She went up early, three weeks before the solstice. She sat in the green Adirondack chair on the front lawn. She wrestled it forward until it was just three or four yards back from the staircase that led down to the dock. She did this herself even though it was very hard for her. She went out to sit in it after the morning fog had lifted, so that she could look out on the ocean and track with her eyes how it shifted between blues and grays, mingled them and then veered off in one direction or another, towards spangled bright or towards a more solemn sullen uniformity of dull.
She may have been in pain sitting there, but the pain had become such a constant companion that she wasn’t always aware of it. Sometimes when it dimmed, she was surprised to notice that she missed it. She knew that she didn’t have that much time left. It wasn’t about measuring it. She just knew it, but didn’t tell anyone. What would be the point of telling them, anyway? This was personal. It was private. It was the last intimacy that she had with herself within herself. When you hurt for a long time, you started to see yourself as nothing more or less than a peculiar illusion.
She thought of her rages and her lusts, of the different bodies she had worn, of the bodies that had come forth from hers. Her four children bobbed on the water like buoys. They were no different than the other buoys that marked anchorages in the harbor. She found herself starting to imagine herself bobbing out on the water, too, only farther out toward where sea and sky met and mingled, where land fell away and was no more a part of the picture. Only it was more than imagining. It was a feeling that changed how her bones were within her flesh, how her flesh was around her bones that the cancer was eating away like moths working at unprotected wool.
Here and now were everything, so here and now specified nothing. She could have been anyone anywhere anytime. She was beginning to shed the confinement that was herself. It seemed remarkable to her that she could have been so attached to herself, to this prison. It was a blind lust, this lust for herself, a blind folly. so full of pride that it could not be called to account, save at the very last minute. So now she knew this and the knowledge changed her from within. It made her vague and willing, acquiescent not only in her own fate but in the fate of everything. A person was no different than a cloud, than a wave was, something that went from here to there and no more than that.
Now the fog was getting ready to roll back in, Early, she thought, but the weather was unsettled here, was always unsettled, never could settle down, so that the fog would come rolling back in whenever it was moved to do so, whenever all that surrounded it made it do just this and at no other time than that. The fog approached nearer and nearer and, as it came nearer, she changed inside herself, becoming something like a stem of cloud on an open loop of mist, a lasso that moved through the air, a zero trying to capture something that was not itself but, unlike a lobster, having no hard claws to pinch and grasp.
As the fog came rolling in, encroached on the land, climbed up the stairs from the dock
it swallowed the lasso, too, so that she was nothing but cloud in cloud, finally nothing distinct at all and the surprise was gone along with the consternation. There was no last word, no last wish, no last thought, no final inkling, only this absolution from herself into cloud, into nothing, as if she had been only a burden that was finally beyond bearing and now blank, weightless.
When Felicity, who had come up with her from Virginia to take care of her, came back from the market with four brown paper bags of provisions, that was how she found her, there in the fog in the chair invisible from three steps away, not breathing, with a mildly bemused expression around her mouth. Her clothes were wet from the fog and her hair, too, what little she had. Felicity hoisted her out of the chair, thinking how small she had become, what a large woman she had once been, how she had taken up a lot of space, so that many people resented her brashness without understanding it was only fear underneath.
Felicity patted her and said, “We’ll just let it be our little secret for a while that you’ve gone and passed.”
She settled her in an armchair in the living room and went to put the groceries away.