Sarah was with her, walking beside the stretcher as it rolled down the hallway towards the waiting ambulance.
“I’ll follow you in, Mom. And if I get held up, Dennis or Donna will be there anyway.”
“What about Tom? Bring Tom with you when you come in.”
Sarah motioned to the paramedics to stop the gurney. The two paramedics looked away, as if they could vanish simply by breaking eye contact. She put both her hands over Helen’s hand and looked straight into her mother’s eyes.
“Mom, you know that Dad died. We’ve talked about this.”
Helen felt herself stop breathing — and then felt her breath coming rushing back into her chest, felt her eyes sting with tears.
Sarah was still rubbing her hands, still talking. “It was over six months ago. You were at the funeral, remember? We’ve been at your house almost every day, me or Donna or Dennis, since he died. He had colon cancer — you took care of him for months. Remember?”
Losing words — forgetting small things — leaving burners on while she walked around the yard. Helen knew she was doing things like that — but who didn’t? She would catch herself and then wonder all at once about how it had happened. She wasn’t careless, she wasn’t thoughtless, she just lost things sometimes.
But nothing like this.
“We’ve been through all of this, Mom.”
She couldn’t forget anything like that, could she? Surely, Helen thought, she would remember the bed empty beside her, the house empty without him. She’d remember rattling around in that familiar space with such a huge absence, wouldn’t she?
Was Sarah playing some kind of huge, insensitive practical joke on her?
The gurney started moving again, and Helen watched the cinderblock walls, pale yellow, march by and the ambulance doors approach.
“Are you sure I can’t go with her?”
“Not for a routine transport,” one of the paramedics said. “You’ll have to get back from town anyway.”
“She’s so upset.”
“We’ll take care of her.”
Helen was sobbing, watching her feet in the foreground covered in a hospital blanket. She watched the double doors close, leaving Sarah behind.
So this is what it’s like, Helen thought. This is what it’s like when everything starts to wind down around you, until you’re the only one left. I didn’t pick this, she thought. I don’t want this. Not to be the last one out of everyone she knew, the only one who keeps waking up every morning after everyone else had gone.
She began to cry harder.
The paramedic in the back next to the stretcher took her hand in his: he was wearing gloves, but she could feel the warmth of his hands. Helen kept crying.
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