Death was of no consequence to Elizabeth. She was a woman of faith and therefore had no doubt that she would be crowned with glory in the hereafter. And if she was wrong, and existence simply came to a sudden, screeching halt – there was a certain appeal to this idea, as well. Far more frightening to her was the aging process, that winding, descending path that ultimately led to death's door.
She had watched time ravage her mother's life, precipitously it seemed. As the oldest child of seven, Elizabeth could not remember a time when her mother did not look tired and gray. Her father, with so many mouths to feed, never seemed to find that level of financial success that equated security. Lines of worry etched into her mother's face, along her forehead, around her eyes, and deeply into the corners of her mouth, drawing it into an eternal frown.
Her mother carried the cumulative pounds of seven pregnancies and uninhibited indulgences like a burden that slowed her step and impeded her from the natural enjoyments of life. She developed arthritis early, followed by diabetes, and then osteoporosis that bent her forward like an elderly Atlas carrying the weight of the world. The death of her husband was the final blow. When she began showing signs of dementia, it was almost like a voluntary withdrawal from a painful life that was too much.
Her mother's life therefore became a template of opposites for Elizabeth's life. Living by the maxim, “You can fall in love with a rich man as easily as a poor one,” Elizabeth was very selective in her dating choices. Only those young men who were clearly ambitious and exceptional were allowed to compete for her hand. The man she chose to marry became a very successful lawyer. She had just two children, two lovely, mild girls who rarely ruffled her sufficiently to cause a hair to stray, let alone turn gray.
Elizabeth's body was a temple. She ate lean meats and low carbs and plenty of leafy vegetables. She allowed herself one … just one … single glass of red wine with her dinner. She took her vitamins and various supplements and antioxidants as they came en vogue. She was active and athletic, visiting the gym often and insisting her husband install tennis courts and a covered, heated pool on their estate.
She shouldn't have been surprised when the call came from the doctor, and in hindsight, perhaps she wasn't. She struggled nonetheless to grasp the full magnitude of his words. Her mother had slipped in the shower and broken her hip. It was unlikely that she would regain mobility again. She would require round the clock assistance. Her insurance would cover a few days' stay in the hospital, during which time arrangements would need to be made for her care. It would be unreasonable to expect she could remain alone in her home. He left her with the suggestion that she discuss the situation with her family.
She hung up the phone. She grabbed her heavy coat from the closet and stepped outside, as if by escaping the house she could escape her responsibilities. She took the well worn path that rambled through the woods and across property lines, connecting otherwise distant neighbors. The crisp autumn air and her racing thoughts caused her to walk briskly. The trees swayed in the breeze, birds chattered, and a brook gurgled nearby, but today they all went unnoticed. She replayed the conversation over and over in her mind, looking for a way out.
Her mother would come live with her, of course. It was the only logical option. She and Steven were by far the most financially stable. They had a large house with plenty of room. She no longer had little ones to care for at home; Stephanie was already at college, and Jessica was a senior this year. . She didn't have to work. She had a part time position as editor for the weekly magazine that came with the local Sunday paper, but that was more of a hobby than a career. She grimaced as she realized she couldn't possibly ask her siblings to take on this much of a burden when she was so uniquely equipped.
She slowed and looked around her. She suddenly realized how far she had walked. She had crossed onto the Taylor's property and was standing before a small water well. Weeds were growing around the base and through cracks in the bottom. The crank was rusted and the bucket once attached was missing. The wood and the brick had been eroded to a uniform pale gray. It was certainly no longer in use, and possibly forgotten.
Impulsively, she fished around in her jeans pocket and pulled out a coin. She closed her eyes and held it to her lips. I wish I didn't have to take care of my mother, she thought. She threw the coin into the well and listened until she heard a tiny plop. She was immediately overcome by guilt and embarrassment at her childish gesture. She pulled the collar of her coat up more tightly around her and hurried back home.