Story — From the May 2016 issue

A Shrinking World, An Opening Sky

Download Pdf
Read Online

The old woman’s husband, even older than she, has lived long enough. She is careful not to say this to her daughters, to her brother, to the doctors. He’s had a stroke, or something like a stroke, and at first he seemed to be recovering. Then there were intermittent bad days and setbacks and now, a few weeks in, they are all bad days: he is declining, delirious, difficult, and she is exhausted. Her mind — usually a badger den of plans, desires, and, most of all, worry — now, at night, in its rare moments of rest, tumbles into a pale white silence. She doesn’t want him to live on like this, biting the nurses like a dog that needs to be put down.

Yet here he is, just how he’s always been, a model of his essential personality recast in dementia and physical breakdown. She is shocked to see it, really, his bad timing, his ill temper, and the need, the need, the need, the same for decades, all of it still intact and now amplified. Offsetting this in his best years had been his intellect and his posture of strength and authority, false though it might have been. Or was. False though it was. And his energy: he moved about, read a great deal, thought, worked in the yard. These things compensated. He is not an attractive man but his eyes are dark and penetrating and he has until now been physically sound. He took modest care of himself and brought to her life a rough, sometimes satisfying, sometimes intrusive passion.

Structure of Thought 30, by Doug and Mike Starn. Courtesy the artists and Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York City

Structure of Thought 30, by Doug and Mike Starn. Courtesy the artists and Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York City

A wall has been constructed across the plain of her memories: that was then, this is now. Now he mutters. Now he is rigid with rage. They sedate him, he won’t sleep. They sedate him again and he quiets, appears perhaps to be asleep (every day this ritual: she asks the nurse, why not just double the dose to start with and the nurse says the doctor has to do that, we can give him more when he doesn’t sleep, but we can’t change the original dose; so the old woman says, why not tell the doctor and the nurse says, honey it’s on the charts and if we told the doctors all the things they should do different we’d be here all day and all night and nobody to take care of the patients either), and with the second load he does sleep but often he is rigid, supremely tense, engaged beneath the skin of sleep in some battle with history, with his life, enouncing some jeremiad against all the forces that had kept him from the life he’d wanted, whatever that is. She had heard all about this on day three, when the one good psychiatrist, a geriatric specialist, gently questioned him about his life, his work, his career. How long have you been married, the psychiatrist said. Too long, he answered. She was sitting right there looking at him. He knew her but could not remember her name. Is this your wife, the psychiatrist said, indicating her. Her? No, no. . . . A pause. Then: She works here. She runs the place.

Previous PageNext Page
1 of 10

You are currently viewing this article as a guest. If you are a subscriber, please sign in. If you aren't, please subscribe below and get access to the entire Harper's archive for only $45.99/year.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Download Pdf
Share
is a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine.

More from Vince Passaro:

Get access to 168 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2018

Combustion Engines

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

There Will Always Be Fires

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The End of Eden

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

How to Start a Nuclear War

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content
Close

Sign up to receive The Weekly Review, Harper’s Magazine’s singular take on the past seven days of madness. It’s free!*

*Click “Unsubscribe” in the Weekly Review to stop receiving emails from Harper’s Magazine.