Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mama Bear

The old White woman spent her days shuffling about the hallways of the retirement facility. She was tall, and her face was wrinkled with lumps of loose skin hanging over her eyes and around her mouth, giving her a permanent unhappy expression. Gravity clung to the folds of skin on her face like a damsel in distress dangling off of a mountain cliff, desperately trying to hold on. The old woman carried a worn-out teddy bear in her arms. Sometimes she sang to it, sometimes she whispered to it, but the deaf, dumb, mute toy was always with her.

"She thinks it's her baby," the head nurse had told me. "Many years ago she lost her husband to cancer. A year later, she lost her only child, a grown son, to cancer also. She's been this way since."

Today the old woman sat on a wicker bench under a window. The autumn sun dully lit up her short faded red hair into a grubby halo. Her synthetic peach suit covered her arthiritic frame as her hands, bloated, with age spots and swollen blue veins, gently stroked the teddy bear in her lap. I sat down beside her.

"I like your baby," I said.

She looked at me, and what was visible of her eyes lit up under her droopy eyebrows. I smiled as she told me about how well-behaved her baby had been all day and that cancer is a terrible, terrible disease.

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