Doris couldn’t remember how she got dressed in the morning. She couldn’t remember much of anything really. Maybe it was her irregular heartbeat, or shallow breath that brought her no oxygen, her brain drying in a barren pool of sand. Maybe it was some chromosome that refused to link or some vital chemical reaction that suddenly stopped. It didn’t matter. She was old, frail, and almost alone, and nothing changed that.
“I hope this is a nursing home because it could be a loony bin,” she would often croak as she sat across the dayroom table from Bonn, my great uncle. He had dementia, and read Garfield books all day waiting for me to come and bring him dinner. Doris liked him and often passed him her cafeteria desserts. The concoctions were disgusting, runny rice pudding or arid spongecake usually. Still, I think it was a gesture of affection.
Uncle Bonn had an ephemeral fringe of brilliant white hair and a long, full grandfather beard. His blue gray eyes would look around in wonder because everything was always new to him, everything fresh. His memory was erased every day except for memories of Doris. He would sit in his wheelchair while she endlessly braided and unbraided his hair smiling and talking about times long ago that were fading fast. They held hands like children.
One Friday evening I came in with a bag of Kentucky Fried Chicken. I had taken all the meat off the bones and puréed it so he could eat it. I also had a glazed donut for Doris. She told me that it saddened her when the Krispy Kreme Donut Shop on 8th Street shut down. Her tiny studio apartment had been on lower Fifth Avenue, and she sat in the shop a lot. I think it was where she and her old friends would gather for morning coffee. I put the bag of food down on the table. Uncle Bonn looked up at me, his quick eyes slow and worried hands shaking.
“They took Doris this morning,” Jacinta, the nursing assistant in charge of the day room said from behind me. “She died very suddenly. Mr Bonn was being taken to the dayroom when they escorted the body out.”
“Oh no. Did he know it was Doris?” I asked as I bent over and kissed Uncle Bonn’s head, trying to comfort him like a parent to a child.
“Oh yes, he know,” she said in her matter-of-fact island accent.
I hugged him and bent my knees to be on his level. Worry and grief crawled across his face one after the other.
He grabbed my hand and put it on his chest over his own frail, slow beating heart. “I have a bruise right here,” he whispered.
“Of course you do. Doris was a good friend and now her time is done.”
“I do. I do have a bruise!” he was beginning to get agitated, his voice rising. He flailed his arms.
“Okay. Alright. Uncle Bonn! Calm down and let me look.” I hoped to avoid a scene in the day room. I lifted his shirt and there on his chest was a bruise, sepia toned, and shaded perfectly in the likeness of Doris’s face.