Kimball Farm was a nursing home. Brightly lit, immaculate, with wide hallways bustling friendly aides with linen carts, seat scales, and vacant elderly propped up in wheelchairs. With each tight and drawn face we passed I wondered, do they see me? Do they know where they are? What is going on? Sometimes when we would visit I would wave or say hi. Neither action resulted in acknowledgment. Frightening. I hoped Martha would never slip like that.
Martha Boss lived in the last room at the end of the last hall. Her door and the wall by her bed were forever plastered with pictures of roses. Always with a wink, she'd say, “These are my gardens.” And she tended her photos and magazine clipping as if they were alive. Pruning out the faded blooms, clearing spots where new images were set to flourish. Captain Charles Boss, our ghost, her late husband, was a rose gardener long before he was a soldier. He met Martha while strolling in the Botanical Garden in St. Louis, Missouri. Her hometown; he was there on family business. Two days later, against her parents' wishes, she fled East with him, to Stockbridge, by train, to be married. Only to lose him three months later from injuries incurred at the Battle of St. Lo. Those many years ago he promised her undying love. And she still possessed it.
Just like when we saw her last, Martha was relaxed, with her eyes closed, rocking in her chair. Her shawl, one of her sister-in-law, Alice's hand me overs, now a prized possession, wrapped twice around her boney shoulders. Her wedding ring, way too big, stayed secure, stuck behind an arthritic joint. Our foot steps drew her attention away from her own thoughts and towards the door.
Upon seeing us, her eyes brighten and she made motions, as if she were trying to get up. I raced to her side and squeezed her as tight as I dared. Afraid I would crush her under the forcefulness of my love. She wasn't family, but she was so much apart of our family, that blood didn't matter.
Looking past me, Martha spoke with my mom. “Margaret, when did you get home?”
Mom, walking up beside me replied, “Just today; noon.”
“He said you would be here today.”
No one ever questioned that Charles visited his Martha. Their bond was somehow tied into the return of her wedding band. “So glad you came.”
“So are we, Martha,” added Mom. “So are we. And how are you?”
“These old bones keep hanging in there. With a heart that knows no end.” Despite pushing 90, she was sharp. Not like the mindless bodies that littered the hallways.
“If you're home Margaret, then I can assume one of two things: Beverly is well. Or more likely your dear friend has passed into the other world.” I wondered if Charles could see her.
Mom pursed her lips and nodded, “Beverly died... must be three weeks ago. I stayed on Bainbridge to set things up for Carolyn. So she could finish the school year there.”
“Then what?” asked Martha. But it could well have been me asking the question. Then what indeed.
“Then she moves here.”
The room went silent. Martha looked to me. I looked to Mom, who was repursing her lips.