Sixty-Five Roses

            I didn’t know that was going to be the last day. I swear I didn’t know. If I had known, I would’ve baked oatmeal raisin cookies instead of buying chocolate chip. I would’ve worn the earrings she liked—the ones that looked like little turtles. I would’ve brought a game she actually enjoyed playing. But I didn’t know, and I didn’t bake or wear or bring, and that was the day Rose died.

***

            “Took you long enough!” she yelled. I rubbed my hands with sanitizer upon entering room 223, trying not smirk at the way her voice cracked when she was irritated. Florescent overhead lighting mimicked noon in the worst possible way.

            “Oh, be quiet. It’s eight in the morning, you brat.”  A shiver seized the hair on the back of my neck as I adjusted the thermostat. There was no point in asking if she wanted a blanket—she didn’t. My eyes brushed her bones, knowing that drum-tight, moon-colored skin was the normality of her condition. Her blue lips fused into a firm line as she adjusted her oxygen cannula, then her floppy sunhat, which she insisted on wearing year-round.

            “What’d you bring me?” she asked.

             "I'll tell you what I should've brought you—nothing.” Rose laughed in reaction, mucus bubbling in the back of her throat. “Hey, can you even see with that thing on?”

            "Obviously. Not that there’s much to see here, anyway," she said. And she was right. With rounded furniture in varying shades of gray and a third story view of sidewalk cracks and bus station smokers, blindness seemed like a tumor worth trading for. Out came the cookies and the deck of cards.

            "Seriously? We played Uno yesterday," Rose said, not at all trying to conceal her disappointment. I constantly eyed the growing dullness of her corn stalk hair and wondered whether she was actuallyswallowing the pills I placed next to her milk. But when it came to what she was feeling, there was no guesswork involved. Methodically, I took off my coat, tossed it onto the empty recliner, and sat at the foot of the bed.

            "Well, Uno is a classic. And the classics are classics for a reason,” I replied, shuffling.

            “That’s what my dad says about his music.” I paused for a moment to watch her. Her freckles hid in response to January snow, clashing with the perennial power of her eyes. Her port dressing was coming loose, barely visible above the neckline of her t-shirt.

            “When was the last time you talked to your dad, Rose?” Now it was her turn to pause.

            “Last night.”

            “And what did he say?”

            “Nothing. Just the usual stuff.” She was growing more and more annoyed, her gaze refusing to set from my fingers and the cards.

            “Is he coming to see you, soon?”

            “Deb, does it matter?” Her eyebrows blew together and furrowed. “He’s too busy with work. Besides, you’re way more fun. And you’re a nurse. If I was dying, you would know how to save me.” She pushed her bangs behind her ears and I could see tiny dewdrops shimmering on her forehead.

            “Why would you say something like that?” I asked.

            “Because it’s true.” A cough rattled from within her ribs, proof that disease had rooted itself in a place neither of us could reach.

            “Here—we’ll start with more cards this time. It’s harder, but it’s also more fun.” Rose’s nostrils flared as I passed her seven Uno cards and straightened the deck between us. She froze, staring at her purpling fingernails.

            “You won’t stop coming, will you, Deb?”
            “Well, considering how often you tease me, I should.” I dug a finger into her side and a single, scratchy laugh was uprooted from behind her teeth. “But, no. I’ll always come. Life would be far too boring without you.”

            “Ugh. Stop mushing out on me and play.” She picked up a chocolate chip cookie, bit into it, and grimaced. “You know,” she said, chewing, “these taste like shit.”

***

            I often look back on that day and consider the things I could’ve done to give myself more time with her. I ask myself if the meticulous lip-liner was worth it—if my sedan really needed to be washed. They called it “Rose’s Celebration of Life,” but that’s not at all what it was. Or at least that’s not what it turned out to be. I withdrew into my skin, safe and unchanged, and peeked: thirty people in a dim room they could barely afford, listening to a man preach about a god they didn’t believe in, weeping over the loss of a girl they never paid attention to.