A Short Story by Suzanne Comer
“Miss Marianne, Miss Marianne—Miss Gerrie is dying,” Felicia says, out of breath, as she bursts through my half-open door without knocking.
“Whoa, hold on, what do you mean? We know she’s near the end. Hospice comes in to see her every day now.” I reassure, as I set my coffee cup in its saucer, move my newspaper over, and push away some administrative documents in need of my signature.
“Lord—Honey, you know I can’t stay in a room with no one so close to passing over.” Falincia is standing square in front of my desk. Her designer scrubs are starched and ironed with a crease. Deep furrows separate her eye brows. Her feet are spread apart. She is swaying side-to-side like a kid wading through a mud puddle wearing a pair of galoshes three sizes too big. From her stylish up-do hang two black braids that swing to-and-fro like up-side-down miniature metronomes, keeping the beat.
“What happened, she was fine an hour ago?” I question. It’s my way of buying time until I can figure things out. No need to rush to judgement.
“You see, Miss Gerrie says the Lord is in her room, over in the corner, and she thinks she sees me too over there with Jesus. She believes I’m a saint! Lord knows, I ain’t no saint. You know that about me. I try to be a good person, but I ain’t no saint.
“Maybe she wants to compliment you. Did you help her with something special? Possibly, it’s her way of bragging on you—saying thank you.” I suggest.
“No, Ma’am, nothin’ special; all I do is helps her dress and do her shower. I folds her clothes, and do her toileting and all. You know I try to be a good caregiver, but I can’t help her pass.” She stops swaying and gets a couple of Hershey’s Kisses out of my candy dish, knowing chocolate is the best elixir for relieving stress—that’s why it’s there. Then she continues, “Miss Gerri says Jesus has come to take her home, and I’m the saint he’s sent to help her pass on over. You know me, Miss Marianne. I ain’t lyin’.” Afraid of what I might say next, she places her hands at the sides of her face in dismay. Her mouth, full of chocolate, is ajar.
“Let’s go to her room and see.” I suggest.
“You go, Miss Marianne! I done told you, I ain’t goin’ into Miss Gerrie’s room ‘less I have to. Because I can’t see what she sees!”
I get up, move away from my desk, and walk through the door. “What are you scared of?” I ask.
“Oh, Lordy. What if He really is there and I am a saint—at least right then—and He takes me along with Miss Gerrie to help her pass over. I don’t wanta pass TOO!”
My administrator’s second sense tells me it’s time to let Falencia be. “Ok, I’ll go check on her myself.” I suggest. “Why don’t you go work in the laundry-room for a while.” Moments later, I press the code on the key pad to enter Memory Lane, the dementia unit. I watch to make sure no one escapes, then saunter toward 410—Miss Gerrie’s room.
“Good morning Gerrie. You look chipper this morning.” I exaggerate.
“Oh, cut the crap, will ya! I look like warmed over death because that’s what a ninety-eight year old women looks like. Now tell me, what’s the boss coming around here so early for?” Gerri quips.
I’ve known Gerri for eons so I get straight to the point because that’s what she appreciates about me. “Gerrie, has Jesus given you a visit lately?”
“Hell no, has he you?” She’s adamant.
“He does come around here every now and then.” I remind.
“Oh, now you’re beginning to sound like that pious ol’ hospice chaplain, soooo comforting!” Gerri dramatizes.
“Did you tell Falincia that Jesus was in you room, and you were about to die?” I refresh her ninety-eight-year-old selective memory.
“Oh, that!” Gerrie understands.
“Yes, that! She thinks you’re hallucinating. She thinks you see her as a saint.”
Gerrie’s brown eyes twinkle and she smiles a knowing smile. She holds up a knotty index finger and points up. “Yes, that girl is a saint. She was telling me how sometimes her husband treats her with disrespect. I told her she shouldn’t have to live that way, because she’s a wonderful young lady; so helpful, kind, and sincere. She feeds me when I’m hungry, gives me something to drink when I’m thirsty, and wipes my ass when I shit.”
“Yes, she does,” I agree with a chuckle.
“I can see her heart. It’s a caregiver’s heart, a consecrated heart.” She stops and thrusts her right hand into the pocket of her worn pink house dress. Retrieving a wadded-up Kleenex, she wipes her nose for no apparent reason, and then continues. “Yes, she is a saint. And yes, I am dying—but not today!”
I stand there and ponder Gerrie’s lucid moment for a while. Then I say, “You’re right. She works hard and needs your encouragement. So keep up your good work because—Falincia said it best. She can’t see what you see.”
There’s knocking on the door, then Falencia peeks in. Her eyes meet mine, and I give her the nod. The one that says everything is okay. See takes her cue and scurries past me—all smiles. “Hi, Miss Gerrie, looks like you are feelin’ better now. You ready for me to do your nails?”
“Yes, darlin. I want hot pink today— to match my dress.”
I get up to leave, my mission accomplished. I pull the door open and turn to look back at the two. While Falencia is busy digging through her manicure kit, Gerri looks up and gives me a discreet wink as a bright smile dawns over her face.