He wanted me to take flowers to the hospital. But I thought it was tactless. He didn’t seem to understand that she would have to spend the next six days watching them putrefy and die. She would smell moist Death creeping up the slimy stalks, turning the water a cloudy green. And she would have to pull the bedclothes over her head. Like the grandmother in Little Red Riding Hood. Petrified. Putrefied. She would have to ask the nurse to take them away. And the nurse would think she was ungrateful and tell her how lovely they were and how they brightened the room. And she would try to tell the nurse that Death didn’t brighten a room, He only made her the femme fatale in a film noir. But she would be smiling a toothy smile and sashaying from the room in a uniform three sizes too small. Flirting with the terminally ill patients while she chatted to her boyfriend on the telephone.
He wanted me to tell her that she looked well. Even though she didn’t. He wanted me to tell her that she had put on weight. Even though she hadn’t. He wanted me to lie for him in his absence. When he knew I couldn’t. I tried to tell him that no woman likes to think she has put on weight, even when she is ill. Losing weight is what makes being sick bearable. But he was pushing a fifty into my hand and telling me he would pick me up in an hour. I tried to tell him that Death sat in all the armchairs feeding on lies and tears. But he was preparing for a U-turn and reminding me to tell her how much he loved her.
I bought Gerberas. Because they were clownish and bright and left no room for shadows. I bought Gerberas because they seemed to dry rather than die. I took a blue vase to disguise the water and filled the armchairs with groceries. We sat in silence. Death laughed at us. Triumphant in our awkwardness. I watched the clock. She avoided even glancing at it. When I left she told me that Gerberas die like crying sunflowers.
He caught my eye as I slipped lightly down the hall. Looking out his door. Salty eyes. I smiled at him. He raised one eyebrow. I looked at my watch and the change from the fifty dove from my hot palm onto the floor. The gold coins bounced and whirled on their sides as I tried to subdue them with my smooth shoe soles. I remembered pinball parlours and Portsea and turned back to the boy. He was reading a magazine. Sara Lee ad. I strode over to him. “Would you die for a dessert?” he asked me without looking up. “Maybe for a devil’s food cake,” I replied.
His room had a view of the car park. I watched the visitors sighing as they exited the building. Exhaling stale hospital air. Thankful to pay their ten dollars and drive away. To breathe car fumes and sunshine. He pointed to a vase beside the bed. “My parents just left,” he said matter-of-factly, “they come every day now.” Carnations. White with a blue ribbon. Good, long-lasting flower. “They take ten days to die,” he said. I had a vision of my Year Nine Formal partner in a hired Spurling’s suit with a carnation pinned onto his lapel, Chicken Hawaiian and a cheap motel. I broke the top of one of the carnations between my thumb and forefinger and poked it through his buttonhole. He reached for the remaining flowers and flung them at the bin.
Death crouched in the corner when I straddled the pale boy. Parted lips. Horizontal parentheses. He kissed with his eyes open like all adolescents kiss. Before they have anything to hide. Before they lose interest in your soul. I unbuttoned my blouse and placed his hands on my breasts. He buried his naked head in my cleavage and writhed against the sheets. I smiled at the empty armchairs and grappled with the sheets and his pyjama pants. Pink returned to his cheeks. “Devil’s food cake,” he breathed.