Non Fiction | Cigarette by Mary Murray
From the living room at the end of a long hall, the sing-along volunteer pounds out
strains of “Amazing Grace.” Ladies, two to a room, each wait their turn on the clockwise
routine of other women, nurse’s aides – sheets, clothing, hot meal …Next!
Edith Gentry, 94, sleeps with eyes half-open and mouth wide. Her soft white hair is
brushed back straight and a pillow props up her head. Her thin bluish lips tremble as she
snores, and her nostrils twitch.
Edith awakes suddenly in the dark as two shadowy figures move around her bed. They
come closer. They feel the sheets all around her body. They roll her up and over onto
“Ohhh!” Edith groans.
One aide whispers to the other as they roll Mrs. Gentry, groaning, onto her other side, “It
hurts me just to touch her.” Edith rolls back in a fresh nightgown onto clean linen. A foul
odor wafts past as one aide carries out Edith’s soiled sheets.
A queasy feeling stirs within Edith’s stomach and throat. “I’m so ashamed,” she says,
looking away and then back at the aide who remains, still busy. Here, emptying the
bathwater. There, clearing the uneaten meal. “Such a nice-looking young man,” Edith
says aloud, following the aide’s movement with her eyes. “Isn’t there someone else to do
this?” She feels dirty and helpless and hates to cause an inconvenience.
The aide laughs warmly. “Oh, thank you, Mrs. Gentry, but I’m a woman!”
“Nooo,” says Edith, astounded. She brings her long bony fingers up to her forehead and
squints, ticking off the characteristics of the figure in motion around her. Big. Short hair.
After this close examination, the aide doesn’t look any more feminine to her. Still, Edith
does not want to offend. “Lovely,” she offers.
The aide, chuckling, leans over Mrs. Gentry, tucks in her arms and pulls the blankets up
under her chin. The aide smells good, like men’s cologne. She smoothes Edith’s hair,
says, “You sleep now, sweetie,” and leaves, her rubber-soled shoes squeaking on the
sticky floor. She meets the other aide at the door and the two look back at Mrs. Gentry.
“She’s dying by degrees,” the first sighs mournfully, shaking her head.
“It won’t be long now,” says the second. “Her feet are turning blue already.” The aides
gaze a moment longer into the dark room, then turn away, shoes squeaking purposefully
down the corridor.
Edith hears the hushed whispers at the door. She hears the aide say, “she’s dying by
degrees,” but convinces herself she has misunderstood. They must have been talking
about the laundry, Edith concludes. The first had said, “Sheets are drying in the trees,” to
which the other replied, “Her sheets blew and are ready.” Satisfied, Edith closes her eyes.
The tip of Edith’s nose feels cold, chilling her all over. “If only, ohhh, if only there were
someone to hug, if only someone would hug me, I would be so warm,” she thinks. Slowly
she crosses her arms across her own bony torso, as if trying to hug herself. Her left hand
falls on her stomach, casting a slight warmth there. Edith tries to squeeze her belly. “Kiss
me,” escapes from her lips in a whisper. “Kiss me, I could be so warm . . . .”
The scent of men’s cologne grows stronger. Edith feels soft lips press down warm upon
her forehead, and her eyes widen. There, leaning over her, is a man. Very close and out of
focus, but, for sure, a man. He reaches out and strokes her hair, and it feels to her like
sunshine kissing each strand down to its root. Everything warms within her. Edith lookspleading up at him and can’t catch her breath. “I love you,” he says softly and she feels
she must be glowing inside.
The man stands up, moves back. Edith follows him with her eyes. A cigarette appears in
his hands. He brings it to his lips, lighting it. A golden halo appears for a second to
reveal his face and Edith melts as she recognizes the visitor as her husband. Her mouth
drops open, while his curls into a familiar smile. He fixes a steady gaze upon her, and exhales.
Mary Murray is a training professional in the pharmaceutical industry and writes as much as possible with a 2-year old at home!