By Owen Andersen
Edited by Stella Walker
Afternoon my marvelous magpie. Do you remember that? Our first fight, I recall I said you sounded like “a damn magpie” and that “your voice makes me want to tear my damn ears off,” but it didn’t, I was more intimidated by your voice if anything. The only voice that could make me feel stupid, or weak—challenge my pride. I remember the look on your face, appalled shock, I remember the regret swelling in my chest. We didn’t talk that morning, a silence left daunting on my mind throughout the day. It was a slow workload, so I planned out my apology— bought a pot full of begonias, your favorite just to prove I meant it. Can you recall my awkward trot through the doorway?
Most of all, do you remember the way I held you, whispering in your ear “afternoon my marvelous magpie”? I do.
Lovely day, nice weather, grass as green as emeralds—perfect for a picnic. Quiet too. I’m glad you rest here, a silent little sanctum. Your gravestone shimmers, an eloquent quartzite with two pots resting side by side, filled with scarlet begonias. I brought water for the flowers, they’ve got another few months left in them. Your name, so smoothly carved into the gentle stone, I could spot you from a mile away; just as hard to miss now as you were the day we met. “Joan Toussaint Smith, 1942-2019, Heaven’s greatest blessing were the years we had with you.” I wish I could take credit for that, but John’s better with words than me.
I always thought my name didn’t suit you. Such a delightful name you have, Joan Toussaint. You knew just how splendid it was, you’d straighten your posture every chance you got to say it. I’d see your lips curve into a most subtle smile as you proudly proclaimed your name. And then came my part: Smith, a boring end to a fantastic name. But you never saw it that way, no, you always thought it gave your name humility. “It gives it some character” you’d say, “a nice strong name to harden my dainty little one.”
I miss you Joan. Not an hour goes by I don’t. I’ve been with you most my life, I can’t say that about many people. I can’t say that about anybody anymore. You knew all the little things that could make me smile—that little bit more cream than sugar I like in my tea, the way you’d wake me up without giving me a heart attack, the way you’d distract the kids when you noticed how exhausted I was. Nobody could make me argue like you could. No politician on the T.V. could get me as riled up as you would. I can’t find that sort of passion anymore. I don’t know anybody as well as I do you. I think I could learn to kindle another connection, but I don’t want to, for in everything I do all I can see is you doing it with me.
The isolation brings me to tears, waking up every morning, remembering you aren’t next to me. I can’t bring myself to flip over, confirm my fears and find you aren’t there wrapped in our covers of silk and cotton. Find that the indent of your back on the mattress has disappeared. I try to distract myself with T.V. or family events. I’ve been seeing the grandkids more frequently. By the way, they’re doing well. Little Jennie’s finally got her driver’s license, she’s a pretty smooth operator too; I’m trying to get her father to take the old Buick as a gift for her but he’s been against it so far, why I can’t say. Yet when the show is over or when I’m driving home from a dinner, I remember where I am, and where you aren’t.
I had Jack and Martin put your medical supplies up in the attic, told them to hide them up there. I can’t stand to see them, it reminds me of how you were when you passed. I doubt you could recall your foggy state yet the memory haunts my mind. You were absent; tucked away in another world. Perhaps you were back in France where we met, or at our cafe down by the corner, or perhaps you were a princess in a tower awaiting some prince to come join you up there. Whatever dream you were trapped in, I hope it was pleasant.
Do you remember your last day with us? Were you even really there? The doctor said a few weeks prior that it could be any day now, and Death finally came for tea. He was kind enough to let us say goodbye.
We decided we’d let eachother give our final messages to you privately, and then once everybody had got their chance we’d stay with you until you left. I remember I went last. I opened our old mahogany door and I saw you, in your wheelchair, covered in blankets and love and comfort, under a window, halo at your head. Same one you had when you walked down the aisle of the church, doors wide open with the sunset to your back.
You hadn’t said anything to anyone the sides a name or a hug or two, I don’t think you really saw them. But you noticed me Joan, as I knelt down the way I did in the shadow of the sparkling Eiffel Tower I heard you say my name. You repeated it, over and over, what little tears you had left dripping down your face as you cried out my name, remembering all that we were with that silly smile on your face. I held you so closely.
You died in my arms Joan.
I wish I could look forward to seeing you again the way you said I should. Wish I had faith like you did. But I can’t Joan, I just can’t. Because you can’t hear me, Joan. You aren’t in heaven, you’re nothing. Gone. No trace left. You’re null. Your existence has ceased and I will never see you again. You can’t even remember me, not even that spectacular name of yours. It’s Joan Toussaint Smith. If only I could hold that name close enough, like I held you, if only the memories could bring you back to me, but they can’t Joan. What’s the point in moving forward? I don’t want to, after all there’s nothing left in me but you. I miss you Joan. I miss my Magpie, everything’s too quiet without you.
Goodbye darling, I’ll be back tomorrow. Don’t go anywhere too nice without me, alright?