This piece is listed as a Notable Essay in The Best American Essays 2011.
There is the light coming through the bone-white blinds in the morning. There are the hot baths, Constant Comment tea, Laura Nyro songs, and chocolate-dipped honeycomb. After the radiation, when you can no longer walk, your appetite narrows—a sudden decrescendo as the body accelerates toward an end.
It is no surprise. In the final year of your cancer, the limbs slow, but the mind does not. Thin bouquets of hair stay behind on your pillowcase. The body nudges the skeleton into the foreground, becoming more subject, less frame.
In the side yard, plums ripen and sparrows place bets on the crop. You have never had this much time in your house; you were always working. You try to cook, navigating the square corners of your kitchen in your wheelchair. On your lap, you rest a small wooden cutting board, and with a paring knife slice plum tomatoes from your garden, the translucent juice running onto numb legs. Friends bring food to fill the house with the scent of comfort: meatloaf, quiche, minestrone soup. These are not unlike meals you made once every day, but they are not yours. There is less to prepare, but you would rather think about lasagna than death. You would love to make summer salads and in the mornings bake scones for the kids; you would love to walk to the stove on strong legs and boil a pot of water for tea.
In illness, the appetite hovers. It is the ghost of hunger, desire transposed into need. It is impractical. A slice of coffeecake that was once the center of your perfect breakfast is grainy and brown; it is a wedge of sand and sugar. Toward the end, there are artichokes. Like you, they are time’s material—a rationing of leaves. Artichokes make sense when you move through days in a body, just fifty-three years old, that has aged decades in a year. Busy dishes are difficult to digest. An artichoke is reliable symmetry, edible geometry. You find comfort in its layered chamber of leaves and the final pleasure of its heart.
On Saturday mornings your daughter goes to the farmers market alone; it is too difficult for her to maneuver you in your chair through the crowd now, and the uneven pavement makes your back sore for days. The spring artichokes are huge. You watch your child trim the pointy tips. Her technique is uneven, but you will not correct her. You are learning to let go.
You sit with her on the porch, eating with your hands. The men are out. It is Friday night and the sun takes its time to set. It is hot, but you like the fresh air and prefer to witness the sunlight deepen on the large oaks of Mar Vista Avenue. You watch the squirrels bicker over acorns in the street; young couples push their children in strollers. You sit beside your daughter, plucking dark green leaves, dipping them in a mixture of plain yogurt and mayonnaise, dragging them between your teeth. One artichoke is all you eat. You undress the thistle, anticipating the heart. Your daughter gives you the larger half, scooping out the lavender center.
In a few months, on a Sunday afternoon, the street will be crowded with everyone you know. The neighbors will climb ladders to hang paper lanterns from the oaks and the camphors. Your son will write a song that he and your daughter will play with a jazz quartet right there on the lawn. Your friends will pot succulents in your memory; a Jewish chaplain and a Unitarian priest will say words. The man you have loved since you were fifteen will read the Ferlinghetti poem that you quoted on your wedding invitation, the one from Pictures of the Gone World that starts, “Fortune has its cookies to give out … .”
A week later, there will be traces. A crow will catch its leg on a forgotten lantern cord still draped over an oak branch. The meals will continue to arrive. Your family will not gather the plums, and the sparrows will peck at the windfall. Artichokes will enter and exit seasons, obeying the map of their own private harvests.
Aug 2, 01:07 PMPurchase or Subscribe to Slake: Los Angeles
All rights reserved, Erica Zora Wrightson and Slake Media.
Do not reproduce without permission.