It’s Monday, noon. Her oiled hands sandwich his right foot and she feels them conform to his shape, pressing into the curve of his arch and stroking the sloping top of his foot. She is seated at the end of the bed on a low stool and in order to reach him, her legs are spread wide, like a cellist, flattening herself against the edge of the bed. Falling into the cadence of his breath and his presence, her body begins to slowly rock with the rhythm. Leaning in and pulling away to the music of the moment. From time to time her eyes drift closed and her head tilts to the side as if listening deeply.
She glances out the window for a moment and remembers another dying man whose feet she held. Her mind wanders and she feels her heart crack open, melting with the realization of the innocence of the old men’s feet. After a lifetime of striding through the world, these feet are so tender and sensitive and receptive. So like a child’s. Since becoming the mother to a son 16 years earlier, she can see the boy in every man.
She wonders if he thinks he’s died already or if he wishes for death. Or does he long to get out of bed and join his wife in the garden? He’s just so tired now. His big, old dog lumbers into the room and flops heavily to the floor at her feet with a woody groan. She smiles at him.
Once, she found a mouse wounded and dying on her doorstep. Probably left there by her cat who was patiently trying to teach her how to hunt. How to want to hunt. She’d gently wrapped the tiny mouse in a soft rag and held it late into the night, until it had died and stiffened. During it’s passing she’d struggled with whether put it out of it’s misery or let it go in it’s own time. In the end, she’d decided it wasn’t for her to judge it’s experience as miserable or graceful. It hadn’t occurred to her yet that it could be both.
Her hands are on his shoulder now. He doesn’t speak anymore but sometimes he looks at her with so much intention, she can almost hear his voice. Their eyes meet and she wonders if she should look away but it’s something important and she doesn’t want to interrupt. Voices dance to their ears from the kitchen. Like children or butterflies. Lunch is being prepared by his wife, his nurse and his son and she feels the profound beauty of these ordinary sounds as he does. She doesn’t mind merging with him in this way and sharing his grief and his ecstasy. That ecstasy can hum here in the company of bone cancer, the smells of isopropyl and lavender, and joyful birdsong brings tears to their eyes and they silently weep together while Death stands by, in attendance, not at all unkind.