The Fruit Is Divine. Would You Care for an Envelope?

"The fruit is divine," my father says to me. "Do you need a small envelope?"

I smile, grip his hand a bit tighter and say, "No, I'm fine."

He frowns, gives me a wry grimace that means he knows he's been out in la-la land, and heads right back out to sea.

The next time he opens his eyes he looks worried, perhaps even a bit frightened.

"The street is still very violent," he says.

I rub his arm. "I know. But there is nothing we can do about it now," I say. "Don't worry, we are safe in here. I'll send Cop Martha to deal with them."

But Dad is gone again. His eyes are open but he is staring into places I can't see.

Sharon the Hospice Nurse came in this morning. "He's having bad dreams," I say. "He's twitching and his limbs jerk. Becky thinks it's too much morphine."

Sharon's eyes catch and hold mine. "No," she says softly. "He's dying."

I nod...like I really and truly knew this...only I didn't.

"Becky is anxious," Sharon says. "She thinks he should be more 'with it.'"

"She wants to keep him here," I murmur. "It's her denial."

Becky is big on denial, she'll tell you that herself.

"What you're seeing is his body's response to the lack of oxygen. It's shutting down. The things he's seeing and dreaming are in part anoxia- his brain not getting enough oxygen-and part morphine. This happens to everyone when they die."

Becky is taking a shower. She comes out of the bathroom in a slip, her hair wrapped in a huge purple towel. She is frowning when Sharon tells her what is going on, unwilling to believe that what she thinks isn't right. With the towel wrapped at such an odd angle, Becky looks like an angry sheik transported into Dad's bedroom from the deserts of a long-ago movie.

"He has to have the morphine every two hours or he will feel breathless," Sharon continues. "Your father told me he didn't want to feel that way, that he wanted to be out of it when it got down to this phase."

I know he did. I was there when he told her.

I look at my sister, the purple sheik of Arabee and say, "He really does not want to feel this. I was there when he said so."

Becky isn't so sure. She wants to debate the issue. For a brief second I see a flash of anger, quickly covered in ice..."Go to the kitchen and get him some ice chips," she tells me.

I tell her Sharon said to use swabs.

"He likes the ice chips."

"He could choke on them now," I insist.

She walks into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. We back to being our little kid, sister- selves again, reduced to this by our pain and fatigue...Each of us thinking we know what is best, each grasping at straws and trying to control what is uncontrollable.

I tap on the bathroom door. "I'm sorry," I tell her. "I didn't mean to say I wouldn't go get ice chips..."

Becky says, "I told Mona the housekeeper I feel like my name should be NASA because I want his launch to be perfect."

Becky wants to be Mission Control...Only you can't be Miss In-Control when your father is dying and your heart is breaking.

Later, as she sits by his bedside, spooning ice chips into Dad's mouth, I walk up to stand beside her. I reach out and slowly rub circles across the tight muscles of her shoulders.

We have started the countdown, my sister and I. T-minus who knows? And counting.

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