The Last Blue Hydrangea

by Ruth Z Deming

My bed possessed a magnetic quality and I was not able to get up, even when I felt the slight stirrings of needing to urinate. "Oh, all right, if you insist," I said to myself. These were chilly days with what I call a "blah" sky. I shivered once I got off the bed, so I threw on a robe of Harriet's. I trotted into my pink bathroom, where I keep my Water Pik, combs and a hairbrush, and my new bathroom rugs, scenes of the beach: several shells, a starfish, and the pastel colors of the cerulean-blue ocean and matching sky, of Ocean City, N.J. The new bathroom rugs look three-dimensional. And of course there is always something drying on the shower head, this time, a pair of charcoal-gray capris of Harriet's, though I do prefer the term "jodhpurs."

Scott and I have vacationed every summer in Ocean City, except for now, with the lousy pandemic. "Lousy," by the way, was a favorite word of Holden Caulfield, hero - or antihero - of "The Catcher in the Rye."

Phoebe, can you hear me? That was his sister, the only one who understood him.

Lying in bed, though, something was amiss.

Oh no! I had forgotten to take my evening pills. In the dark, I carefully walked downstairs into the unlit kitchen and switched on the light. My blue pill case awaited me on the table. Sure enough, there were my six evening pills. Les monsieurs Tacky, Prednisone, Losartin, and - ready? - Atarvatastin. Glancing at the name of the last medication makes me dizzy.

Where is the handy glass of water to drink down these lab-fashioned helpmates? There is one in the dish drainer. Gulp. Gulp. Gulp. I also, like Pooh Bear sticking his hand in the honey jar, grab a handful of fresh blueberries my friend Teresita has brought me only yesterday.

A few of my friends have money. Harriet is among them. I notice for the very first time that robe I have flung over my shoulders. Why, the buttons on the cuffs are made from fabric. Ever seen those sewing shows on television? One very talented woman, whose Bell's Palsy has never disappeared, can make anything with her Singer sewing machine. I lie there in bed fascinated as I watch and dream of making sensational creations.

I have one television set. It's in my bedroom. If child psychoanalyst, D.W. Winnicott, described the "good enough" mother, who would produce relatively normal children, then my television set is good enough to see most things. Occasionally I must get up from bed and twist the rabbit ears for better reception - or pray over them - and, yes, I missed the last part of Downton Abbey, when Lady Mary will at last re-marry.

Nurse Harriet is an impressive woman. Against all odds - the early death of her mother, her dispassionate husband who refuses to give her solace - she insists on driving a silver Mercedes. She is a woman of many hobbies.

She excels as an amateur singer. I must tell you when I ride my stationery bike in my bedroom, I do sing along with Tina Turner, The Staples Singers, and The Highwaymen in "Michael Rode the Boat Ashore."

Harriet has one pastime she excels at. The game of bridge. Her partner is often Steve.

When I took a second look at that robe of hers, I was aghast.

The feel was silken, like stroking a newborn kitten. The colors might have been worn by an Empress from an ancient dynasty of China. On a black background are shades of purple, magenta, lavender. A series of 20 plastic buttons run down the front of the robe - or, is it a bed jacket? - and then those hand-fashioned buttons at the cuffs.

Living as I do in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, I have visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art perhaps one hundred times. One of its most famous exhibits is the Chinese Terracotta Warriors.

Some 8,000 soldiers protect Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi upon his death and are buried and lay dormant more than 2,000 years before they were discovered by farmers.

I try not to drop any blueberries on those brave soldiers who gave their lives to the Emperor.

Returning to my bedroom, the television is blaring. A tennis tournament is on. Clay courts.

Clay, like terracotta. Again, my eyes feel dizzy, so I shut off the television and cantilever myself into my bed, which is high off the ground. Knees on the bed, I do a yoga posture to secure myself.

If Dorothy proclaims, "There is no place like home" when she clicks her ruby slippers together, I tumble into bed as if I'm in a comfortable hot tub, with all the possessions the wicked witch can't reach.

With great delight I shall tell you what books I am currently reading. And like the soldiers, they were hiding under my Lion Blanket and a crocheted one by Sandy, wife of Nick, the owner of Specialty Floors in Abington, PA.

Oh no! How can I have forgotten the writings of William Maxwell, a thin but sturdy paperback volume whose "They Came Like Swallows" was filled with the young boy's attempt at understanding life.

"Weekdays, he came straight home from school, so he would have his mother all to himself.

"At quarter after four, Sophie would wheel in the tea cart and there was a party: little cakes with white icing on them, a glass of milk for him and tea for his mother. He would sit on her lap while she read to him."

She was a thin, frail woman, and would die when he was small. Long afterward, he remembered her scent.

I would eat what for me was an ordinary breakfast. Hot oatmeal floating in real butter, frozen blueberries, and creamy peanut butter.

To prolong my own pleasure in reading, I would often stretch out my right arm and look up words in my Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2016. Of course, I did keep my late mother's dictionary somewhere on that bed - 1976 - but it was slowly disintegrating after more than fifty years. My father's pigskin dictionary - given to him by his boss, Emory Klineman - had given up the ghost 60 years ago. I had written on the inside covers interesting words such as "formicate" and "micturate."

Perhaps my grandest joy is viewing the radiant nearly life-sized face of author Louise Penny and her latest book "The Devil and His Prey," of her Armand Dimanche series.

Do they curse in her books? Doubtful.

Do I curse in person?

Mais oui.

Says Scott, my boyfriend of 15 years, "How did a nice Jewish girl like yourself learn such a bad habit?" Even he doesn't curse.

Ever heard of Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont?

A slick guy named Frank from nearby Cleveland Heights, Ohio, paid my family a visit and persuaded me to apply there. I dreamt of sleeping with Frank and finally got my wish.

"Your body feels so good next to mine," he said.

I learned that phrase.

Frank may have been slick but he was very smart. In fact I ended up typing his PhD dissertation - Life Against Death: A psychoanalytic interpretation of History by Norman O. Brown, so he could graduate.

I plied myself with NoDoz.

Every type of human being studied at Goddard. They flew in from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, New York City, The Dalles, Oregon. The brilliant stutterer and human activist Larry Y arrived in a small plane as did I.

Talk about being dizzy and wanting to wretch out the window - do not open the goddamn window - the plane was a tiny Northeast Airlines that served Cokes and foil packs of Macadamian Nuts. How I remember tearing off the foil and placing it back on the tray. The stewardess wore a peaked cap like a female matron and was a take-charge woman.


A couple of folks who arrived at Goddard had not pre-paid. Ashamed, they sat out on the velvet green carpet as if this were Belfast, and awaited payment.

I was given a room with a woman biker, named Jeannie, who wore English Leather perfume. Desperately lonely, I cried all night long. Later my room I was ushered into a room next door. The occupant was one Ellen P, who later - and sorry for this shock - opened up the New Testament, though a Jew, and hanged herself from the sprinkler system.

Years later, I got an email asking for information about her.

I ignored it. Dead is dead.

Earlier that morning I had walked around the block.

Wore a thin sleeveless blouse and a blue mask.

Bobby, the rapist, had left earlier and cut through one of our back yards. As usual I had stuck my diabetes needle in my far left thigh.

Then I went over to the remaining blue hydrangea in my front yard.

The color is just coming in.

"Thank you," I said aloud.

"Stay strong and brave. Who knows? Maybe you have many more years of life in you."

Who, I wondered, was the decider. Who. And Why?

Rate this submission


You must be logged in to rate submissions

Loading Comments