Emma settled into the white chaise in the corner between the two windows in her upstairs studio. She pulled out the big sketchpad I had bought her for her 90th birthday. With pencil she began sketching the figure of a woman. That was in 2005. She never finished it. I still have it. I have saved it as is.
Around that time, I gave her The DaVinci Code to read. She read it and when I asked her how she liked it, she said she liked it but it was hard to follow. It is hard to follow, I thought, keeping track of all the codes and clues, and because she was 90, I just figured it would be harder for her to follow than for me.
She subscribed to daily newspaper delivery, and every day she would sit on the couch in the living room, by the window, and do the crossword. In time, I noticed she wasn’t filling in all the boxes as she used to. Then, one day she set the paper aside and didn’t do the puzzle. I asked her, “Aren’t you going to do your crossword puzzle today?” “No,” she said. She didn’t do it the next day or the next day or the next or ever after. I think that was around the time I noticed that she was struggling with arithmetic figures – which she was always very good at — and paying the bills, and that’s when she told me she thought she had forgotten to pay the mortgage the month before.
I was working full-time. My job sometimes required me to work late. I would always phone her to let her know I would be late, yet she would be angry when I walked in the door and give me the cold shoulder. In the past, she would have been understanding.
One cloudy night I came home and she was standing at the window at the top of the back stairs looking out across the trees. “I’m worried,” she said. “There’s something going on, something wrong. The sky’s all orange.” “That’s the city lights reflecting off the clouds,” I reassured her. She wasn’t completely convinced.
She was no longer driving, because her white Caddy needed expensive repairs and we sold it. My brother sold us his ’92 red Chevy Lumina Z-34. He had bought the car for himself, and had over $3,000 worth of work done on it, including upgrading the computer. It was a hot car. But then he was given a company car, so he didn’t need it. Emma didn’t like to drive the “Red Racer”, as we called it; she preferred her Caddy. Besides, she couldn’t go anywhere while I was at work, because I had the car. I was out getting speeding tickets. One time, on a residential city street, a motorcycle cop popped out from behind a bush like he was hatched there. I caught my tongue just before blurting, “Oh! Where did you come from?” I learned to use cruise control every place I’d go.
Further cutting Emma off from the world was her inability to hear much. She had become hard of hearing about 10 years earlier and had a hearing aid for each ear. Then our dog, Jetta, chewed up one when she was a puppy, and somehow the other stopped working. When I asked her if she wanted to replace them, she said no. That should have signified to me that she wasn’t thinking clearly; but then, sometimes she’d do something that my brother and I considered screwy like that.
There was the time back in the early 1950s before our parents got divorced when she was frying French fries in a deep pot of oil on the kitchen stove while standing on a ladder painting a mural on the bathroom wall at the other end of the house. The French fries caught fire. I was in the living room. Through the dining room I saw smoke and the reflection of flames flickering on the open swinging door between the kitchen and dining room. I ran and told Emma and then raced outside, running between the front door and the back door of our little ranch-style house. Just then Daddy came home from work. “Daddy! Daddy! The fire … the pot’s on fire!” I yelled. I was frantic. Daddy rushed in, put the lid on the pot and carried it out the kitchen door to the back yard, away from the house. It could have exploded in his face.
Well, we were all safe and there was no damage to the kitchen. The painting was beautiful, a tropical scene in bright, tropical colors – green palms, pink flamingos, blue water…. The people who bought our house after our parents’ divorce were fortunate to receive such an exquisite wall mural.
Now, as I sit at my keyboard, I have such an odd feeling, one that I cannot describe, as I collect Emma’s paintings in my computer file folder to upload to her gallery here. She has nothing to do with this. She does not know. Would she like it that I am displaying her artwork on our Internet gallery? I hope so. She had offered them for sale when she lived in Florida. She had painted many as gifts for each of her friends. She painted a single deep pink rose and gave it to me. She loves roses and all flowers and always maintained a color-coordinated by-season flower garden.
Presently she is so weak. Her body is gradually shutting down. She is done here – done admiring the flowers, done drawing her paintings, done planting her garden.
Now it is up to me to carry on. She no longer cares. What does it all mean? When will I no longer care? What should we care about? And what should we not, what need we not worry about, or concern ourselves about?