Little girls, on the edge
by little red pen
I don’t know you, readers. I don’t know whether you want these stories, these ramblings, these slivers of an editor’s life. So this is for the maybe-not-even-real ones who do. This is for the one, or none, or some of you who think about those ladies in Southland, my grandmother and my great-aunt, and wonder how they are, how the story is spinning.
Well, it’s hard. The story is spinning slower and slower, and one day soon it will stop. Granny got a chest infection, and we thought she would die. I stayed with her for six days, sitting with her sister, Nan, holding hands, helping Granny to drink, washing her face. Nan and I talked and talked, just quietly, no rush, letting the old family stories play. It was a good time — sad and scary and lonely, but comforting too.
And we had some funny moments. Nan was talking about moving into the resthome, how she’s finding it, what she’d like to work on. She said, “I don’t know about being in here. I just feel like it’s moving me into an age bracket that I’m not quite ready to join.” She’s 99. And it’s true.
Then after three or four days of barely talking, of tiny responses, of looking on the very edge of life, Granny started to look more alert. A nurse was asking her about dinner, suggesting eggs, soup, vegetables. All Granny’s food is soft; her teeth aren’t up to chewing. “What would you like?” the nurse said, leaning over her, talking loud. Granny opened her eyes, looked straight at the nurse, and said (tartly), “Steak.” Point to you, Granny.
So that was a few weeks ago, and we know that Granny will slowly get more frail, and then maybe there’ll be another infection, and then she might not rally.
But now Nan is sick. A chest infection too. My sister and I went down yesterday, sat with them both, tried to pretend it would all be okay. But I’m scared this time, listening for the phone call, planning to go down again at the weekend. I asked the head nurse what she thought, how the story might go. She didn’t really know, of course, none of us do, apart from the inevitability of two ladies in their late 90s, with bodies that must be tough as steel, but that can’t withstand everything, for ever.
“They’re like two little girls,” she said, “standing on the edge of a pool, holding hands, wondering which of them will jump first.” How I wish they didn’t have to make that jump.