by Tiffany Tzeng
Art by Jennifer Xu
Issue: Aphelion (Spring 2016)
You look peaceful lying there. Your wrinkled forehead is the smoothest it has looked in years, and there is a smile lifting the sagging skin of your cheeks. A nurse is speaking to you, but I cannot hear, only watch. You don’t try to respond; I’m not sure if you can even hear or understand her. Still, you smile a reassuring smile, as though she were on her deathbed and not you. Your eyes stray from the kind young lady sometimes, your vision drifting across the room as though looking for a friend in a crowd, but the only people in the room are you and your nurse.
I lean against the windowsill, the morning light passing through me and onto the carnations — your favorite — on the bedside table. There’s a little note next to the vase addressed to you, but you can’t read it on your own. Instead, you gaze upon the decorative watercolor birds bordering the card and wonder if you had ever flown. I remember your son frequenting your bedside, adding fresh flowers to the vase at every visit. Some of your other friends and family members come and go, but none are here today except for your loyal nurse. And me, of course, but you don’t know me yet.
I was there when you discovered your love for gardening. You were living alone, but you were never alone amongst the flowers. You relished in sinking your hands in soft, cool soil while sunlight warmed the back of your head. The bees, the ladybugs, the butterflies were your friends and you named a particularly brave hummingbird after your son. Every morning, I lay down and watched you coax seeds into sprouts into blossoms. I dozed, the fragrance settling in the air as though you had thrown a plush quilt over my noncorporeal form. I was happy, and you were happy for me, even though you didn’t realize it yet.
Today’s your son and your daughter-in-law’s forty-fifth wedding anniversary. Did you know that? I’m sorry that I made you forget, but surely you remember the beauty of the ceremony. I sat with you in the pew and shared your elation as your only child pledged his life to this lovely woman. We brushed shoulders a couple of times, once during the vows and once during the best man’s speech. I laughed when you did and cried when you did too. It’s a memory so deeply rooted that even I can’t tease it out.
You’ve met me a few times before in passing, like when you fell on the way to the bathroom and nearly broke your hip. An orderly rushed to pick you up, but not before your eyes locked with mine. Most people, when they see me, are confused, scared even. They plead, scream, cry. Some try to negotiate their way out, but it almost never works. But you simply cocked your head at me, an unasked question hanging between us. Soon, I replied. This was nearly seven years ago.
Your eyes meet mine and I wonder what you see. A child of flowers, or maybe your son. An angel, God, yourself. Whoever I am to you, your eyes soften with recognition and a name forms on your lips. Your head tilts slightly in my direction and I smile back, nodding.
Yes, it’s me. Yes, it’s time.