You’re small, pale, and tangled in tubes and lines. I sit by your side, my forehead pressed against the bed’s guard rail. I ask if there’s anything you want to share—worries, wishes. Monitors beep and ping. The hospital room is as white as the world to come.
You touch your bald head distractedly and say no, that’s all you think about when you’re alone. So, we talk about the secret to making good shakshuka, the floral bed sheets you’ve chosen from the IKEA catalogue, a story you’re writing. You have the first line: My husband built me a room to die in.
You’ve always had a knack for openers. But your endings, well, sometimes they close too neatly, tied up with a bow, like the story that ended, “Of course, it was a sailor all those years ago!” Other times, they hang wide open—and wanting. A woman driving down Route 70 faces a choice between returning to her husband and absconding with a stranger. It ends: “Marsha drove on.”
In the hospital room, sun glares through the naked window pane. The smell of disinfectant cuts the air. You lick dry lips and I pass you a balm stick. Your roommate behind the curtain moans, and I’m reminded of how calm and composed you are in the face of your own suffering. At the same time, I’m troubled. You’re dying and we haven’t spoken of it. We haven’t even begun to say goodbye.
Once, during one of our many conversations about writing, we discussed crafting a good ending. We thought our attempts at closure were forced and rang false. On the other hand, a failure to push towards resolution seemed like an abdication of responsibility. Endings are hard to get right, we agreed. We wondered if it was okay to just stop. The characters would, in any case, ramble on.
Still, I hoped for a proper end to our story. Something along the lines of the sailor all those years ago. You’d say I’d been a faithful friend. I’d tell you how much I loved you. I’d offer to publish your stories when you’re gone.
You come home to the room your husband built for you to die in, to your IKEA sheets—fields of orange and purple petunias. The last time I see you, we speak about your daughter’s plan to study design, Sally Rooney’s Normal People, and the astonishing number of pomelos on your tree. When you’re too weak to converse, I arrange the pillows and pull the blanket to your chin.
Miriam Mandel Levi is a writer and editor living in Israel. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction’s anthology, Same Time Next Week, Brain, Child, Literary Mama, Under the Sun, Poetica, bioStories, Sleet, Tablet, Blue Lyra, Chautauqua, Random Sample, Sky Island, and is pending in Persimmon Tree and MoonPark Review.
This is extraordinary! Will read it again, and then one more time.