By John Thomas Tuft

I was on my way to apologize to a dead woman. Driving up Ohio River Boulevard toward the Divine Providence Nursing Center in Beaver Falls, PA, converted from the very hospital where I had been born, I reviewed what had transpired the week before. Andrea, age 62, would have been my son’s kindergarten teacher were it not for the cancer ravaging her organs. Her only child, 32 year old Sonny, had discovered her crawling up the street at 3 am, bleeding, screaming, crying that he wanted her dead. I showed up at her admission, noting her disheveled appearance, snarling demeanor at her son and staff, and promptly decided he’d made the right decision. Now I needed to apologize. The assessment determined that he’d been overmedicating her, leaving her disoriented, crazed, and above all filled with fear.

The woman who greeted me on this visit was calm, collected, smiling. “Preacher, how good of you to come. Here have some of this candy my friend brought me.” (Okay, I might have a reputation for a sweet tooth.) I pulled up a chair and as we talked, she told me, “I don’t know what to do with Sonny. Henry and I gave him everything we could. His education, his first apartment, welcomed his wife even though she’s a bit strange.” She fussed with the pink silk ribbon holding her hair off her face. “All I have for him is my money. Isn’t that sad, Preacher?” She brightened. “But they say I can go home now and have a private nurse. I miss my house. Henry and I built it. I do miss him so.” She grew quiet. Fidgeted with the threads of the blanket. “Preacher, do you know what I want more than anything?” Big breath, a trembling sigh. “That just one time, before I die, that Sonny would look at me and say, ‘I love you. Mother, I love you’. That’s all I want.” Silent tears coursed down her cheeks.

Weeks later I stood at the front door of a large house, signs of neglect showing in the flower gardens that ringed it. I was bringing her communion.  For the last time. My knock was answered by the sound of running paws and a loud thump that made the door shudder. A tall, large woman in a nurse’s outfit opened the door and glowered. “Who might you be?” After ascertaining my credentials, she let me in. A large, panting Doberman pinned me to the spot with a fierce glare. “Mrs. Beeges!” The nurses stern voice penetrated the dog’s protective instinct. “Stay!” Both the dog and I trembled. Mrs. Beeges finally turned and loped down the hallway. Andrea’s room was filled with flowers. Everywhere. Of all kinds. “Preacher! You came. Make some room. Isn’t this glorious?”

As I prepared the meal fit for the royalty of the meek, and uttered the ancient words that touch the ultimate, a summer storm broke. Thunder crashed and rain pelted the windows. I made a move to close them. “No, let them be, Preacher. Listen to that rain.” So together we watched the leaves of the bushes dance in timeless rhythm. “Sonny barely speaks to me. He comes in…Mrs. Beeges growls at him…and stands down there at the foot of my bed for a minute or so and then leaves.” Lightning split the sky and the winds picked up intensity. “I miss working in the garden, Preacher. Did I tell you what my Henry did? He asked me once about getting a car. So, you know what I said?” She gasped in pain. Then she laughed. “I said, just as long as it’s a convertible. A red one!” She took my hand and squeezed. “I rode around town with the top down. It was glorious! Preacher, they better have red convertibles in heaven or else I’m coming back.” She grew quiet as the storm raged unabated. “All I have for my Sonny is this money. What does that say about me, Preacher?”

Later that week there was a knock on my office door. Sonny burst in without further warning. “Who the hell do you think you are?” he demanded loudly. He thrust his finger in my face. “I’m warning you, you slimy bastard, stay away from my mother. I’m putting her back in the hospital right now. And so help me, if you go anywhere near her… You will NOT do her funeral. You’re scum, Mister. Stay away.” With that he stormed out.

Some days later I found myself outside a room on the top floor of Sewickley Valley Hospital. I entered the room. Andrea lay on the bed, gasping for breath, her mouth gaping open in her agony, showing gray and purple. I pulled a chair close and took her hand after swabbing  her dry lips with glycerine.  I didn’t know if she was aware or not. I read the 23rd Psalm as best I could. As I murmured the Lord’s Prayer, a ghastly moan came from her, the cry of a pleading heart, doing her best to have her lamentations heard. As I started for the door she cried out, “Sonny?!” I felt rooted to the floor. “Sonny?” The ground threatened to open and swallow me. Finally, I went back to her side. Ever so gently I knelt on the bed and put my mouth close to her ear. “Yes…” I paused, “…Mother. Mother,  I’m here,” I whispered as I stroked her brittle hair. Then  I took her ever so gently in my arms. “I love you. Mother, I love you.” Her body trembled and tears washed her cheeks. “Oh, Sonny. Oh, my Sonny. Mommy loves you too.”

I sat in my car for the longest time watching rain seeking new direction as it caressed the windshield. Wondering. Isn’t this glorious.

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.