The hospital’s on a barren, windswept city corner, abrupt, austere, final.
The entrance is bare bones. It greets you uncertainly: there’s no reception, just someone behind glass who quickly turns away from you when you arrive, and buzzes you in. Nowhere to ask anything, not that you know what to ask. Not even a gift shop to soften the transition from the world of the living to the world of the ill and dying.
She looks oddly beautiful, even though she’s lost weight, even though she is ninety-four and about to commence, as a someone once described it, her ‘last immigration.’
She is the last of a generation, the generation that came here on wagon carts and ships and trains, wearing numbers, or sheepskin coats, boxy suits, fedoras, or tattoos. She is the last of our archive, not that any of them ever told us much beyond how terrible it was there and how bad it was here. Much of her story will die with her. And by story I also mean recipes: her torte, her perogy dough, her mushroom sauce.
We thought there was more time, to ask the questions, to write the answers and recipes down.
We sit and talk, the daughter and I. She sleeps, mostly, her mouth open. She sleeps more and more, the daughter says. The daughter is here every day, all day. When the mother awakes, the daughter leans over her and they exchange radiant smiles. The daughter is already heartbroken, I can see this.
I am introduced, a relation, or, an intruder from an alien planet, the planet of the healthy and the living. She strains toward me, and she kisses me on the cheek. Somehow, she knows I am family and she knows to kiss me goodbye.
Back on the street, on the corner of Church and Bloor, I gasp for air, over and over and over. I will take the subway home. I will make pasta for dinner. I will watch TV, hours of it.
The next day, I will visit a friend and her new baby. The baby sleeps more and more, says the new mom. When the baby awakes, it makes eye contact, appraises me steadily, its mouth a tiny, delicate O.