“Loretta, come away from that window, you can’t just stare out at your backyard all morning” the caregiver repeats for the second time in just minutes.
And why not? Loretta wonders. What else does 88-year-old woman have to do? A housebound old crony with weeping eyes, feeble heart, crippled legs and a disloyal bladder – what other wild shenanigans could I possibly get up to today?
“I got your cereal ready just the way you like it. C’mon now, it’s your special day.”
Special? Loretta can’t hide her wry smile. She grimaces just thinking of what lies ahead. She guesses it will start at lunch. Her caregiver will plunk a tissue-thin paper hat on Loretta’s head, push a zucchini cake under her nose topped with a handful of dollar-store candles that too quickly soften into waxy pools. Then she will trill “surprise” even though the cake and candles had been on the counter since yesterday. Loretta will sit, smiling in forced appreciation. She hates paper hats almost as much as she hates zucchini cake.
“Make a wish now!” she can almost hear the caregiver’s singsong plea.
Her wish? It is the same one she’s been making for over five years now, and yet here she is, facing another day. And another birthday celebrating an unwanted year. It’s not that she wants her life to end, it’s just that she’s gotten so tired of living. Life without desire, without longing, has become a burden. Wishes don’t come true, she grumbles to herself.
“Loretta, come on now, sit down – I got your pills and juice.”
Loretta doesn’t budge from the kitchen window. First thing in the morning she relishes the time to savour these short bouts of lucidity, a state that will dissolve as quickly as the medications she swallows after breakfast. If she expects to enjoy any part of this day – it is now.
“What in tarnation are you looking at? What’s so interesting in your old garden?”
Why can’t she see it? It’s a party. Loretta continues staring, watching as the morning sun, its big yellow mouth yawns wide over the shrubbery, with rays that nudge her tiny garden awake. Then the morning mist, like her finest linen tablecloth, settles over her yard.
The glistening spider webs hang like silver party streamers. Above them confetti clusters of insects buzz in anticipation. The giant heads of hydrangea and phlox become party balloons of mauve, pink and white. She waits as her heavy-headed roses, the garden’s dowager aunts, give their royal nod that the festivities can now proceed. The cicadas kazoo in unison.
She feels sad for small bevy of uninvited ditch lilies outside her garden fence. They press their petals against the gate, peering in with envy. Oh, but the butterflies, flitting like excited school girls, are too unsettled to take their seat. Loretta feels giddy too. But where were they, her special guests?
There! The squat, gold and black bursts of energy. Defying gravity, the bees hover, then lower into the delicious flower centre, slurping up the liquid punch. Oh such vivacious guests, so hungry for life. She was once like the bees, buzzing, vibrant, hungry, and yes, even productive.
Disgruntled, the caregiver nudges Loretta. “That’s enough now – it’s time for your breakfast.” Loretta lets herself be steered to the table. She sits down, staring at the cereal bowl with its buttons of cheerios floating like mini life-preservers. Oh, but she doesn’t want to be saved. She has gone to the garden party, and now it is time to go. I’ve overstayed my welcome, Loretta thinks.
“Eat it all up,” the caregiver coaxes, “and if you’re real good, who knows there might be a little surprise waiting for you.”
Loretta prays…maybe this year, my wish will come true.
By Nancy Early