Waiting on Neruda’s Memoirs

I started this little story as I waited for Maureen Doallas’s  Neruda’s Memoirs: Poems. I had been so looking forward to the release of the book, had ordered it the second I heard it was available–and then was frustrated by what seemed like a terribly long delivery (it was only a few days, but felt much longer). It was very windy that week–I watched religiously for the mailman each day amidst flying little bits of this world–leaves, papers, my neighbor’s flag. As I waited, I entertained myself with the story of Amy Pinkleberry–a young divorcee who struggles with depression. Amy’s depression is characterized by auditory hallucinations–destructive voices that prevent her from finding the happiness she so longs for. Only one thing stops the voices…

This is part twelve of the story. Scroll down to the bottom of the post for links to previous parts.  Join me next week for the final installment. Enjoy!

Waiting on Neruda’s Memoirs

It happened on the fourth night of the second week.
Amy had fallen into a routine. Fix Alice’s breakfast. Spoon a few drops of oatmeal into Justine. Wait for the tutor and the hospice volunteer. Head up to her place for an hour to pretend she was trying to put her life back together. Repeat steps one and two for lunch and dinner. Wait.
She couldn’t stand to leave her little cot and overnight bag. She was so afraid. She was afraid Justine would slip away without her last goodbye. Every minute she was a way she was trying to get back.
The Watchers tried to do their work. Amy was gently firm with them—because she was too tired to be anything else.
What are you doing? They would ask. You can’t wait forever for that old lady to die. You don’t mean anything to her anyway. You’re just the cook now.
Please shut up. She would respond. My best friend is dying. I will wait forever if I must. Besides, Alice needs me. And I happen to know she loves me. So please just keep your nasty thoughts to yourself.
She was surprised at how well they listened.
But on the fourth night of the second week, she was feeling sorry for herself again. She had received a letter from her lawyer about some assets she and her ex-husband had. Somehow, Stephen had managed to hide a significant amount of investments. Money she was counting on. Her bank account was dwindling.  And she didn’t have the strength to resist the Watchers.
She was crying quietly in her cot, watching the moon play shadows of the trees across the south wall. The beauty of the filmy branches moving against the pale gave her a little hope somehow and she was mustering. That’s when she heard it. Justine’s tiny voice in the dark.
She leaped to her feet and was at the bedside in an instant. She groped around and found the lamp switch, found Justine’s hand under the covers and searched her friend’s face. Her eyes were closed and for a minute, Amy thought she had imagined it. But then they fluttered open and Amy was amazed at the way they animated Justine’s face.
“I’m here.”
Justine’s eyes were bright, her face flushed. She looked twenty years younger. Amy felt fear prickle.
She smiled.
“What do you need, Justine?”
It was the first time the woman had recognized her and called her by name since Amy had been staying here.
“I just need you, sweetheart.”
Amy squeezed her hand. She was so small, her bones so frail. Yet there was a fierceness about her tonight that left a pit in Amy’s stomach.
Justine smiled brighter.
“I had a dream. About George.”
Amy looked at the floor. Justine tilted her head to one side.
“You’ve been crying.”
Just like her to worry about my crazy self when she is dying, Amy thought.
“It’s nothing, Justine. Just…everything. I’m just worried about you.”
She gripped Amy’s hand with remarkable strength.
“I am happy. It is time. As for you…what are you afraid of? Your life is waiting for you.”
Amy swatted down a Watcher—choked back the truth. What am I afraid of? Afraid of losing Justine. Afraid of being hurt. Afraid she can’t make it on her own. She was just one big hot mess of fear.
“I know, Justine. I’m working on some things…”
Justine’s gaze grew intense.
“Amy, will you take care of my Alice? I mean, I know Oliver will give her everything she needs but she needs more than that. She needs a woman to show her how to be. She needs soft hands.”
“Yes, yes. Of course. Alice has come…to be…very special to me.”
“And Oliver?”
Amy looked up sharply.
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t be silly, Amy. I see the way he looks at you.”

“Oliver would be a fool to get involved with me.”

“Now why would you say that? He’d be a fool not to.”

“The voices…”

“Oh, phooey, the voices! It’s time you tell those voices what to say.”

She sighed and leaned back deeper into the pillow. Closed her eyes.
“Don’t let happiness pass you by, love. I am tired. Amy, will you? One last time?”
Amy picked the book up from the table. She fingered the rich cover, opened the oniony pages. Her hands began to shake.
“Maybe you should just get to sleep, Justine.”
“Amy. It is time.”
Her voice was weaker again, she sounded far away.
Amy nodded.
“Grant Me the Wish,” she read, voice quivering.
Grant me the wish to walk your road
smooth again

                to clip the path free of such moments
                                as only the young have

                to believe without question
                                no life is fixed in a certain direction.”
She felt Justine stop breathing. It felt like the wax melting in a pot. Tears flooded her eyes, but she continued on.
Grant me the wish to hear in your words
                not who I am not yet

                but who I might be in such moments
                                as only the young have

                to forget the obstacles to yes
                                because the heart beats right.

Grant me the wish to need you
                no more nor less

                to claim in such moments
                                as only the young have
                to offer the lot of themselves
                                even if just fragments exist.

Grant me the wish to draw for you
                one perfect circle close

                around us in such moments
                                as only the young have

                to uncontain the infinity that hides
                                in all the space between.”
When she finished, she closed the book. She kissed Justine’s cheek and felt the warmth of her skin. She didn’t need to check.  All the air seemed to be gone from the room. She sat, letting tears spill, for just a while.
Then she went upstairs to get Oliver and tell him the news.

Waiting on Neruda’s Memoirs, Part I
Waiting on Neruda’s Memoirs, Part II 
Waiting on Neruda’s Memoirs, Part III
Waiting on Neruda’s Memoirs, Part IV
Waiting on Neruda’s Memoirs, Part V
Waiting on Neruda’s Memoirs, Part VI
Waiting on Neruda’s Memoirs, Part VII
Waiting on Neruda’s Memoirs, Part VIII
Waiting on Neruda’s Memoirs, Part IX
Waiting on Neruda’s Memoirs, Part X


  1. says

    Oh, Laura.

    This wonderfully-wrought story ended at the perfect place.

    “She didn’t have to check.” That’s going to stay with me. I remember sitting with my hand resting on my mother’s chest, so I’d not miss the moment.

    Maybe I didn’t need to.

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