Sunday, March 13, 2005

astounded but not speechless: decay

There's an old lady that sits near my desk at work. She's been with the company for twenty years easily, and is a section supervisor. She's dying.

She's very nice, and we tease each other a bit throughout the day. It's really light teasing... the toned down kind that you do with old people who grew up watching silent movies that would put one-line captions on the screen, expecting their viewers to read at the speed of eight-year-olds; they just didn't have room on the screen for vulgarity. When I go for coffee, she asks me what I brought back for her, and I give her the brown bag that my coffee and muffin came in... she also gets the few muffin crumbs that are sitting at the bottom of the bag. When she looks over at me, trying to hold back a smirk, asking me if I brought her anything to eat, it's like she's saying, "Rand, my body and mind are falling to pieces. I'm dying, Rand... please don't let me die."

She doesn't use a cane, but she has a pretty cool cane that folds up into three sections... it's locked up in a drawer in her desk. I've never seen her use that cane... most probably think that she has it because she's old and has arthritis on particularly cold days. I think that she has it because she knows that the day is soon coming that she won't be able to walk without it. I'm guessing that she has a walker and a lung-machine hidden in the closet... there's nothing wrong with being prepared for the inevitable.

I think that she's married... nobody wears wedding rings around here, so it's hard to pick up the details when you don't really care to ask. She's mentioned preparing dinner for 'us'... so I assume that 'us' includes a husband. Maybe he's already dead, and she still prepares him dinner so that she feels a little less lonely. Dead or not, I picture this guy resenting her long nights of weeping, seeing death coming for her.... too afraid to just end it prematurely. Really though, what's the difference between a few weeks?

I don't work long days... my time is valuable. She's here hours before I come in the morning, and stays at least an hour after I leave. You're probably thinking, "God... they're working her to death," but no, that's not what's killing her. Old age is killing her... it's eating away at her bones and curving her over. It's pricking her fiercely when her joints are pushed too far, and it's mocking her whenever she looks in the mirror... as her skin hangs loosely off of her face. The memories of her youth taunt her day and night, reminding her of how little she's accomplished, and how incapable she now is of accomplishing anything more.

She got a haircut recently; I could already see her scalp, but after a haircut, it's even more visible. When she wears long-sleeved shirts, she puts rubberbands on the sleeves, so that when she pushes them up, they stay in place; I'm guessing that she doesn't like to push her sleeves up too often. Bone grinds against bone as she bends her elbows.

"Hey, is that a new perfume you're wearing today?"
"No.... that's just the stench of my impending death."
"Hmm, smells a bit like strawberries."
"Common mistake... it's actually composed mostly of lye... it smells fruity because as you breathe it in, it's eating away at your olfactory sensors... much like the way that time is eating away at every barely functioning part of my body. I'm withering away, Rand... please... save me. Oh god, I think I just shit myself."
"Weird... your shit smells fruity too... that lye is really something."

She's a nice lady; I think I'll push her down the stairs to end her misery.