Something Like the Resurrection
The day was too hot; the muffins that Jeffrey’s Chinese wife had taken so long to bring back were stale; a dead spider dangled from a scrap of web in the corner of the ceiling; one of Denny’s boys had spilled grape juice on the white carpet; Cynthia kept talking on and on about the latest man who did not love her; Father Patrick, who usually said Mass on TV, had been mysteriously absent, replaced by the nasal Father Roland, and she, Agnes, was dying. Clumps of proteins had infiltrated her heart, replacing the muscle, and now the whole thing was enlarged, lopsided, struggling. The diagnosis was cardiac amyloidosis or “stiff heart syndrome,” a name that had made Cynthia snort with amusement through her tears when Agnes broke the news. The doctors told Agnes the proteins were the reason she was up and down to pee a thousand times a night and why her ankles had gotten so fat. She was short of breath, too, and always tired, but she had thought that was just because she was old.

Her children had more or less rushed to her side, except Jeffrey had tried to delay because of a business meeting. After all, he said, the doctors gave her a year. She wasn’t going to die tomorrow. “They said up to a year,” she told him. “I could very well die tomorrow, but then at least you won’t miss your meeting, which is the important thing.”

“Fine,” he said. “I’ll see if they’ll do a conference call instead. Even though the reception up there is crap.”

So her three children—Jeffrey, Denny, and Cynthia—packed up her eight grandchildren and flew from New York and Colorado and Florida, working their way up to the north woods, to the house on Lake Michigan where Agnes spent her days reclining on her blue davenport, watching the water out the window and listening to the television. Carlotta came in the mornings to help around the house and remind her to take her pills. “Your ankles will only get fatter if you don’t take them,” Carlotta said when Agnes pretended not to see the tablets, sized for horses, on the edge of her breakfast tray. In a few months she would need a full-time nurse but not yet. Having Carlotta do the dishes and cook and clean—why had Carlotta missed the dead spider? it was hanging there plain as day—was enough for now. Perhaps, too, in a few months she would not be able to go into town on Sundays for Mass, and one of the deacons would have to bring Communion out to her, a consecrated Meal on Wheels. But for now she could still go, chauffeured by her friends the O’Conners, and on the other days she watched Mass on TV with the volume up loud enough for Carlotta to hear wherever she was in the house. Denny had watched with her this morning and endured Father Roland, but now he was out by the lake with the rest of them.

When, also in the morning, Jeffrey’s wife had offered the wrinkled white bag of muffins, Agnes had peered through the opening and said, “Well, what are they?”

“All different kinds,” said Mildred. Mildred. One of those names immigrants gave their children.

“Any zucchini?”

Mildred hesitated, looking at the bag. “I don’t think they had zucchini.”

“This will have to do, then,” Agnes said, choosing a blueberry muffin. “Whatever it is.”

Hours later the muffin still sat on a plate on the coffee table, untouched except for the small chunk she had sampled from its dome. Her bathrobe, the white one that zipped up the front, was hot and itchy, but she could not bear the trouble of changing. The grandchildren were down on the beach, digging in the sand and sorting through the rocks while their parents lounged on the sunny dock: Jeffrey and Mildred, Denny and Pam, and Cynthia in a too-skimpy bikini. Brandon, Cynthia’s son fathered by God-only-knew-who, was lashing the cedars with a jump rope. Cynthia maintained that the conception had been an accident, but Agnes didn’t believe a word. The year before she got pregnant, all Cynthia could talk about was her impending infertility.
Photo © iStock / Bastar

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