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On the Sabbath
Maggie came running from the hospital room and into my arms. She was sobbing. “What is it?” I ask, frantic. Maggie is a pretty tough girl; I’ve never seen her cry like this. “What is it, Maggie? What is it?” She just shakes her head and burrows her face deeper into my thick, woolen sweater.
A nurse walks out the room and starts talking to me. “I’m sorry,” she says. “There was nothing we could do; but I assure you, he felt no pain in the end.” Maggie sniffs, straightens, and thanks the nurse. Then she walks down the hallway, growing older as she goes, from her tight college-age body to her frail 78-year-old body, a loose habit drooping over her bony frame. “Maggie, what is it?” I call out once more, but she does not answer.
“Mr. Sutherland… Mr.Sutherland?” A familiar voice is calling me. I groan and open my eyes. A young, pretty nurse is leaning over me. “Good morning, Mr. Sutherland,” she says. “Are you ready for your shower?”
“Shower?” I ask. “What about breakfast?”
“It’s Sunday, Mr. Sutherland, you shower before breakfast on Sundays, remember?” The nurse looks a little concerned.
“Sunday, hmm? Well then, shower it is.” A smile creaks onto my sagging face. Sunday, my favorite day of the week.
Once I’m done in the shower I call the nurse to turn off the water and help me dress. Then it’s down to the cafeteria for breakfast. Scrambles eggs and mashed potatoes, always mushy food. But today I don’t mind; today is Sunday, the day we go to church.
All the old folks stand in line, walkers and wheel chairs squeaking, all in line for the bus to church. “The bus to salvation” Mr. Echridge calls it. I told Maggie that once, but she didn’t laugh. Then we’re all aboard and chugging along. I sit beside Mr. Echridge and we try to sing “The Wheels on the Bus” until the supervisor tells us to be respectful.
We’ve reached our destination. I bid farewell to Mr. Echridge and book it down the stairs. I’m the first one to pass through the blessed doors and into the pretty little chapel. I take some holy water and begin squeaking down the aisle. I see her, Maggie, kneeling in the second row. That speeds me up. As I get closer, I see the beads in her gnarled hands, held tightly against her chest. Every few seconds, the beads click; and her lips pause in their quiet prayer. I remember these beads. The rosary I gave her so many years ago. Her head is bent downward, her face mostly covered by her white-streaked hair. Her wizened shoulders are hunched over as if to protect her beads.
I can tell she knows I’m standing there, but she does not react. I sit down next to her and leave my walker in the aisle. By the time I have settled down, she is done praying. “Good morning, Maggie.”
“Oh, Good Morning, Mr. Sutherland, nice to see you here at mass again. Are you thinking of repenting today? You know the lord will welcome you back to him as soon as you are willing.” She looks hopefully at me, eyes wide and innocent through her thick glasses. I hate to disappoint her, but you’d think she might learn after so many weeks. Year’s worth of weeks. Yet every week she asks, and I answer.
“You know why I come to mass every week, and it isn’t to repent.” At hearing this, Maggie turns back to the rosary. She once told me she had a set of beads just for praying for me. “Are those my beads?”
“Yes, Mr. Sutherland. I’ve been praying for your repentance all morning, but it seems I shall have to try harder.” I sigh and face the altar. I remember when she used to hold my hand, call me Ian; laugh at my jokes…..
“Why don’t you call me Ian anymore? Is it in the bible that you can’t call me by my first name? We’ve known each other since college, Maggie! That’s over sixty years!” But Maggie does not answer. She has entered right back into her own little bubble, where if she prays hard enough, I will repent and that day in the hospital will never have happened. Once again, I have lost her. And she will not come back until next week; when the church bells ring and I shower before breakfast, because the Maggie I once knew only comes out on the Sabbath.