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Annie closed her eyes and waited for the narcotic to work its magic. She had always assumed that there was some great wisdom granted the dying, that, considering the circumstances, it would be only fair for them to be given a sneak preview of the great unknown. But there was no secret knowledge, no coming attractions, there was only this vast retreat into the all too familiar self. And then, of course, there was the morphine.
She wondered what excitement lay in store for her today. Ever since she had been consigned to her bed four months ago, her dreams were the only thing she had to look forward to. Although she could never remember any of them in their entirety, whenever she woke up she always had the feeling that she had been on some great adventure.
Annie was awakened by the weight of her mother resting her head on her chest, listening to the sound of her still-beating heart. She had been dreaming about floating on a cloud that was dripping with blood.
“You feeling better now?”
“In my next life I’m going to be a drug addict,” she said.
“It only bothers me when I’m awake.”
“I got the pills.”
“So Mr. Stein’s friend came through?”
“Not exactly. He had it, but he told Mr. Stein he didn’t. So I went over there and gave him what for.”
“What did you say to him?”
“I told him he should rot in hell for not sparing a couple of pills to a sick girl in pain. I told him I wasn’t even going to talk about what his children will think of him when they find out what he is. Except that they will hate him and curse him, and their children will hate him and curse him, and their children’s children will hate him and curse him. ‘Who will say Kaddish for you?’ I said to him.”
“You’re a good mother, Ella,” Annie said. Her mother stared back at her speechlessly.
“So guess who I ran into on Avenue R?” she said after several seconds.
“Mrs. Schwartz,” Ella said. Tears started welling up in her eyes.
“What’s wrong, Ella?” Annie asked. She felt an aching surge of sympathy for her mother. It was an emotion she had spent a lifetime trying to suppress.
“She asked me how much would I charge to make her curtains. She told me that Mrs. Lipschitz said I was very ‘reasonable.’ She said she already has material, so maybe, she said, would I give her a discount.”
“What? Mrs. Lipschitz said she paid you for the curtains?”
“Yes,” she said.
“What a cunt,” Annie said
“Yes, a cunt,” her mother said, uttering the word for the first time in her life. The tears were running down her cheeks now.
Annie couldn’t remember the last time she had seen her mother cry. All those years of wrenching grief after Annie’s father died. She cried while she cooked, she cried while she cleaned, she cried when she got Annie ready for school; and all those grueling hours she spent hunched over the sewing machine at the brassiere factory, she cried there too. Then one day the crying just stopped. It was as though she had used up her personal allotment of tears. The salt of all those tears had eaten away at the skin of her cheeks. Annie always thought that that was why her mother’s face was so wrinkled.
“You know what a liar Mrs. Lipschitz is,” Annie said. “Promise me. No more favors for stupid people.”
And then Ella let out a wail. Kneeling down at Annie’s side, she held her daughter in her arms. “Take me, take me,” she said, lifting her eyes to the cracked ceiling. “Please, I beg of You, take me.”
“Oh, Mama,” Annie said, patting her mother gently on the head. “I’m so sorry, Mama. I’m so very, very sorry.”
Ella stayed there kneeling by the bed, holding Annie in her arms, her head resting on the mattress beside her, the tears flowing silently out of her eyes. This is peace, Annie thought to herself. This is my eternity. Her mother lingered there like that for quite some time and then she kissed Annie on the top of her head and stood up. She told her that she had bought the farmer cheese. “I’ll make you the blintzes now,” she said, and left to go into the kitchen.
It had started to snow again; it looked like the blizzard that had been promised all day had finally arrived. The wind was howling, and outside the window the air was filled with swirling clouds of white. All the houses and the trees and the lampposts and the Virgin Mary had disappeared into billows of magical whiteness. And then it came to her. The Fog Man. One spring there had been an infestation of Japanese beetles in the neighborhood and twice a month a truck would come to spray the air with insecticide. The Fog Man would honk his horn three times quickly in succession to signal that he was there. Whenever Annie heard his honk, she would stop whatever she was doing and run outside and immerse herself in the sweet-smelling fog. Losing herself in the white clouds of smoke, she would run with her arms stretched out, pretending that she was flying in the sky. She would talk to Hashem and tell Him how much she loved Him. She would think about how all of God’s creations were one and the same. The clouds, the flowers, the trees, the stars in the sky at night. And herself. Except she was slightly different. Because she was one of the Chosen People. Twirling around on the sidewalk in the fog like a cloud she would think about these things and rejoice. Annie smiled to herself, happy to have finally retrieved her long-lost memory. How perfect, she thought to herself as she drifted off into a long, endless sleep.