At one hundred and four years of age, Geraldine was fairly certain that she had learned most everything worth knowing and done most everything worth doing.
The tiny plastic tubes that were stuck up her nostrils itched terribly. She scowled, swiping at her nose with a shaking, liver-spotted hand. When the nurse came back, Janice or whatever her name was, Geraldine would demand that she take the silly oxygen tube off. You only die once, after all, and Geraldine was damned if she was going to do it in anything less than total comfort.
With a girlish giggle, Geraldine pressed down on the bed remote, sending the top half of her mattress cranking upward. The movement made her head spin, like going on a carnival ride. She’d been waking up the other patients at night by using the remote too often, but she’d been moved to a private room now, so she could do as she liked.
Her ocean green eyes, though rimmed with deep, tan wrinkles and hidden behind inch-thick glasses, had lost none of their brightness in her advancing years. They scanned the edges of her hospice room with intense interest as she took a moment to examine each of the photographs she had brought from home. Frames covered every surface, presenting flashes of life in faded sepia tones and bright colors, each print holding a piece of her past, perfectly preserved behind glass like delicate butterfly wings.
There was the picture of the African safari she had gone on in 1927, just after her seventeenth birthday. She and her father, thin and spectacled himself, were sitting on one side of a large bonfire. Uncle Arnold was on his feet with his back to the camera, gesticulating wildly as he regaled them with harrowing stories from his adventurous life in the bush.
Geraldine sighed with delight at the sight of the group of grinning girls, huddled together in their smartly pressed blue uniforms, radio headsets perched pluckily over their coiffed hair. A hand to her heart, she remembered vividly the day she had met her husband Dennis, a pilot in the RAF who was stationed near London. He had passed on some fifteen years ago, succumbing to lung cancer. Handsome until the last, Geraldine thought fondly on how much she would enjoy seeing him again.
The pictures ran together, like stuttering frames of an old movie. Her family years flickered before her eyes: Dennis playing in the backyard with the kids; her standing outside their new house in New York; sending the children off to college one by one, and the many birthdays of all the children their children had had. There were photos from her and Dennis’ travels around the world, fading into snapshots of her solo cruises to Europe and the Caribbean, and Geraldine noted, without bitterness, how much older she looked now, even though the last of these trips had been only a short time ago.
Shaking her head, Geraldine tucked the blankets tighter around her shriveled frame, smiling as she hummed an old French tune she hadn’t thought of in years. Becoming sick had been harder on her mind than it had been on her body. She had never been a person who enjoyed standing still, and the last few years had been an endless wait, going from one doctor to the next, watching late night television from a hospital bed. Truthfully, she was more excited now than she had been in a long time. At last, Geraldine Hooper was going to go on one last, thrilling adventure into the unknown.
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