The mattress was gone and all her belongings except for a Town and Country magazine laying across the metal rungs of the bed frame. Mom and Florence* had been roommates since Mom moved into the Actors Home in September 2014. I met one of Florence’s daughters and her son. Her daughter said she had had a stroke which had affected her speech and motor ability. She was a thin African-American with close-cropped salt and pepper hair; when she spoke, her voice wavered, but she had very expressive eyes.
Mom said she died two Saturdays ago, the last time I visited, when we watched The Hustler on TCM. It was also the day Mom told me she had been proposed to.
“We were watching The Day the Earth Stood Still and All About Eve. I was laughing at something, but I didn’t know she was dead,” Mom said. “I feel bad. I miss her.”
She went on, “I saw her mouth open and she looked like she was having trouble breathing. I didn’t know she had died.”
“She was young,” I said.
“Yes, she was.”
“Her daughter told me she had a stroke,” I said.
“Oh, I didn’t know that. She had arthritis, like me,” Mom said.
Mom said, “The two guys came to my room and we talked and had a good time, Florence too.”
“Was one of the guys the one who proposed to you?” I said.
“Yes,” she said, giggling like a love-stricken teenager.
It sounded like quite the party.
“Do the guys live here?” I said.
“No, they work here.”
“Oh, are they cleaners or nurses?”
“I don’t think so. They help us out here.”
“So they’re aides?” I said.
“They might be.”
“Maybe it was a blessing,” Mom said.
“Yes, maybe,” I said.
“We were watching The Day the Earth Stood Still and All About Eve. It was a good night.”
“I know, Mom. I’m sorry.”
“Me too,” Mom said. “She was with me all the time.”
“Then they did something at the window with the thing. They couldn’t get the window open. And she was dead.”
“Did they tell you that night?”
“Yes, the nurse came in and told me,” she said.
“That must have been hard.”
“Do you want to go for a spin?” I said.
“Yes, let’s go.”
In memory of Florence:
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.