The picture of a woman with forefinger to her lips greets me as I enter Cedar Crest Nursing Facility. Rays of sunshine slant through the dim reception area. A woman at the desk whispers for me to sign in. Behind her is a duplicate picture of the shusher at the front door. I write my name, mimic the discreet tone, and ask for Room 40.
Quiet permeates the hallway. Residents in wheelchairs or walkers congregate in doorways and near the nurses’ station. A few of the residents make low, unobtrusive noises. Air freshener—intended to mask old age, sickness, and death—screeches from the corners like a badly tuned violin.
My first and longest writing partner lies in her bed at the end of the long corridor. She is dying.
The silence in her room is broken only by a nearly inaudible whirr of a machine next to her bed. When I approach her, she doesn’t open her eyes. Frequent doses of morphine provide a buffer against the pain.
And, the drug suppresses her tendency to shatter the silence with non-stop Wagnerian arias. She loves opera almost more than she loves reading and writing.
Close to ninety, she has written often about death—usually about the Holocaust. Escaping to England as a young child, she grew up safe. But death haunted her lovely stories.
“I do hope,” she said, paraphrasing Dylan Thomas more than once, “that I can go gentle into that long night.”
Long night versus good night, I reckon. She came to Cedar Crest more than a month ago--long enough to transfer to another room. She clings to no false hopes of recovery. Time, however, is stretching out too long.
As if reading my mind, she opens her eyes and smiles, asking without a segue, “Have you read Jane Austen, The Secret Radical”?
This question reflects how so many of our writing sessions began that I’m caught off guard. Before I can answer, the morphine claims her again. She's gone to a temporary place of silence, where I hope she remembers she lived a good, long, gentle life.
AB Plum lives and writes in the shadow of Google in Silicon Valley. She is currently working on a light paranormal trilogy. WEIRd MAgIC features witches and warlocks. No vamps, weres, or zombies.