Iowa Writes

JESSICA HESELSCHWERDT
Arbor Hospice, Room 243
(A Sestina)


Maybe this volunteering thing was a bad idea. What did I know
about dying people? I imagined running out the door, that first time.
Before I could flee, an old woman caught my eye, and I guess that was enough,
this hunched figure in a natty pink robe and mismatched socks. She held a deck of
cards,
and beckoned to me. If I tried to think of an excuse, I came up with nothing--
so I sat down. She smiled, and extended her thin, wrinkled hand.

Rummy was her game, and she won nearly every hand.
And maybe I knew little of grief, but I did know
how to shuffle and deal, and that was better than nothing.
We played until it was long past time
to tally the points and put away the cards
and when I came back on Tuesday, she winked-- "I didn't beat you enough?"

It was funny, because she seemed to like me enough
but she made everyone else shake their heads and wring their hands.
She insulted the nurses and scoffed at the woman who brought her flowers and
cards,
insisted that this was some sort of short-stay nursing home and if you didn't know,
you were just stupid. She price-shopped apartments, and in the meantime,
ripped off her bandages and insisted her useless doctors did nothing.

Maybe this volunteering thing was a bad idea. What did I know
about dying people? I imagined running out the door, that first time.
Before I could flee, an old woman caught my eye, and I guess that was enough,
this hunched figure in a natty pink robe and mismatched socks. She held a deck of
cards,
and beckoned to me. If I tried to think of an excuse, I came up with nothing--
so I sat down. She smiled, and extended her thin, wrinkled hand.

Rummy was her game, and she won nearly every hand.
And maybe I knew little of grief, but I did know
how to shuffle and deal, and that was better than nothing.
We played until it was long past time
to tally the points and put away the cards
and when I came back on Tuesday, she winked-- "I didn't beat you enough?"

It was funny, because she seemed to like me enough
but she made everyone else shake their heads and wring their hands.
She insulted the nurses and scoffed at the woman who brought her flowers and
cards,
insisted that this was some sort of short-stay nursing home and if you didn't know,
you were just stupid. She price-shopped apartments, and in the meantime,
ripped off her bandages and insisted her useless doctors did nothing.

When we played rummy, though, it was like that all meant nothing.
Sometimes her armor cracked-- just a little, but enough
for her to hint at life in better times.
Only once, she said "Sometimes, I wish I could still hold my daughter's hand.
I thought I could fix her, you know?"
She sighed. "I guess it just... wasn't in the cards."

So forget about the flowers and the get-well cards
Because this isn't permanent. This is nothing
Jesus and determination can't fix-- don't tell her, she knows,
and don't argue, she's heard it, and she's really heard enough.
She ignored her labored breath and shaking hands
Told me to deal the next round, and said "I'm going home soon, just give it time."

I remember the day I let her win for the first time.
She was quiet, and could barely hold her cards.
I had all four aces in my hand
but I just waited, doing nothing
pretended her two jacks and a four were enough
for a rummy, and let her break the rules she should already know.

I would need more than two hands to count the number of times
I wanted to make sure she knew it wasn't about the cards.
I said nothing. No words were good enough.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


JESSICA HESELSCHWERDT

Jessica Heselschwerdt is a third year student at Wayne State School of Medicine in Detroit, MI. She is co-coordinator of her school's Writing Workshop and an editor of Brain Candy, the Wayne State SOM Journal of Art and Literature. She plans to pursue a career in family medicine. She was a presenter at The Examined Life in Iowa City.

The Examined Life is a three-day conference in April focusing on the links between the science of medicine and the art of writing and sponsored by the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

This page was first displayed
on June 01, 2011

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