“Now we can get started,” I echoed, not sure what Joe meant. Start what? Dying? Wasn’t he already doing that?
I opened the cupboard. “How about we start with some gruel?”
Joe grinned. “Not exactly what I had in mind…but, got honey?”
“I brought some,” I said. “Figured you’d want that. You always did when you were a kid. Honey and canned milk on your Cream of Wheat.”
I cooked the cereal, warmed the milk, stirred it all together and added a good swirl of honey. Sat on the end of his bunk to watch him bring the spoon, shaking, to his mouth. I brought him a towel, to dribble on. “Do you need me to feed you?” I asked.
“Not yet. Jusht takes…concentration.” He aimed the loaded spoon at his mouth again, and managed to land it without too much spill.
Joe eased the bowl down to the floor. “Guesh I’m not hungry.”
He was slurring his words, pausing for deep breaths between.
I gave him water from the tin camping cup. He smiled, seemed sleepy.
“Got shomething to ask,” he said, his eyes closed.
“Do you remember… the hospital…after Dad drowned?”
I shuddered, remembering. “How could I ever forget? You were in a deep coma; the doctor kept telling me you probably would never wake up. He called it a ‘persistent vegetative state’.”
“Well, I was ‘aware’ of…what was happening. I drifted away…in a dark spacious place that sheemed empty…but full…if that makes shense. I knew… you were there. I could hear you…shometimes…way off…talking to me.”
“Really? Sure didn’t seem like you were conscious at all.”
“In the night…you put your handsh on my head. Shot of electricity. Shtayed there a long time…I wandered…in the dark place…it was warm…I wanted to shtay…then I got pulled back.”
“Yanked back. From near death. By you.”
“Wow. I never knew you were even aware that I’d done that.”
“Don’t forget. I was there when you got your healing touch….and you had healed me other times, too. But that time…well, you brought me back from near death.”
He took a long, deep breath, and sipped some water.
“I was already on my way…you brought me back. With your healing touch.”
“So…what are you saying?”
“We’re alone…got three days…now we can get started…I came up here…to…get healed…or to die…no more lingering.”
“The coma was closer to death…than I am now. You can bring me back…do some turbo healing.”
He slipped down against the pillow. “We’re here…nothing can dishturb us.”
He adjusted the sleeping bag higher on his chest. “You up for it?”
So Giff was right. Joe wasn’t done yet. He still hoped I could heal him.
“Joe…” I got up and went to the coffeepot on the stove, poured myself a cup. Held it up to him. “Want some?”
“No thanks, I’m not really up to coffee lately.”
I went outside to get the quart of milk out of the snow. Left the door open. Breathed in the cold, sharp air and the no-sound of absolute stillness, centered myself and cleared my mind for what was bothering me.
Am I up for it?
I added milk to my cup and replaced the bottle in the snow. “Here’s my problem,”
I went back in, closed the door, and sat at the battered table with my coffee.
“When I was a kid I had a healing touch, what Magdalena called my kyky, but I lost faith in it, I guess. Some of my healings didn’t work. Remember Alex? I tried to heal him from AIDS. Didn’t happen. And then, after I’ve used it on you so many times, you continued to get…worse.”
“No, Addie…you’ve brought me back…eshpecially from pain, many times… trust that.”
“But…there seems to be something missing now, something really important. I can’t put my finger on it. The healing gets cuts short. Relieves pain, yes, but then there’s no actual healing. It’s an obstacle, and I don’t know what it is.”
“We’ll figure it out…together,” Joe says.
“That’s why you insisted we be up here alone?”
“Yes. But also becaushe…if the healing doeshn’t work…I have to let go…of everything…I’m attached to…if I want to be able to die in peace.” He drinks from the Sierra cup. “Except you.”
Yet, I am here. I am attached.
Joe continues. “They pull on me, everyone…Nellie, the kids, friends, family…everyone roots for me…wants me to make it…even when I’m like this…they still want a miracle…it jusht pulls on me…pressures me. Because I don’t want to let them go.”
He closes his eyes. “But I know I have to,” he says.