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Sunday Stories: a long life

Her hands were still trembling. She had already forgotten why she panicked. She looked into the comforting eyes of an older woman who had held her hand and now dropped it, being met by her mechanical stare. She knew she knew that woman but had no idea who it was. “It’s all right, Ida.”, the older woman said and so she knew she was Ida and the lady speaking to her a person she must have known well.

“Don’t you recognize me?”, the woman asked, smiling at Ida in the way you smile at a child that, for good reason, pretends to be ill. “I’m Elsa.”, said Elsa patiently. Ida recognized the sentences more than she recognized Elsa. The room she was in and the older woman in it with her was all she remembered. It was as if Elsa had always been with her, as if Ida had spent a long life lying in this room. It did not occur to her to imagine having been outside of this room but she did try imagining having been here without that woman whom she felt had lied to her. She tried and failed. Ida’s hostility towards Elsa went without gratification. Ida laughed a laugh that would win her time. Elsa read that laugh as the as yet unspeakable thought that Ida would get there, given time, and she leaned back in her chair, waiting for that time.

Outside a ball bounced against wall and floor. ‘Tock, tock, …’ and then a sort of ‘Flop!’, probably from a kid catching it. Elsa got why children couldn’t stand being inside here for a long time. ‘Tock, tock … Flop!’ For a moment she couldn’t stand it. She froze and looked at Ida hoping Ida hadn’t caught her in a sour moment which, according to a better Ida, had always made Elsa look ugly. ‘Tock, tock … Flop!’ Elsa was scot free. Ida had calmed down. The fatigue caused by the panic attack caused a half-dreamy state. Elsa started reading her book thinking Ida wouldn’t come to too quickly. She always thought she could predict such things accurately out of her vast experience being dedicated to the cause.

‘Tock, tock … Flop!’

Ida saw an eleven-year old with blond braids throwing the ball at the ground and then catching it – as it bounced back in a wide arc from the wall – in her hands, appropriately shaped in the form of a bird’s beak. “Elsa!” she called from afar, happy as she was not to have to enter Elsa’s home where she would have been confronted with that clown of a dad Ida had. And a bit sorry she was as well, thinking of Ida’s mom who undoubtedly was stuck in there with her husband. Ida ran towards Elsa, imagining both of them were in that film scene where two best friends forever fall into each others arms after a trip around the world only to spend until the early hours of the next morning sharing the adventures which befell them separately.Ida did have something to say to Elsa.

Elsa turned around. The ball bounced of her back. She opened her arms. Ida fell into them theatrically, only to realize in that very moment that Elsawas crying. “What is the matter?”, Ida asked concerned as well as irritated that there was something standing in the way of her telling the tale she wanted to tell. Elsa just nodded direction of her house and Ida needed no more: she took Elsa by her arm andtook her away to the park where since years they took refuge at times like these. Ida felt grown up, and proud she could protect her friend, at least somewhat.

“Don’t worry about it.” mumbled Ida, barely understandable. She looked firmly in Elsa’s eyes now. Elsa recognized it as the typical attempt to look comforting. Ida continued mumbling: “Your mother chose for this and at least you are out of harm’s way.” Elsa was shocked like she always was when Ida remembered something that was painful to her. Against her better judgment she came closer to Ida to hear clearly: “Don’t be afraid of what happens between your parents. Don’t let it make you afraid. At some point you will be rid of them.” Elsa now remembered exactly what Ida remembered and it hurt her. It hurt her a lot. To make it go away she said quickly: “But, Ida, don’t you know? I’m long gone from there. We’re long gone from there. I’m free.” Which she wasn’t really as only she really knew.

Ida looked surprised. A minute ago she had wanted to hug Elsa even if she didn’t look anything like the child she dreamed about but her arms remained as if glued to her body. It now felt like a nightmare. The Elsa she saw didn’t look like an Elsa she wanted to console. With all the little force she had, she tried to get her arms to move – and after a while her legs too. Something stopped her. She tried to overpower it and tried again. To no avail. Elsa shouted: “Help! Help!” and Ida tried so much harder because she felt that help was not meant to free her but against her. “Bitch!”, she cried. “Dirty bitch. You take everything from me. Bitch! Bitch!” As Ida’s crying got louder and louder, Elsa’s shouting for help turned into a whisper as silent as the crying.

Two people came running to the room through the corridor. Ida started cursing but her will to break loose was already at the point of breaking when two nurses came into the room. “Sedative?” the male nurse asked. The female nurse nodded. “Not too much risk.” asked he. She answered that the alternative was not better pointing at the blue bands where Ida’s arms and legs were tied down with belts. The bruising was already turning purple. Ida felt the syringe and mustered her energy to fabricate the most accusing possible look at Elsa who tried to excuse herself saying: “That was not my intention. We had good times, didn’t we?” Elsa thought she heard Ida responding right before dozing off: “You have destroyed – one by one – all my dreams, Elsa.” There always was a remarkable clarity to her words in moments as this one, maybe because one hears more clearly when what is heard corresponds to what one expects to hear.

Elsa remembered what Ida accused her of in one of those other clear moments. One of the nurses asked mechanically if she was OK. She wasn’t and wanted to tell her what she had just remembered, painfully. Elsa thought she would go crazy if she wouldn’t be able to tell this her story to somebody, anybody. She wanted to hear that Ida has twisted the facts; that she had converted something beautiful into something ugly. Elsa asked the female nurse politely permission to speak and the nurse didn’t dare to just say no so she tried, seeking confirmation from her colleague, to divert the yarn that would be like so many yarns by saying: “Maybe you’d better go home and rest awhile. It is better that way, no?” And pointing to Ida – “She will sleep a good while now.” Elsa did not notice the awkwardness of the moment. She was at the brink of starting to tell her story when the male nurse’s buzzer buzzed. Somewhat relieved he said: “Sorry, misses.”, and took his colleague by the arm reading from the machine: “Room 1435.”

A softly snoring Ida, not quite knocked out by the drugs, remained confined in her room as Elsa left her there attempting to cover her feelings of guilt under the professional advice of the nurse. As she was on the ground floor she heard a kid playing on a piano and faintly remembered the song the kid was trying to play. She realized Ida had never left her.

‘Where did she remember that song from?’, she thought, ‘Was it something Ida played back in the days?’

The kid hit a piece of the song where he was in flow.

Ida had just left the podium, high from her first applause that was more than  just a polite applause. She was fourteen years old and she had played what her father wanted her to play: something classical that didn’t even seem classical – typically her father. She had fought his choice but lost.She struggled with it to the day of the performance that her dad thought could get her into the distant music school Ida had wanted to be in since she saw a documentary about it when she was eight. She just didn’t get the piece .. until the minute of silence before it was her turn to play Grieg’s Butterfly.It struck her then and she came out of her cocoon and played in the flowest of flows. Got an extra even and played March of the Trolls against her dad’s advice and carried the crowd to get her applause and leave the podium high and certain of a future she never thought would be more than just a daydream.

Elsa was the first to meet her there. Elsa kicked her immediately off her high. The cold shower came in the form of the words: “Ida, dear Ida, I can’t let you leave. You know how artists are, how my father was, ruthlessly afraid of showing pity lest it endangers their success.” Elsa repeated: “I won’t let you go.” and she said it so decisively that by the time Idafell into the arms of her dad Ida again was just an ordinary girl that had tasted the daze of glory once in a lifetime and needed to be content with that. There were so many with ambition. Most of them failed. None of them ever felt close to others. So Ida stayed. It was the first time she would resist a wish of her parents. It wasn’t the last time Elsa convinced her to resist.

Elsa was close to Room 1453 where a silence reigned that belongs to death. She hesitated. She was sorry. She returned to Ida and kissed her softly on her forehead. She resigned herself to sitting by the bed. She pulled up the chair that she knew would give her a sour back. She pulled it up close to the ironwork that made the bed into a cage. Elsa took Ida’s hand and felt a shiver when she felt how cold it was. Colder than ever.

Hours passed. Hours of pain. Hours in which as far as she knew she didn’t let herself fall asleep. Hours to compensate one memory with another and where she was always there when Ida bounced back from one or another adventure where she invested emotionally and the others didn’t or didn’t invest as much. Ida had lived a long life with the certainty she could always come back to Elsa whose emotional investment to Ida was complete. Ida has lived a long life of failed adventures and plans not carried through. A longer life even after every trace of planning adventures was gone.

Elsa only realized she was talking to herself when she felt the hand she held had started to hold hers. With one eye barely open, Ida looked at Elsa, at the only friend that never promised things to Ida to be able to take Ida again, that never did as if she was taking Ida seriously only to get Ida to promise things she did not want to do. Elsa said quickly, in a now or never kind of way: “Sorry.” Ida’s other eye looked like it was trying to be opened. “Why now?” Ida said, “After all this time, all this suffering.” She paused, then pulled her hand out of Elsa’s to utter that reproach again: “It is time. It is time, NOW!”

Elsa understood that there was clarity in Ida’s confused moment where she repeated what she told her dad once when her mother needed his help to let go.

“It is time. Now!” Ida showed no pity to her father. “A long life is so beautiful.” Elsa had tried to interfere defending Ida’s dad’s momentary weakness but neither Ida nor he ever heard what she had to say in such moments. He did what she told him to do and he thanked Ida afterward asking her to be as firmin his case. “May my life never be too long.” “Nor mine.” Ida responded thinking that was clear enough, knowing that driving for more clarity would only lead to one of those disappointments.

“May my life never be too long.” Ida said.

Elsa thought: ‘How could I ever let her come to this?’

Love presumably. And a lot of fear. And being normal because it is already crazy enough. Choosing never was her strong point. “Sorry!” Elsa said again and Ida this time did not react but muttered: “It’s nothing, sis. It is the way it is.” For a brief moment Ida was back. Elsa asked her immediately: “Do you still want it?” but Ida was gone again; the one eye ajar. Only despair was left. Loneliness too. Suddenly it was as if Ida was not breathing anymore. Probably false alarm again but all the same Elsa’s reflex was to push the button. Again, and again, and again. Although she didn’t care. This wasn’t a life, not even for her.  Even sacrifice needs something to sacrifice it for, something more than principle and being scared.

The male nurse came alone this time. “No, it wasn’t that yet.” he said with the patience of somebody knowing impatience will not lead to more reason. “Not long now, m’am.” he said as if that should have been a comfort to everybody. He fiddled a little with the morphine pump, mechanically accompanying his movements with an “as long  as they’re not in too much pain”.

He left and Elsa was alone again. She didn’t dare to look at Ida. There was only the one thing she could do. “Bye, Ida.”, she said, “Goodbye.” She fiddled as well. She wasn’t stupid. Elsa was in tears but didn’t look back. She thought she heard ‘Bye, Elsa.’ and knew it was what she wanted to hear.

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June 3, 2012 - Posted by | Death Notice, Sunday Stories |

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