Thursday, August 10, 2006

Natasha Comes to Visit

Bea is awake and somewhat subdued. Food does not interest her today. She just lies there, staring into space. I like it better when she clamors to get out of bed. Bea has always been the belle of the ball. This new acceptance of wallflower status is disconcerting.

I tell her my dad’s cousin Natasha and husband Malcolm plan a visit later in the afternoon. Bea registers this information with a mournful smile.

“You remember Natasha, don’t you?”

She does a modified shoulder shrug. Yes? No? The meaning remains obscure. It is really not one of her better days.

Natasha and Malcolm arrive, with actress daughter Nadia in tow.

To my relief, Bea recognizes them all immediately, but it is Malcolm, standing at the end of the bed, who attracts her attention. “Are you a good husband?” Bea says straight away. At 96 ½, there is no time to work one’s way up to such a question. Bea's philosophy has changed. Now it is don’t beat around the bush, skip the small talk, just ask what you want to know.

“Sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not,” Malcolm declares, laughing. “I do my best.”

Bea smiles. She has always been fond of Malcolm, tall, tan from Wellfleet's summer sun, and handsome. I notice some of the color has returned to her cheeks. They were so pale earlier in the day.

I sit her up and lower the bedrail so Natasha can bestow one of those wonderful warm embraces of hers. The room smells of French perfume. As the guests bustle around Bea’s bed, in one magic moment, we are all transported into the past. The house rings with the excited voices of little children. Natasha distributes helium balloons, red, yellow, green, and blue. Malcolm lights the candles on a big cake, and Bea smiles, holding the hands of grandchildren Natalie and Paul, as Nadia toddles into our living room to celebrate her second birthday.

“I remember the day Aunty Bea told me Paul and I should stop thinking of each other as cousins,” Nadia confides with a wink while her dad gives Bea a kiss.

Natasha and I exchange news of our new grandbabies.

We chat about this and that. Bea does not participate but the light that sparkles in her eyes tells me how pleased she is that a real party is taking place around her bed. Unfortunately, the festivities do not last long. Natasha and Malcolm are both doctors. They do not want to wear Bea out. With many kisses and a promise to return, our guests take their leave.

Bea settles back into bed to await the next party …


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