A Novel Ending
I look out the window at the rain, listen to the thunder as it bangs louder and louder. Will this be the last storm I see? Rain in Tucson is a gift, especially today.
My son, Steve, went back to Denver. He can’t take much time off work. We’re close, but like me he’s a workaholic plus the father of two young boys who need him. When he’s here we have irrelevant conversations about basketball and politics.
We’ve never been able to communicate our feelings. That’s why I can’t tell him what weighs so heavily. I confess. I wasn’t the Ozzie and Harriet kind of mom, more like Carrie in Homeland. Good intentions, but work took priority.
I hurt. The hospice doc promised I’d never be in pain, but I hate the fog that descends when the nurse puts on a new Fentanyl patch or ups my morphine. Sometimes, I’d rather feel pain than nothing.
“Lottie,” I call. I think that’s her name. Short for Charlotte?
“What do you need Nona?” “Drugs, what else?” Lottie goes to the kitchen cabinet that has been turned into a medical supply closet. She returns to my bed, opens my night shirt and shoots morphine through the port in my chest. Checks my drip. My pain level descends from a 6 to a 2. The pain doesn’t so much disappear, it’s still there, but it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. Who made up the 1-10 pain scale? And those stupid faces.
“Anything else, something to eat? We’ve those lovely wee cookies your friend, Mary, brought over,” she said in her Irish lilt. I’d learned wee cookies could be huge.
“No thanks, not hungry.”
How lovely not to hear, “You need to eat. How are you going to get your strength back?” I’d love food especially ice cream, pie, pizza and pasta, but since the second round of chemo, nothing has taste. I’ll never get my strength back even if I eat all day long. I know it, Lottie knows it and so does everyone else. But most still bring me food ‘to help you heal’.
I wish Jenny would come. My best friend since college and one of the few realists. A bottle of wine for herself, but no supplements that are supposed to boost my immune system, no healing food, and no “Living with Cancer” or “Spiritual Healing manual” I tell the caretakers to throw in the recycle bin. I doubt they do, but as long as they aren’t in my sight I don’’t care.
I know that Jenny loves me. But she’s having a tough time with my impending death. We’re both only 54. She knows she can’t fix it by bringing me a carne asada burrito or a bowl of guacamole like she did when I had a concussion a few weeks after Steve was born. Even her signature orange scones everyone clamors for won’t work now.
Jenny’s my sister-in-law as well as my best friend. She introduced me to her brother, Nick, freshmen year. Five years later, Nick and I married. Till death due us part arrived the day after our tenth anniversary when Nick died in a car accident. I didn’t re-marry. Jenny thought it was my great love for her brother. I chose not to disillusion her.
Nick was a journalist who wrote a column syndicated in over 30 newspapers. He knew the name of every single one. I was a wannabe. After Nick died, I lived off his insurance proceeds. Took care of Steve. Jenny, alway my savior, convinced me this was the time to write the novel I’d always dreamed of. The result, Nights of Rage, chronicled the destruction of a family as the husband who narrates the story changes from lover to jailer.
“ . . . her first novel stretches literary boundaries . . .”
“. . . are the woman who can write flawlessly in a man’s voice. . .“
“. . . dysfunctional families take a dark new twist . . .”
The book became a best seller and no longer was I a wannabe.
I got three bouquets of flowers this week. Two quite lovely with mixtures of lilies, roses and exotic flowers. The other crappy carnations. One from work, one from an old friend who lives in New York City and the crappy carnations from my agent who won’t buy a cup of coffee that cost more than 99 cents. Rumor is she keeps Starbucks cups and fills them with office coffee. Thirteen cards from various friends and organizations I donate to. Lottie reads the cards to me before she leaves.
I can’t decide. Am I going to tell? Maybe it’s best the secret dies with me. I’ve stayed silent this long. I won’t be here to suffer the consequences. Will it hurt Steve? I can’t wait too long. I can handle the pain for a time when it’s 4 or below, but once it goes above that I’ll take whatever drug gives me relief. Everyday I can tell I’m losing some of myself. I’m not brave. I don’t want to suffer.
“Miss Nona, Jenny’s coming by tomorrow around ten,” says Avone, my second shift caretaker when she wakes me to take my meds. Avone is Jamaican, tall, 60 something and competent. We have a weird relationship as I’m almost always asleep when she’s on duty.
I wake the next morning tired and nauseous, but I remember Jenny’s coming. My pain rages at least a 5. A frown face? I want a pill, but I need to be coherent.
“Lottie.” I call.
“I’m here love, time for your meds.”
“I feel like shit, but Jenny is coming and I need to talk to her.”
“You can’t talk to anyone if you’re in pain. You’ve got a couple hours before she gets here.” She walks away and returns soon with a syringe.
In it goes and in seconds the relief washes over me like a warm, soft blanket.
“You want to rest and I’ll wake you at nine and make some strong tea or coffee?”
“No, I don’t … ,“ but I could feel myself sliding away. It seems only moments later when Lottie wakes me.
“I made you some special wee tea my ma used to make. I guarantee if you can get it down, you’ll be awake.”
The drink is dark, sweet and has a flavor I can’t discern.
“How about some banana bread or a cookie?”
“I’m sure Jenny will bring orange scones.” I’m not hungry and I realize eating is counter-productive. I don’t want to prolong my life. I’ll try to eat a scone for Jenny but after that. . . Once I talk to Jenny I have nothing to live for. I’m a coward and I don’t want to face the consequences. I’ve read starvation is a good way to go. I’ll keep my plan to myself. I don’t want to listen to anyone try to change my mind.
“Lottie, can you get me a clean nightgown and a mirror and a comb.”
I want to look nice. The pain meds are wearing off and it’s only a few minutes to ten. If I’m going to do this I have to do it quickly. Maybe that’s a blessing.
Lottie helps me change and combs my hair after I keep dropping the mirror. I wait. A knock at the door.
As I predicted Jenny brought a package she took into the kitchen.
“I brought you some scones. Lottie’s warming them.” She sits down on the chair next to the bed.
We exchange a few minutes of small talk. She gives me updates on the kids and some mutual friends. I try to care about what she’s saying, but I’m so tired I can barely listen.
“Jenny, there’s something I have to tell you. Something I should have told you a long time ago.” Jenny looks at me.
“It has to do with Nick.”
I start to sweat. I sink into the pillows.
“Should I call Lottie? You look like you need some medicine.”
“No. No. I have to tell you this now.”
I close my eyes. I can’t look at her. “My book was his idea.”
“You mean he suggested you write it?”
“No. More. I copied it.” I must have drifted off.
Jenny was still sitting by the bed her expression unreadable. “You plagiarized the book Nick wrote?” “Yeah. I stole it.”
“So that’s it.” She sounds sad. “Your fame started with a lie. I wondered not only could you write like a man, but a cruel, jealous, sadistic one.”
“I need Lottie.”
For a minute I thought she wouldn’t call her, but Lottie must’ve heard me.
Lottie came in with a syringe already prepared. She plunged it in. I could feel myself getting drowsy. I can’t die with this secret.
“There’s something else I should tell you.”
A Novel Ending