I can see a toy mouse across the room, barely visible under one of the heavy bookcases lining my small apartment. I must have missed it when I was packing up the cat things, after the last of my old friends climbed to the moon a few months back. Still, I can’t quite muster the energy to get out of my chair, walk over, and pick it up. I’m not even certain I could bend over that far any longer.
To my right I can see the door to my bedroom. It’s been weeks since I slept there. I have a blanket by my chair, and the chair reclines, and I can turn off the reading light without getting up. Still, I have to drag myself to my slipper-clad feet from time to time, to attend to my body’s declining needs. This is one of those times, so I fumble for the cane beside me. It was my grandfather’s walking stick in his day, one he made himself from a gnarled and twisted bit of wood from the farm, sanded and oiled and polished to a deep shine. Undoubtedly it would make more sense to get an aluminum walker, but that would feel too much like giving up. Besides, it isn’t as though I ever have far to walk. I never go out.
After washing my hands in the pink porcelain sink I glance at the mirror. I don’t look so terribly different from my youth, or so I tell myself, but we seldom notice the gradual erosion of our features. While my beard and moustache have faded from brown to gray to white, and my skin hangs a little more loosely on my skull, my eyes are still the same blue behind my glasses. I dry my hands, push my glasses up on my nose, and go to make some tea.
In the cramped kitchenette I put on a kettle, and then take a packet of peanut butter crackers out of the cupboard. Most of the shelves are taken up with amber plastic pill bottles, and with stacks of books. On the top shelf is an old teapot, cracked and patched, but no longer safe to use. I imagine I should throw it away, but I can’t bring myself to do it. As with most of the possessions I brought with me to this final apartment, its value is more sentimental than practical. The same could be said of me.
The shrill whistle interrupts my reverie, and I pour the boiling water into a cheap white teapot. My liver-spotted hand shakes, and for a moment I worry that I’ll drop the kettle again, but I keep control. Lifting the steaming cup to my face, I breathe in the spicy aroma, then turn and shuffle to the kitchen table, sitting carefully.
In the middle of the formica topped table, next to the paper napkins and the plastic radio, is an old paperback, a book club copy ofÂ A Wrinkle in Time. As I sip my tea I flip through it, reading more than the story, reading my history, as well. When my cup is empty I pull myself up, slipping the blue book into the pocket of my loose denim jacket, and returning to the living room and the comfort of my chair. I pull the quilt over my lap, and resume my reading. Soon I fall into a dreamless sleep.
I wake with a blinding pain behind my left eye, and scrabble in the dark for the light cord. When it snaps on, the bookshelves and paintings and mirrors and photos and other curiosities are all haloed by dim rainbows. I close one eye, then the other, but the sensation does not fade. With a sinking heart I open the book on my lap, and realize that I can no longer make sense of the words. My head falls back against the chair cushion, and I sigh deeply, and finally.
Slipping from my body proves to be effortless, and something of a relief. I look down at my withered husk, mouth agape, sightless blue eyes staring blankly at the ceiling, and shake my noncorporeal head. Looking toward the window, I glide across intending to go outside, but I am stopped at the wall. I am still bound to something here â€” everything, actually. My spirit is tied to these books, the curios and oddments lining the walls of my tiny apartment. I can feel the invisible cords holding me here, among my possessions, the belongings that gave my life meaning these last years.
For a while I wander through the four rooms, but grow increasingly frustrated with my inability to touch anything. I can’t even turn the page of the open book on my lap, so I’m forced to read the same two pages over and over.
Some time later my cell phone rings, the loud, jazzy tune that undoubtedly annoyed my neighbors. It rings for a while, then goes silent, except for the beep of the voicemail notification. The phone was in my jacket pocket, so I can’t even see who called.
I drift ainmlessly from room to room, watching night turn into day, and then into night again. After a while, the phone rings again, then stops.
Soon I hear a knock, then the sound of a key in the lock, the turning of the handle, and a young, petite blond woman enters. I know her; she is the granddaughter of someone I love. She flips on the overhead light, looks to my chair, and sees what used to be me. She sighs a bit, as though she’d been expecting this for some time. She crosses the room to me, and hesitates for only a moment before closing my eyes. She then sits on the room’s only other chair and makes a few calls, speaking quietly.
Time accelerates. The police and EMTs and my landlord and the funeral home staff all come and go, the last of them wheeling away my body. The blond girl and a friend of hers glance around my apartment, turn off the light, and shut the door behind them. I try to follow, but cannot.
I am no longer aware of the passing of days. Finally, the young woman returns with friends, some of whom I recognize, many I do not. They begin to sort through the bookcases and cabinets, the drawers and closets, boxing some of my belongings, throwing away the items they deem worthless. As each box or trashbag is carried outside, I feel myself becoming thinner, less substantial, and the world slowly becomes translucent before me.
Finally my shabby rooms are bare, save for the people standing in them. They speak among themselves, but I have grown too tenuous to hear them. The young woman reaches into her purse and pulls out an old, old, blue paperback, taken from my hands. She shows it to the others, and speaks, and smiles, holding it to her chest, with something in her eyes that can only be love.
And at last the world lets go of me, and I let go of it.