The Hospice Ward

by Ruth Z Deming

They put her in the hospice ward. As if she were dying. As if she were a character in a Chekhov short story. Born in Odessa, Ukraine, Irina Vera Abramov, reputedly now in her mid-nineties, would show them all.

She ended up in The Mount Sinai Hospital near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in downtown Cleveland, near Lake Erie. She was guarded by two women, as if she were a criminal. She referred to them out loud as "Nasty One" and "Nasty Two." Did they care? Of course not. No one wanted a lawsuit.

The pandemic was rattling its sabers, so Irina was not allowed outside.

Practically emaciated from the dreadful food the hospital served, she squeezed her thin body through the patio door when the "Nastys" left for a moment. This is what Irina had been waiting for.

She was free. The air caressed her ailing and aching body. Her suffering was like an old maple with peeling bark where red-headed woodpeckers have their way with you.

She felt the cool breeze from off the fourth largest Great Lake. Is it fair to say Irina was a near genius? Her family did not believe in educating girls, so she educated herself. Back in her hometown of Parma, Ohio, she studied Compton's Encyclopedia. All 26 volumes, with their golden spines, labels "A through B," "C through D" and so on.

"Why," she wondered, "are so many towns in Ohio named for ancient cities?"

Elyria, Ashtabula, Cincinnati, Toledo.

She took a liking to the seemingly distorted paintings of Doménikos Theotokópoulos, known as El Greco.

She must buy paints, oils, but would her parents allow it?

Yes! She became a well-known painter. And then began to sculpt in red clay she bought at "Erie Paint and Supplies."

It was there she met the love of her life, one Bernardo Simon, a handsome married man who said, "My dearest, never will I leave my wife," as he fondled her long black braids and silken nightgown.

They called each other nicknames. She was Daphne, the woodland nymph, and he, he, Bernardo was "My handsome Apollo."

She was no fool and when they made love in a bed in her garage - how it squeaked with their rhythms - they swooned and snuggled and giggled and cuddled, and each went their own way afterward.

Never would she return to the hospice. A movement was afoot to "die with dignity." She had a subscription to "Compassion and Choices" and cried at all the departing men and women who took the gentle way out, rather than waiting for the strangulation of the death throes, the inability to swallow, to hold knife and fork, to pray to their god.

Stealthily like an Ojibway or Apache, she wandered the scrubby lands outside the hospice. Her energy seemed to lift. Her long white hair fell down her back. She combed it with her hands and she marched onward, where to she had no idea.

She sniffed the air, spring was on its way. In her dungeon, she had no idea. Now she smelled the first tender buds of lilacs and the wisteria! A neighbor of hers, an old man named - oh, what was his name? - Carl, that was it, Carl - was waiting to die so he could see his Flora once again.

Such faith in the Afterlife these people had.

Her footfalls alerted nearby robins and chicadees - who soared overhead, glory be - followed by loud cheering.


Why, of course, from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Bravely, she circled round it, looking for a way to get inside.

She stood away from the door. When a man in an overcoat left, she slid inside.

"Without love, where would you be now?" sang five handsome men on stage.

The Doobie Brothers were as charismatic as ever, playing guitars, singing into microphones, and compelling the audience to clap along with their famous tunes.

Believing she was a spirit sent from God, Irina found a seat in the orange auditorium, and sat herself down. A tiny smile played across her lips. Her tired body sagged. She remembered not a thing. She might have been slumbering in her comfortable seat with compartments to hold Cokes and Sprite and even a Bloody Mary.

Goodbye, Chekhov's Darling.

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