her life as I’d known it. Nothing was there now that had been hers. But- inhaling, I caught her faint human scent, the primitive pheromones underneath the lotions and shampoos. Somehow the cleaning and painting hadn’t completely stripped the room of this. For a few moments she was in the room with me.
I saw the smirk on her face when the charge nurse introduced me to her by saying to her, ”She’s new”, her expression more eloquent than words. I heard her comment scathingly to me months later about the workstaff, in her high-pitched Charleston drawl. I remembered her moans of pain as we drained the pleura surrounding her lungs. I remembered her offering me Zinfandel on a day I’d lost my keys after a shift. I remembered how some nights I’d bring her oxycodone and stay to watch old movies. Once I pointed to an actress on the tv screen and said, “That woman looks like my ex.” “Your…. ex?” “Yup.” That was how I outted myself to her. I remembered arranging her tiny limbs so that her children would believe that her last moments had been those of repose.
I have nothing of hers save the magnet with her name on it that marked her case of medications. Often when someone I am close to dies I manage to make a copy of a picture they owned from a happier time, but her room had no personal effects- closetfuls of clothing, unopened presents in their gift wrap, toiletries, yes, but no albums, no pictures hanging. I don’t want the photo we kept of her for her medical records because she’s lying down in it, and it makes me think of how she looked the last hellish evening. But I have the magnet, and memories of her Less Bad days. And for a while her smell.