For whatever reason, it was taking especially long that afternoon, and that just left Brian with more time to let his mind wander over his only slightly unsavory surroundings. The pervasive smell seemed to match the dominantly ochre-yellow wallpaper, textured with a muted spray of green and blue that might have been considered cheerful by some interior design consultant fifty years ago. Brian found it even more depressing in its genericity, either because his great aunt was subjected to it every day or because he was subjected to it whenever he had to visit her.
He rankled at himself a little, still surly but also ashamed. He “had” to visit her, he thought to himself, but never “wanted” to visit her. Every week on Friday night, the head of the family drew names out of a hat, and whoever’s name was chosen “had” to visit Aunt Rosie on Saturday. The good news was that if your name was pulled, it was left out of the hat the following week. The bad news was that if you missed your visit, you had to take the next two. Brian had only missed his visit once – and paid the price for it – but he felt like his name was coming up just about every other week. There were dozens of other things that a strapping young lad in his late twenties could be doing on a Saturday afternoon, like… watching television… or maybe… playing video games… or… being with his girlfriend… or… whatever it was that people did on weekends when they weren’t visiting aging relatives.
Brian couldn’t remember anymore. He’d had to leave his Saturdays open for so long that he felt like he’d lost touch with that aspect of being social.
He got a little more irritated.
Brian was just about worked into a solid funk when the orderly, Johnson, came to get him. “Miss Rosie’s all ready for you,” the imposing black man said in a low, kind rumble. “She’s doing pretty good today, too. You should have a real nice visit, Brian.”
Brian rankled again. Johnson was one of those people who always called you by your name. Brian didn’t know why it bothered him so, but it just stuck in his craw every time. He didn’t say anything about it to Johnson, of course, because while he doubted Johnson would ever raise a hand to anybody, if the massive orderly decided to, he wouldn’t need to raise his hand very far to do serious damage to Brian.
Brian figured that that was probably why he was a very good orderly.
“Wonderful,” Brian muttered as he gathered his coat and abandoned the unread magazine.
“You don’t sound so happy to see her today, Brian,” Johnson said.
“Eh? No, it’s nothing. Just a little…”
“Tired of it?” Johnson offered preemptively.
“Nothing of the sort,” Brian replied defensively. He strategically decided to say nothing after that, to give Johnson exactly nothing to work with. Thus, he followed the gargantuan guide to the lair of the oldest surviving member of his clan.
Aunt Rosie was… well, she was someone’s sister, he figured, at some point in their family tree, but Brian was never really sure how he was specifically related to her. His cousin Jeff thought that she might’ve been related to their common maternal grandmother, but Brian remembered Grandma saying that Rosie was probably someone’s sister or wife on her husband’s side. It’s not like it mattered all that much: she was just Aunt Rosie, and he was Her Nephew, and that’s all that was ever important to anyone.
Rosie was standing at the window, her long silver hair hanging in soft curls and rivers across her shoulders and back, still as thick and rich as it had ever been in her youth. The ever-present tattered old blue cardigan hung on her thin yet wide shoulders like the skin of a lion, a trophy from eons past. It covered her flannel nightgown for the most part, and Brian noticed that she was wearing her walking sneakers. She definitely must have been feeling good that day.
“Miss Rosie,” Johnson said, “your nephew Brian is here.”
Rosie turned at looked at the two of them, and Brian was struck for a flash of an instant with how stunningly beautiful she must have been in her youngest days. The halo of the sun’s gentle light through the curtain hid her age for a terribly brief moment, and Brian thought he saw something standing there – someone standing there – that he’d never seen before. She was radiant, glowing (those two words had meant the same thing to Brian up until that moment), and seemed to be both older and younger than she should have been. Though she was still, lightly gazing at them from the envelope of luminosity, her body seemed to wave with a sort of infinite grace from her tall form, suddenly unaffected by weakened bones and a collapsing back…
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