Kage Baker had been tucked into her big feather bed for the last night, this time eight years ago.
She was sleepy but lucid as the sun set; she sat up against her pillows and saw the sun down into the sea, as she could from her bedroom. I remember it set into a broad band of carmine, and that the road of the sun seemed to run straight across the water to her window. The wall behind her head was gold and amber. She said she was much more comfortable, and lay down with her hands on her breast, like a still life of herself.
That wasn’t unusual at all. Kage usually slept like a figure on a catafalque, flat on her back with her hands clasped on the edge of the covers, pale and still. We used to sometimes put odd things in her hands, like a lily in a folk song, so she lay there with, say, a wooden spoon or a bottle of rum or a stuffed mechanical rabbit … camping jokes, you know; sleepover pranks.
In the mornings she always looked like a lady in a tragic ballad, all her hot bright life dimmed to a porcelain quiet. I, on the other hand, usually arose looking like I’d slept upside down in my bed, hair sticking out sideways and my nightgown on inside-out … then we’d get up and Kage would open those black eyes full of fantastic worlds, while I found my glasses to see anything at all.
There’s a moral there, I am sure.
Anyway, Kage looked utterly composed and calm when she lay back against her pillows for that last night. She was so calm and motionless, it was hours until we watchers figured out she wouldn’t wake up again. It took her breathing changing to clue us in, as it slowed and began to rasp and halt for seconds at a time. And that was how she stayed, breathing but with less and less interest, until 1:15 AM. And then she died.
The moon was in its last quarter that night. It rose late, in the far east over the hills that hid the inland from the beach; I didn’t see it until I went out on the porch hours later to watch Kage’s body borne down the stairs. It was dead and cold and gave no light.
Tonight, though … tonight is a Super Blue Blood Moon. A Blue Moon means it is the second full moon in a month, and a Super Moon means it’s at the closest point to the earth in its orbit. It also is a night of lunar eclipse, which brings in the Blood factor: although we will not see the full eclipse here in California, we can see the reddened shadow it casts on the disc of the moon. Thus the Super Blue Blood Moon.
This is a concatenation of events that has not occurred in 150 years or so, and it won’t happen again in my lifetime. Not unless there is some ghastly advance in geriatrics, anyway, that condemns me to another century of life in this increasingly uncomfortable world. It would doubtless be of the ironic Tithonus* variety, too, wherein I did not die but also was not returned to youth – eternity as a withered apple, out of breath and aching in every joint. I most sincerely hope no such advancement in medicine is visited upon me, as I am now maintaining a cheerful point of view by believing in a better life to come.
The cyst behind my knee makes me walk like a combination of Igor and the Little Mermaid: every step a crooked lurch, that feels like walking on knives. This also tweaks my back, and so I sleep very little – I have to move every hour or so, shifting between lying down and sitting up, to get any physical ease of the constant discomfort. Ever see a cow or horse or dog, walking in endless circles in an attempt to escape some pain? That’s me, but with a cane. And I don’t see the orthopedist for 3 weeks.
Don’t even suggest your favourite painkillers, Dear Readers. My doctor will prescribe nothing stronger than acetaminophen with codeine: there’s an opioid epidemic, you know, and God forbid I should become addicted. Where is this epidemic happening? I’d love to know. All I can figure is, someone in Arkansas or Nebraska is taking all my drugs. I am profoundly angry and depressed. Also, just plain cranky, as well as usually too tired and aching to sit and write.
But Kage always said – if things get too horrible to bear, then kick it all over and start again. Go back to some beginning place, make a new start, pretend you are trying it for the first time. Throw away the habits that hurt and find some new ones. I can never sleep on the anniversary of Kage’s death until the time rolls round and past on the clock. So I’m making lists of thing to try, as I sit waiting for 1:15 to roll around.
I have resumed knitting, a soothing activity I had laid aside some time ago in the chaos of trying to write. My agent just sent me ALL the contracts and analyses of Kage’s books, so I can lay them all out and see where to make some enormous new step. Finally, I summoned the courage to suggest that my agent try to sell some of MY work as well as Kage’s older stuff: and she said yes, mirabile dictu! I have stopped reading in bed, and am counting grams of carbohydrates.
Tonight, around 5 AM, I shall totter out on the front porch and look at the astounding Moon. I don’t take it for an omen – it’s only a lovely hiccough in the endless orrery of the night sky – but it will be a better moon than the pallid wretched thing I watched rise 8 years ago. I’m anticipating it with some genuine expectation of joy.
Maybe I’ll take up vaping. Maybe I’ll get a tattoo. Maybe I’ll finally try to see if I can live on the appealing diet of bacon and oranges. Certainly, I will try to write; and some of the time I will succeed.
Kage would understand.
*Tithonus was a young handsome prince with whom the air-headed goddess of dawn, Eos, fell in love. She made him immortal but forgot to give him eternal youth; he eventually withered into a tiny, bent, grey, creaking little creature: a grasshopper. At which point, his absent-minded inamorata kicked him out, and now he wanders the world annoying ants and Mormons.
That was beautiful prose on how to handle both life and death with dignity and grace, thank you for sharing.
Thank you, Kara – you are much too kind. My complaints don’t seem either dignified or graceful, to me. The best I hope for is a sort of black comedy, and some good memories. Your encouragement is a great boon to me.
“The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan.
Me only cruel immortality
Consumes: I wither slowly in thine arms,
Here at the quiet limit of the world…”
Breaks my heart every time I read it.