When I was a regular adult, I thought nothing would scare me, but I was wrong. Now that I am old, I am afraid all the time.

In the locked ward, patients in floppy slippers walk short laps; you see them pass again and again. A television blares. My beloved’s first roommate is a heroin addict, who has been here before and who will leave this ward for somewhere worse. His second roommate looks like Cary Grant. He left his four children and wife for his male business partner, who then sued and slandered him. This roommate steals my beloved’s clothes.

In the common room, I position myself between my beloved and everyone else. Having the others behind me makes my heart beat faster. My beloved shows no reaction to their voices, the strange and ragged syllables breaking from the mouth of one who is on the hall phone.

When I am with my beloved, I resist the urge to cling. We sit in chairs that are like wide, incredibly heavy recliners that do not tilt back, but rather stay where they are dragged. They need to be heavy so they cannot be thrown, a nurse explained.

My beloved is the man of our house, still. This is why I don’t want to go back to my hotel room with the fluorescent line of light under the door. Where I caused a flood by overfilling the tub, then activated the fire alarm, attempting to cook bacon in the microwave.

Here in Boston, I linger in Places of Historical Interest. Or the hospital Family Center, where I can use the printer. Or the hospital gift shop. Or the hospital cafeteria, with its thik air and sticky tables and tawdry, New England-accented dramas.

Outside, the weather is harsh and cleansing. I have not brought many clothes from Arizona. Just a thrift store leather jacket I have had for ages and never worn until this trip.

Today I walk through the Boston Common with my metal eyeglasses hurting my face in search of gloves and a hat. I also buy a pint of gin. I visit King’s Chapel, with boxes for families to sit in instead of pews. After visiting the tiny bathroom for a couple of swallows of gin, I take the Bell and Bones tour. At the top of a rickety staircase, we are shown an enormous bell, one of the very last crafted by Revere & Sons. In the basement are the crypts, along with boilers, low hung pipes and cast-off office furniture from the 1970’s.

At Mass General, I use the 7th floor bathroom and have some more gin, sitting on the toilet and scrolling my phone. Then I wait to be buzzed in. On the other side of the vaultlike doors, I receive my VISITOR label. At the nurse’s station, I check in my shoulder bag. I wait while the bag of pears and goat cheese I have brought for my beloved is examined. Then I use all my might to drag two chairs to the wide window that overlooks the North End.

When my beloved shuffles out in the maroon hospital shirt and pants, I motion for him to sit beside me. Our tired eyes meet. With a visceral certainty, I know he is taking my strength. But I give this willingly, to help him heal. It is why I don’t sleep, why I spend my food allowance on special foods for him. I have strength to spare, despite the fact that I need to keep a hand on one wall due to the spins.

Now my beloved motions with an inclined head for me to throw myself with him through the heavy glass window. It’s easy as the ripping split between air and water. We are flying in the keen air, hand in hand. I show him Boston Harbor and the One-If-By-Land-Two-If-By-Sea steeple and the diamond-bright Whole Foods where I get the pears and cheese; the macadamia nuts and dried apricots.

We glide hand-in-hand over Boston Common. I do not point out the Burying Ground outside of King’s Church, with all its brittle-looking and snow-covered headstones, crooked like teeth, and adorned with those sinister Puritan hearts and wings. I do not tell him about the Stranger’s Tomb that was part of the Bell and Bones Tour at King’s Chapel. How Tomb 21, located directly under the bell tower, holds the unboxed remains of 30 to 50 individuals who came from outside the city of Boston and had no money to pay for a burial. The Strangers Tomb is loaf-shaped and bricked solid. But the guide showed us a picture and in that picture you could make out a next of faded red hair.

As if it will keep him safe, I turn my beloved’s face to me by the chin, and say, With this ring, I wee wed,” the words he’d stumbled over at our wedding all those years ago. And we kiss. And so it is through our weightless exchange my husband and I are back home in Tucson.  Old together in our twin recliners, a cat for each of our laps.

13 Comments

  1. Francine Witte

    This is really beautiful and poignant and sad. I love the whole beginning and the details and i love how at the end it seems a surreal but realistic solution to their lives. It really works, that ending part. I was thinking at first, yeah, they are going to kill themselves, but then they fly and it seems so natural. I also love the idea of Boston at Night. Kind of sounds fun, but isn’t. Great job.

  2. sara lippmann

    Patricia, This is gorgeous and tender and so moving. WOW. Where to begin. The writing. Your sentences are just This voice — the voice, the tone catches us from the beginning and carries through. At first I was a bit disoriented, I didn’t know if she was committed as well or just visiting and I appreciate that ambiguity, especially if it intentional, as it becomes clearer soon enough. At the same time, however, I do wonder about the withholding, and what might be gained by simply telling us/orienting us outright with a simple declarative at the very beginning: I visit my beloved at dusk.) Sometimes, a bit of concrete groundwork can provide that launching pad to the surreality that unfolds so elegantly.

    My only copy edit — lies in the sentence that marks this crucial shift
    Now my beloved motions (CUTwith an inclined head) for me to throw myself with him through the heavy glass window. INSERT SENTENCE/BEAT TK. It’s easy as the ripping split between air and water.

    I LOVE the flying. Boston after Dark. I picture their bodies like a Marc Chagall painting, lithe, entwined, arced together over the city. It’s stunning, heartbreaking. The ending so sad. So much love for this story. Thank you.

    • Patricia Bidar

      Omigosh thank you. You are so nice, but no; not intentional to mystify the reader about whether she is a patient! So I will fix that. I was definitely thinking of the Marc Chagall painting, Over the Town (and a bit of The Wedding and The Birthday). THANK YOU.

  3. Nancy Stohlman

    Patricia–this is so beautiful. The interplay of the inner/outer worlds and how our imaginations are a glorious reality. I love the way you straddle the veil between the two xo

    • Patricia Bidar

      Thank you–the veil–what an important word. I was actually thinking of veils when I wrote this. Thank you, Nancy.

  4. Constance Malloy

    Patricia, this is lovely. It feels very patient in its unfolding. And, I feel as though I’m paying witness to a deep love and commitment. I, too, like that they take flight. There is such freedom in the jump and the flight. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Kate Gehan

    The tenderness here is just lovely and heartbreaking. I admire the details you include about the graveyards, the looming figure of church, marriage, ritual. May we all have such beloveds. What a love story.

  6. Suzanne van de Velde

    Patricia — what a beautiful unspooling. I was worried about both of the characters, especially the woman whose anxiety combusts and gushes when alone but can then be contained when she’s in service, a human shield. The flying (love “the ripping split between air and water”), the weightlessness is a relief, a release which seems to hold the possibility of salvation. Thank you!

    My one nit-picking comment is wouldn’t they confiscate the gin?

    • Patricia Bidar

      Oh, good point! that is an important thing for me to get rid of. (The bottle, that is.) Thank you, Suzanne.

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