I peek around the door frame, not wanting to disturb my friend Ginny if she’s been able to drift off to sleep. Living has become her struggle.

She’s awake, looking at me, her blue eyes open and enormous in a face with cheekbones too sharp. Ginny weighs eighty-two pounds. I sit beside her and she reaches up to me with stick arms.  The bones holding her together feel fragile under my hug. I’m careful, afraid I’ll break her. Her hair is in disarray, sticking up in all directions. I attempt to smooth it with my hand.

After a few seconds, she loosens her grip and lays back, closing her eyes, energy spent.  Ginny’s chest rattles along with the oxygen machine beside her bed in the nursing home. She struggles to take each breath, her chest barely rising. Her cotton gown, imprinted with tiny pink rosebuds, dips into the cavern below her rib cage.  The fabric swallows her.

We stay quiet a long time, holding hands. Ginny’s eyes are still closed. She’s building strength. I feel it.

I close my own eyes and remember our times together, going for ice cream last July, my teasing her about eating two scoops of chocolate to my one, laughing until we both cried over Mr. Kindle’s toupee blowing off his head and across the front porch in October. “I wish I had a picture of you chasing down that scrap of hair,” she’d choked out between peals of laughter.  That had been only two months ago.

 “Hand me that picture,” Ginny says, startling me back to now.

I look to where her finger points.  It’s a small frame holding a sepia toned photo of a woman sitting in a rocking chair outdoors. A child, about five years old, holds a kitten and the woman is leaning in. Her forehead touches that of the child. The youngster is barefoot and wild-haired, wearing too large bib overalls with no shirt. The two, generations apart, grin at each other. Even without color, the image is vibrant with life and love.  

“We lived—right  next door to her,” Ginny says, her breath rasping, her chest rising and falling shallow and fast. Speaking is difficult, with longer periods between sentences. “I found the kitten—and brought him home—my step-mother wouldn’t let—me keep him.  I cried—went over to Grandma’s. She was stringing beans.”  Ginny closes her eyes, exhausted by her efforts.

“It’s OK,” I say. “Don’t say anymore. Just rest.”

“No,” she says, shaking her head, her eyes still closed. “I—need for you to—listen.” 

“Take your time Ginny. I’m not in a hurry,” I reassure her, and she quiets.

The oxygen concentrator rattles and rasps. Someone pages overhead for a mop. Characters in a soap opera on television across the hall argue. 

Ginny opens her eyes again. “Grandma let me—keep him—at her house.  I named him—Lucky.”

“It sounds like you were lucky to have your Grandma,” I say.

Ginny holds the picture to her chest and smiles. She drifts off.  I watch her for a few minutes, waiting. She’s asleep.  I lean in to kiss her forehead before whispering goodbye.

Ginny doesn’t open her eyes, but says, “She came to see me last night.”

“Who?” I ask.

“My Grandma,” she says, smiling again.

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