THE LAST WORD
By Rose Pearson
Sister Rosetta nods off, unaware of my passing. She has sat next to me for this long sultry month, sleeping, praying, waiting for me to die. In a little while, she’ll look up and believe I’m breathing, then return to her fitful sleep.
Wait…she rises from her chair and crosses to pour a glass of ice tea, brewed with peppermint leaves from the garden where her sisters walk in prayer, rolling sacred beads between their fingers. She will hold the tea in her mouth and toss back her tiny head, then gargle; it makes her breath smell sweet, for which I am glad, as she’s pressed her face close to mine often.
When she leans over me again there will be silence, and she will choke back a cry of alarm. She places the stethoscope to my shrouded chest and listens for life, then obediently prepares me for burial.
My wrinkled flesh is just below the covers; my long knotted fingers rest alongside my thighs. As she peels back the white cotton sheet, her breath comes short and labored: I pray she does not faint. She’s convinced I sleep with the angels and slips the top sheet to my waist and over my toes, just so. Next, she gently removes my wimple, kisses my balding head and makes the sign of the cross.
Poor Rosetta! She fondles the few curls behind my ears and prepares my skull to be shaved. When she’s finished, she’ll kiss me one last time, and her warm tears will fall to my cheeks. She closes her eyes tightly and mumbles her favorite prayer: “Mother of God prepare a place for your daughter, Theresa Veronica.”
She repeats this over and over as she gently rolls my stained chemise up and over my ankles, past my bony knees and nipples that ache to be remembered and then, finally, with much delicacy, she rolls the muslin over my shoulders and formidable skull.
Still in deep prayer, Rosetta’s breath is shallow as she neatly folds each garment. With her eyes still closed, she places my clothing at the bottom of my death bed, and listens once more for signs of life. Only this time her eyes are wide open. Yes, Rosetta, I am homely. I am old. I am disfigured. Please…catch your breath; close your mouth, dear sister and friend of forty years. Have you never seen a penis before?
By Carla Belniak
All images © Carla Belniak 2011.