I tried to picture Rose, picking at my memory. Immediately: a mischievous smile, batting her eyes as if she was getting away with something, which she often did. Feeding me when I visited, any time of day. 40 years of ham and cheese sandwiches, chips and orange juice, maybe some coke? (meaning pepsi) a banana? Do you want more? Sitting and watching Carl Sagan on her television. Playing my first Nintendo game. Her grasping hug when I'd leave, demanding to tell her when I'd be back. Slipping me $20 as if tipping me for my love. Her strength, her anger, her sassy pout. A stunted spitfire of a woman. For the last few years she has been trapped in a dysfunctional body with a dysfunctional brain, more shrunken, more weary, losing herself to a pathology she could feel but not comprehend. Now she is free again.
I looked at my companion, hunched to the wind and rain, jittery. Was she proving her grit? With her stare she made it clear that she wasn't leaving soon. I turned back to my meal, the food no longer filling the hollowness welling inside me. The loss of a person. The loss of a person. A few years ago we watched a restored home video together. There was my father, my aunt and my uncle as teenagers, with other family members I've never met, all dressed in what constituted formalwear in 1968. Rose is flitting from table to table, a smile here, an infectious laugh there, obvious even without the sound. The age-etched film cannot mask the twinkle of her eyes. Then a video made at Universal Studios, tourists acting out an emergency medical scene. There she is, standing off to the side, incapable of keeping a straight face when the camera frame rolls past her. Then a musical show at the VFW, Rose playing a trollop chased by drunken ex-reservists, their vaudeville desire masking darker intention. She loved the drama. She loved the attention. Past tense. I realized that death would be more common in the next 40 years than the last.
The rain picked up, it was time to go. I turned to my companion but she wasn't there. I looked for her below the bench, in the trees, among the ivy, in the sky, but she was gone. She was gone.