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The Decline and Fall

The stabbing pain took away Gloria’s breath, yet it was a godsend—the perfect situation to tell Helen how much she depended on her, needed her, thought of her as the daughter she never had. She leaned on the walker and dragged herself to the kitchen.

“I’ll brew a cup of tea,” Gloria said. “And I made you a beautiful salad.”

“Are you sure you’re okay? Do you need your meds?”

“No, no. Run upstairs and get the small jewelry box. Then we’ll have lunch.”

It took every ounce of strength for Gloria to lift Helen’s salad and get it to the table. With tiny beads of sweat forming on her upper lip, Gloria backed into her chair, exhausted, and listened to Helen rummaging around upstairs. The girl never missed the opportunity to go through Gloria’s things. Footsteps pounded down the steps.

“Your little jewelry box,” Helen sang and placed it in front of Gloria.

“I’m giving this to you. You’ve been a great help and this is dear to me, as you are,” Gloria said, pushing it towards Helen.

Helen trembled. Her hooded eyes glistened and her pouty lips were pink and puckered. Gloria thought of Sheba, the golden retriever she’d had for twelve years, quivering with delight at the prospect of a bone. She would throw Helen a bone, why not?

“I’ve decided to change my will. I want you to have the house and the car after I die. Gunnar was very wise with money. Between Social Security and the return on our investments, I’ve been able to live well enough over the years and I expect you will too. Of course, I have commitments to the Ryan boys. I intend to give Todd money to buy a car.”

Helen could not believe her ears. Her dream came true. All she ever wanted was to help people, to make a difference. Across the table, Gloria’s hands shook so much she couldn’t bring her teacup to her lips.

“Thank you,” Helen said. “I’ll take care of you. We’ll go for long rides on nice days and we can buy a big TV to watch movies when it rains.”

It will be so easy to take away Gloria’s pain after she changes the will, Helen thought. A slip, a fall, a pillow pressed gently on her face. No autopsy, she wouldn’t want that. I am the only survivor. Yes, she would like her ashes strewn over her garden. Helen smiled at Gloria and reached for the salad.

“You are such a beautiful person.”

Gloria wished Helen could help her up. The pain in her hip and leg were excruciating. After she finished the salad, Helen had staggered from the table and collapsed on the floor, blocking the front door. Before the convulsions became so unpleasant—the putrid smell was unexpected—Helen had sung to herself in a slurred voice, “Let the sun shine, let the sun shine in, the sun shine in.” Let the sun shine in, indeed. There lay Helen, sprawled across the threshold, her essence wandering through the house, leaving its impression on Gloria’s things.

Gloria pulled herself up and clumped to the chair by the phone. She sat for a bit to get her breath and plan the rest of her day. First, call 9-1-1 and get that thing removed. Then, call Janice and have her send another driver. Gloria sighed. I wish Helen had brought those little doughnuts.

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