Saturday, October 21, 2006

Empire State Quiz

Question: the Empire State Building was built (a) 1919 (b) 1929 (c) 1932?

In Bea’s mind, the idea of death simply does not compute. She communicated this philosophy to me more than once today.

Around dinnertime, my mother has at last fallen silent and stares into space.

“What are you thinking about?” I ask, convinced her sadness must surely relate to end-of-life issues.

“Somebody ought to bring chocolate pudding. Chocolate pudding is what someone said they would bring.”

I fetch the dessert.

“When I get home, I’m going to make some,” Bea announces between mouthfuls and appreciative “mmm”s.

“How would you do that?”

“Look up the recipe in a cookbook.”

On my next trip back from the kitchen, Bea has become animated. What’s more, there’s company, a mysterious lady who hovers near the ceiling and will only speak if my mother is alone. Bea simply ignores her rigidity on this matter, addressing us both at once:

To me: “I have a terrific need for you.” To her: “This is my niece.” To me: “This lady and I can share talking to me.” To her: “Hello! You’re going to be able to help us.” To me: “I don’t know the name of this lady.” To her: “You tell me yours, and I’ll tell you mine …. Beatrice.” To me: “She’s been very helpful, just talking, so I didn’t feel lonely. I feel better when somebody’s near me. I don’t like to be completely alone. Nobody does. When I get to the parish, I am going to ask the minister how I can get home.” (With exasperation) “Where are the people for this lady? I’m eager to get home. I’ll have to walk home. I’d rather walk than stay here for Heaven’s sake. I’m going to miss you. I want to get home.”

“But you are home,” I intervene finally. “We live here in Wellfleet.”

“Thank you for straightening me out. What a relief! … I was born in Belleville. I remember the time my father took my sister and me to see New York. That was quite an experience. He took us up the Empire State building. I was 10. One of my legs bothers me a whole lot, and I wonder if you would be kind enough to rub it? I think it’s because I haven’t been exercising. Will I ever be glad to get out of here! …”

After the leg massage, I obtain a 1931 construction date from the Internet and let Bea know: “You couldn’t have visited the Empire State in 1919 because it wasn’t built yet.”

“How clever of you!”


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