The Last Best Day

It is not the dying that you dread the most, nor the horrible inevitability of it. Nor the losses, all of which are hard to bear, or the friends who are grieved and mourned. It is just that you know that each day, this day, will be your last best day.

And the next day, if there is one, you will drink a cup of tea and look out at the shallow stream that flows through the neighbor’s back yard, and your cough will be deeper, more wracking, and the trembling in your limbs more constant, and the pain that begins with a bluntness in your head like a plough being dragged across a fallow field in the dead of winter, will send you back to bed. The hospital bed in the dining room of your sister’s house ,and you will pull the heavy quilt over your sweated head.

The maroon stains in a blotched mosaic on your arms and chest, and the new one at the angle of your jaw grow more grotesque and so you don’t look at them for long. The face you once saw as beautiful. And those lesions you cannot see, the ones that grow in you lungs and on your liver, hurt so bad. They make your heart hurt.

The food your friends bring you in bags from Fairway in the city, the food you loved and once could afford, the pasta with peas and shallots in cream, the paper thin sliced Scottish salmon, the focaccia with sundried tomatoes, will all go uneaten or if you should take a mouthful it will pass right through you and it will foul your sheets or drip to your ankles as you step to the commode. And it will leave cramps in its path.

And these friends will clean you and caress your forehead and tell you who they had seen at the Lucille Lortel on Christopher Street or at the Minetta Lane Theater and what they were wearing and who they were with and who did not show up again, and what god-awfully hilarious things they had said, all of which you knew were untrue but as funny as Lenny Bruce in drag on uppers.

And you will laugh despite the hurt and say, ‘Who loves you, baby?’ and they will say ‘you do!’ and you will say, ‘You bet your big fat flabby asses I do.’ And you will mean every word of it.

And you will ask them how your old cat, Pasternak, is doing and they will tell you she is fine. And you miss her terribly and wish you could feel her thrumming against your chest one more time.

And when they leave, you will cry and go to the window to watch them walk arm-in-arm to their car in the driveway. And you will see them check their cheeks and their chins in the car window to see if their own spots could be seen from under the pancake makeup they had smoothed on before going out.

You know that this clear blue day will end and you will try to sleep and the sodden linens will wake you during the night. The sweat on your back will dry by morning but you know that the next night will be worse.

You hear your sister tell your mother that you had a good day and that she should not come all the way up to Scarsdale until you asked for her and then tell her that you cannot come to the phone and no there was no need to put your father on the phone. And when she talks to one of her friends she tells them that you say that you have so few T-cells that you have given them all names and she laughs at that.

Yesterday you thought of killing yourself. But then you read a few more pages of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and wondered about what went through Carver’s mind and  then you fell asleep in your chair.

You are ninety-four pounds and this day you know will be better than the next one, and the next after that, until one day they will find you in pieces, tiny pieces of you, each one wrapped up in its own pound of purple pain, on the floor in the hallway.

There are no new medications you can take. You have burned through all of the ones they have given you. You are resistant to all of them. Even the ones they call salvage. There is nothing more to salvage. Just this shipwreck.

Today you think will be the last day you will take any food at all. You will tell your sister. And she will call your mother and you will let her.

You wish for a day like when you were twelve and your sister was eight and you both ate cream cheese and jelly sandwiches and fell asleep on a blanket at Orchard Beach and got sunburned and your mother put cream on your shoulders and told you it would all feel better the next day and you did not know what pain was or what loss was, and you believed then that even if it rained the next day it would not matter because it would be better than today.

5 thoughts on “The Last Best Day”

  1. “…each one wrapped up in its own pound of purple pain…” is exquisite, Joe. This story bores into me, with its searing heartache, tenderness, and excruciating realism.


  2. Joe, this is a fine story indeed. It brought me close to tears and I was poised there for the duration, as your protagonist was poised between life and death. So vivid, so feelingful–I loved it.


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