9 pm and I got ready for the night shift, to relieve my brother who took care of Auntie Jane at the hospital all day.
I attacked my dinner of left-over casserole and salad, which was all Mum managed to rustle up after her day of chores and hours at the church. I knew it wasn’t the length of the prayers for her sister-in-law, but their nature that tired her.
But we had no choice on Auntie Jane, and we could not stop talking about it.
She won’t make it past tonight, you’ll see, said Uncle Josh, sprawled out on the sofa. He scratched the seat of his pants, took a swig of his beer. She looks terribly frail, John.
You never know, she’s getting enough fluids. You never can tell with cancer, said Dad, and our sister is tougher than a one-eared alley cat. But I hope something happens before we all go broke.
We can’t bring her here that’s for sure, no place for all those things hooked to her, said Uncle Josh, and my digs are a mess.
Do you have any idea how much it would cost to bring her home? And for nothing, rumbled Dad between drags.
He had taken to smoking cheap cigars which smelled like a combination of wet dishrags and stale tobacco. Everything in the house carried that stench, even the dog.
That’s Auntie Jane you’re talking about, I said, and left the table without waiting for a reply.
Before I left, Mum passed me a cross on a chain. It will make the end peaceful, she said.
I drove off, and through my tears I saw Auntie Jane as she was before, not shaven headed, not in a hospital gown, when her cheek had not sunk in, when her body was round and ripe, not a bundle of bones swimming in her skin. I saw her walking in the gate back from work, for the all years my brother and I stayed with her, because Mum and Dad could not afford to keep us. She smiled when she saw us at the doorstep.
I held on to the cross for the rest of the month.
One night when I reached her ward, Aunt Jane lay with her face towards the door. Her dull eyes peered at me from deep within the sockets, seemed to like what they saw. She smiled through her blackened lips. I smiled back, asked her how she was.
My brother hated my forced cheer, and loped off to his job at the railway yard without a word. In the few months at the hospital we exchanged dwindling greetings and smiles during the handovers. Now we simply looked at each other, and that was that.
That night Auntie Jane did not sleep at all. I want to go home, she said, take me home.
In the morning, Auntie, I told her, now try and sleep. She never remembered anything beyond five minutes anyway. I tried to follow my own advice, but that spoilt fruit and metallic smell of the poison they pumped into her to keep her alive would not let me relax.
That morning the doctor came on his rounds, and I made myself ask how long. Cannot say, he said, could be tomorrow, or another month.
We have our jobs, I said.
You could take a break, he said, we’ll make sure she’s comfortable.
I nodded and he passed me a form without a word. DNR, it said, Do Not Resuscitate.
I signed it, and gave it back to him.
I tucked the cross Mum had given me under Auntie Jane’s pillow, kissed her damp, musty forehead goodbye as she lay sleeping.
When my brother came in, I hugged him, and left.