“MOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!! Bubbie screamed.
Kitty threw back the blankets and sat up with a start, fumbling for her glasses and the bedside light. “What?? What is it??!!?”
“It’s time to get up!” Bubbie laughed.
Kitty sighed heavily and fell back into her nest of six pillows. “Bubbie!!! You scared Mommy half to death! What time is it?”
“It’s time to get up!”
“Ok, ok…,” Bubbie muttered. “It’s 5 o’clock…”
“5???” Kitty was not pleased. “Bubbie, we don’t have to be up for another thirty minutes!”
Kitty snuggled back down into her nest. “Thirty more minutes, Bub… thirty more minutes… Come get in with me for just thirty more minutes,” she said, reaching out and pulling him down onto the pillows.
Bubbie considered more begging, but looking at Kitty, he thought better of it. She had rooted all the way down into her nest of pillows, forgetting that she had put on her glasses, so that they had ridden half way up the side of her face. Silver curls ran wild from around her face to tickle his snout. Bubbie sneezed.
“Bless you,” Kitty whispered, pulling him tighter.
“Mom… I can’t breathe,” he sputtered, with a tone of boredom that meant he was very used to Kitty squeezing him too hard.
“Sorry…” she muttered, loosening her grip. But only just a little.
Bubbie lay still for a few minutes, listening to Kitty slip back into the steady breathing of deep sleep. He knew that if he didn’t do something fast, she’d begin to drool as she always did when she was really sleeping hard and no way did he want to deal with drool in his fur – not today. But what to do?
“I’ve got it!” he thought.
“Mom?” he whispered, nuzzling his snout under her chin a little. “I know you have a few more minutes… but, well… didn’t you forget something?”
Kitty muttered something unintelligible and kept her eyes shut. Bubbie knew bigger artillery was needed. He nuzzled a little deeper.
“You’re right, Mom… sleep as long as you can. Dad will understand why you didn’t keep your promise.”
Kitty opened one eye.
“He knows how much you love to sleep.”
Kitty opened the other eye to squint at him from beneath her crooked eyeglasses.
“What are you talking about, Bubbie?”
“It’s no big deal, Mom,” he answered sleepily. “Dad won’t really mind if you don’t keep your promise about going to the pool this morning…” Bubbie yawned and stretched, while keeping a close, sneaky eye on Kitty.
“Shit,” Kitty muttered. “Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit…” She pushed Bubbie off the pillows. “Up, you!”
“But Mom…” Bubbie knew the success of his ruse depended upon just the right amount of argument now. “We’ve still got like twenty minutes or something,” he said, getting out of Kitty’s way as she stumbled to the bathroom.
“No we don’t,” she called back to him. “Now get moving!”
Bubbie smiled and clapped his paws.
“Well, you talked non-stop all the way over here when I thought you might sleep. And now we have a big day ahead of us and I don’t want you getting foul because you’ve had no nap…”
“I mean it, Bubbie. Besides, you hate the pool…”
“That’s only because I don’t understand why you want to get your face wet!”
“I don’t get my face wet — I keep telling you that. What decent cat would get her face wet??”
“Ok, then, so I can go in…”
“Bubbie, I said NO! Now you stay here and take a nap while I’m in the pool. You’ll be perfectly safe here – no one will bother you and you just sleep until I get back.”
“Ok, Mom… pffffffffffffffffftttttttttttttttttttt…”
There once was a boy called Bubbie
Who loved to have rubs on his tummy
Mommy’s boss was perturbed
And her office disturbed
By this incorrigible flirt called Bubbie!
“How long will it take to get there, Mom?”
“About twenty minutes.”
“Twenty minutes!? Damn!”
“Bubbie!! What have I told you about using that word?”
“I know… sorry, Mom.”
“Just get all that out of your system now – this next thing is very important – do you remember?”
“What was that?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I remember.”
“That’s better. Now sit up here beside Mommy and sing with me ‘til we get there.”
“Ok, but can I pick the song?”
“Well, that depends – what song do you want?”
“Umm… anything but Champagne Supernova…”
“But, Bubbie, I love that song!”
“I know, Mom… but four different versions? In a row? ”
“Well, each one is different…”
“Yeah, well, some songs just weren’t meant to have harmonies sung with them…”
“Pfffffffffffffft… EVERY song needs a harmony, Bubbie. Now sit up here by Mommy. We’ve got just enough time to listen to a couple of versions — and you sing lead, ok?
It was a warm day for March in the Texas Panhandle; sunny and cloudless, though the wind was still biting, especially in the shade. The woman laid back her head, lifting her face to the warmth pouring through the roof of her car. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath.
“Here we go, Bubbie,” she said, scooping up the stuffed blank panther from the seat next to her.
Walking up the cobbled path to the front door, the woman stroked the panther’s tail. She was always amazed at how soothing it was to pet Bubbie’s plush black fur. She hoped the four year old boy in the house would feel the same.
The broad oak door opened into a foyer of activity. Behind the petite blonde standing in the doorway, scurried two older women with cloths and buckets, chattering in Spanish. The smell of citrus and bleach drifted past the young woman as she extended her hand.
“Hi, Cassandra,” she said. “Come on in.”
“Thank you, Nikki.” Cassandra smiled and stepped into the activity, subconsciously clutching Bubbie a bit tighter.
“I’m sorry about all the mess, ” Nikki said, leading the way from the foyer to the living room. “I forgot we were having Merry Maids the same day you were scheduled to come… Mom’s in here.”
Turning right, Cassandra followed her into an expansive yet cozy room. A stone wall banked one end, surrounding a deep fireplace. One side wall was nothing but windows, currently blinded by the soft blueness of canvas-slatted shades.
“I’d ask you to sit, but…” Nikki waved her hand across the room. Toy boxes and magazines, laundry and blankets, were piled across the tan suede sectional that provided all the seating in the room. The only empty spot currently held a tiny, platinum-haired woman in a fluffy white bathrobe and slippers, wrapped snugly in a thick, pink blanket. She smiled softly at Cassandra.
“Hello, Mrs Grant. It’s lovely to see you again.”
“You, too, Cassandra.” Her voice was low and hollow; a voice deepened by fight and pain.
“Is it pretty warm outside?” Nikki asked.
“It is,” Cassandra nodded. “Though a bit chilly in the wind.”
“Mom, are you up to going outside? I can move the rockers out into the sun.”
“Sure,” Mrs Grant answered. “If Cassandra doesn’t mind.”
“Of course not.” Cassandra moved to help Mrs Grant to her feet. “Bubbie and I love the sun.
“Thank you,” Nikki said, walking toward the bottom of the stairs. “I’ll just call Sammy then.”
By now, Mrs Grant was standing, albeit unsteadily. Cassandra offered her arm. The older woman took it, her grasp little more than a child’s.
“Sammy… come down here please,” Nikki called.
“Bubbie?” Mrs Grant asked as they walked to the back door.
“This is Bubbie,” she answered, nuzzling his fur against Mrs Grant’s arm.
“Oh, that’s right. You told Sammy about him last week.”
“Yes, I thought Sam might like Bubbie to meet his Billy.”
As if on cue, down the stairs ran a small tow-headed boy, dragging the shell of a once over-stuffed caramel-coloured bear. Seeing Cassandra, he stopped at the bottom of the stairs.
“It’s ok,” said his mother, reaching down to lift him from stair to floor. “It’s just Miss Cassandra… you remember her, don’t you?”
Sam stared at Cassandra who smiled at him without moving. “Hey, Sam.”
“Come on, Sammy, let’s go outside. You can show Miss Cassandra your sandbox.”
“Yeah!” Sam cried, suddenly cured of his shyness and running toward the back door.
Nikki followed, dragging four large rocking chairs into the mid afternoon patio sun. Gently, Cassandra helped Mrs Grant into the warmest spot and covered her with the pink fleece. Her breathing was very erratic and pain creased her face.
“Mrs Grant, are you in pain?” Cassandra asked.
The woman tried to smile, but the twitch at the corner of her mouth wouldn’t allow it.
“I’ll get your sock,” Nikki said, trotting into the house.
“Your sock?” Cassandra asked.
Mrs Grant took as deep a breath as possible before speaking. “Yes,” she said. “It’s an old white sock filled with dried corn. We heat it in the microwave and it just fits across here.” She motioned down, resting her hand on her stomach. Rather, where her stomach had been. Mrs Grant had lost her stomach, along with so many things, to Cancer almost two years ago.
Nikki returned with the heated sock and placed it lovingly beneath her mother’s wrappings. Mrs Grant smiled and touched her daughter’s face. It was an intimate moment to which Cassandra felt herself an unworthy witness. Stepping back, she looked around.
She could easily see why Sam was excited to go outside — any child would be. The spacious backyard was a playground delight. An eight foot privacy fence enclosed winter-brown grass filled with almost every toy imaginable – miniature mowers and dump trucks, a fourteen-foot safety enclosed trampoline, baseballs and soccer balls, and what was clearly Sam’s favourite spot, an eight by sixteen low-edged sandbox, just the right height for a four year old boy to step in and out of with easy.
“C’mon!” Sam called turning back and waving Billy Bear.
“I think he means you,” Nikki said, laughing. “I’ll move the rocking chairs out into the sun.”
Cassandra smiled and, carrying Bubbie, headed toward the sandbox. As she walked, she thought that it had been a long time since she’d had such obviously well-heeled patients. Hospice benefits are the same for all patients, rich or not, which was one of the things that Cassandra most appreciated about her job. Still, it seemed far more likely these days for Cassandra’s patients to be living on food stamps than in such apparent affluence.
The rich die too, she thought to herself, stopping at the sandbox’s edge.
Sam’s head was bent, digging furiously at a small mound of sand between his feet. Squinting into the sun, he looked up.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
Cassandra moved to block the sun from his eyes. “I’m Cassandra, Sam – do you remember when I came to see you a few days ago?”
“Kuh – saahnd…” Sam struggled.
“Yeah, it’s a mouthful, huh?” Cassandra smiled. “Would you rather call me Cass?”
“Cassie?” Sam asked.
Cassandra wrinkled her nose. “Well, Sam, I’ll tell you… would you rather be called Sam? or Sammy?”
Sam thought a moment before speaking.
“Sam,” he said decidedly. “Sammy’s a baby name.”
Cassandra nodded. “And you’re certainly not a baby. And see, neither am I – and Cassie’s kind of a baby name too, don’t you think?”
“Uh-huh,” Sam agreed.
“So… if you’ll call me Cass, I’ll call you Sam, and nobody will mistake us for babies – how’s that?”
Sam looked up at her for a quiet moment.
“Ok,” he said finally. “What about him?” He pointed to her arms.
Cassandra had completely forgotten about Bubbie and was surprised when Sam noticed him.
“Him? Oh, his name is Bubbie,” she answered, offering him the stuffed animal.
“You mean he can get in the sandbox?”
“Well, yes, Sam… I think Bubbie might like to ride in your trucks if you don’t mind taking him.”
Sam hesitated. “Billy can’t get in the sandbox,” he said, looking back toward the house where his abandoned bear sat waiting in one of the rockers.
“Oh,” Cassandra said, pulling Bubbie back to her. “Well, Bubbie certainly wouldn’t want to do anything to hurt Billy’s feelings…”
Sam looked again toward the bear. “He doesn’t mind,” he said, reaching out.
Smiling, Cassandra placed the stuffed panther into the boy’s hands. From the edge of the box, she watched as Sam introduced Bubbie to each truck and toy, careful to brush him off from time to time.
“His tail is long!” Sam said, shaking sand off it.
“Yes, it is,” Cassandra agreed. “And you know what?”
“Well,” Cassandra said, bending toward him. “Bubbie sometimes uses that tail… to Fly.”
“Huh??” Sam exclaimed. “Fly??”
Cassandra nodded. “Yes, but he’s very shy and doesn’t fly often. In fact, most of the time he waits until I’m asleep to fly.”
“Oh,” Sam said, stroking Bubbie’s tail thoughtfully.
Cassandra smiled and stood back up. “Would you like to introduce Bubbie to Billy?”
“Yeah!” Sam said, leaping out of the sandbox and running back toward the house.
When Cassandra arrived at the rocking chair, Sam was firmly ensconced with Bubbie on one side and Billy on the other.
“Looks like Bubbie has a new friend,” Nikki smiled at her. “Please… have a seat.”
Cassandra sat down in the rocking chair next to Sam. “I was telling Sam about how shy Bubbie is…”
“Is he?” Mrs Grant asked.
“Oh, yes. Sometimes he finds it very hard to talk to people. Especially if he’s scared or sad. I wonder if Billy ever feels that way…”
Cassandra reached over to touch the bear’s head. Sam, who was unusually still and silent, picked up the bear and handed him to Cassandra. “You hold,” he said.
Cassandra smiled and wrapped the bear up in her arms. “Thank you, Sam. Billy gives great hugs.” After a moment of watching the silent boy, she spoke again.
“Sam, have you told Billy about Gammy being sick?”
Sam shook his head.
“Do you remember us talking about Gammy’s illness?”
Sam nodded and began to pick at Bubbie’s tail.
“Well, I was wondering if you might want to tell Billy… and maybe Bubbie too?”
Sam said nothing, wrapping Bubbie’s tail around his little hand.
“Do you remember us talking about what it means to be dead?”
“Can you tell me?”
Sam touched his chest. “Breathe,” he said.
“Yes… what about breathing.”
He shook his head. “When you’re dead you can’t have air.”
“That’s right, Sam. When we die, we no longer breathe. It’s very smart of you to remember that.” Cassandra glanced across to Nikki and her mother. Mrs Grant, wrapped in her fleece, was tired and still; Nikki rocked nervously, occasionally brushing a tear from behind her sunglasses.
“Do you remember us talking about how Gammy was too sick to get well?” Cassandra asked the little boy.
Suddenly, Sam jumped out of the rocker and ran to his grandmother. He stopped just before jumping into her lap and Cassandra wondered if he had ever in his young life been able to do so without fear of hurting her. Mrs Grant reached out her arms.
“You want up, Sammy?”
Sam nodded and slowly, Mrs Grant pulled him into her lap. Cassandra ached to help by lifting him and saw Nikki biting her lip to keep from doing the same. It was important that they two of them do this alone as long as they could and Cassandra was proud of Nikki for knowing that.
“Owwww,” Sam squealed. “Burn me!” He slid out of Mrs Grant’s lap.
At first, Cassandra didn’t understand; then she remembered the heated sock. “Sam?” she asked. “Maybe Bubbie could help you not get burned.”
“Well, I think if you put Bubbie…” Cassandra said, picking up the panther. “Across Gammy’s tummy where the hot-sock is, then you can sit in her lap without being burned.”
From that vantage point, Cass and Sam talked about death. About dying. About being dead. About anger and sadness and loneliness and being afraid. Through it all, Sam held Bubbie’s tail, occasionally bringing it to his lips to kiss. Nikki and Mrs Grant said very little, both of them strong silent witnesses to their little boy’s brave struggle to understand the end of life.
After a while, when there was nothing more to be said, and Cassandra thought Sam had fallen asleep in his grandmother’s lap, he suddenly sat upright and looked at Cass.
“You kiss!” he said.
“What, Sammy?” his mother asked.
Sam pointed to Cassandra. “You kiss!” he ordered again, this time shaking Bubbie’s tail at her.
Finally understanding, Cassandra laughed, then stood to kiss Bubbie’s fuzzy tail. “Like that?” she asked.
Sam nodded. “Can Billy be Bubbie?”
Mrs Grant stifled a laugh. Cassandra smiled to see a twinkle in the sick woman’s eye.
“You want to change Billy’s name to Bubbie?”
“Yeah,” Sam nodded.
“I’m sure Bubbie would be honoured,” Cassandra answered, leaning down to kiss the top of the little boy’s head.
“Now kiss!” Sam instructed again.
And while the other women laughed, Cassandra bent to kiss the panther’s tail again – this time in silent thanks.
“Mom, I’m hungry”
“Well, you should’ve eaten more of your lunch.”
“Pfffffffffftttt… all you ever give me is vegetables…”
“Mommy is a vegetarian, Bubbie – remember?”
“Yeah, well, I’m not – I’m a Pannnnnnntherrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…. gggggggggrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr”
“And a very good panther you are too, Bubbie. Mommy is very proud of the work you did today.”
“The work you did today – back there with little Sam. You really helped him a lot.”
“Work? But, Mom, all I did was play with him. He has a lot of neat toys! And that big box full of sand… wow!”
“Ummm… that reminds me…. Bubbie…. you didn’t… ummm… ‘use’… Sam’s sandbox…. for, well, you know…. did you?”
“MOM! Of course not! How stupid do you think I am???”
“Ok, ok, just checking, sweetie, just checking…”
“Ok, I tell you what…. you lie down there in the sun and take rest while I drive, then when we get home, I’ll stop and get you a ….. HAMBURGER!”
“I will. And we’ll get one for Nanny too – but you two have to wait until I’m not in the room to eat them – deal?”
“After I eat my hamburger, can we call Dad?”
“Yes, Bubbie, after dinner, we’ll call Dad. And you can tell him all about your big day out.”
“Coo-ool! You’re really not such a bad Mom, you know.”
“Thank you, Bubbie. Thank you very much.”
© s rogers 22 march 2009