At the Edge of the Pier

I push Rosemary to the far end of the pier where a few seagulls rest on a handrail. We watch the pelicans swoop down to snatch fish. They are swift and determined, dive straight as an arrow into the ocean and come up with something tasty in their pouch.

The pelicans’ crooked legs and sharp black eyes mean something to Rosemary. Perhaps they remind her of her own twisted and awkward body. She once said that she was a pelican in her former life, a seabird wanting nothing more than food, fresh air, and the ability to fly. 

Rosemary whispers to the sea, “I have so much pain. Please take it away.”

She is a victim of life’s whims and fancies. She was born weak and fragile with a spasmodic body. I often wondered if she would break in half with a stiff sea breeze.

Tears stream down her cheek and fall on her blouse.  

“I feel abandoned,” she says, having lost faith in herself. “The fire in me has burned out.” 

She looks to me for help.  Drool falls from the corner of her mouth.  I put my palms on her shoulders, sending the warmth from my hands down her broken body.

“I hate to see you suffer, Rosemary.”  

Rosemary motions me to take her to the edge of the pier where there is no railing, where only a large seagull sits dumbfounded.

“Push me over!” she implores.

The pier is slippery from a briny sludge.  It would be easy for Rosemary to slide out of my grasp, into the sea, and sink to the bottom without anyone knowing.

“Push me over!” she repeats.

“I don’t want you to go, Rosemary. You’re just having a bad day.”  

I confess that I’ve grown fond of her. It’s more than a job to me, and I genuinely care about her. “If I pushed you off the pier,” I say, “it would ruin my life.” 

“It’s not about you, Henry,” she says. “I want to leave this place and go where I can breathe without feeling like a rope was tied around my chest.”  

“I won’t push you off the pier,” I say, wiping moisture from her cheek. “You’ll feel different tomorrow, I promise.”

  I pause to look at the sky, and I can hear the wind blowing.  The wind seems to have a voice, imploring me to push Rosemary off the pier. “Be brave,” the wind says.  “Give someone you care about what they want. Show her compassion.” 

What if the wind is right? I wonder.  

It tells me to leave her mangled body behind.  Her life will then be a free-floating spirit without pain, unbound by nature’s mistake.

I roll her slowly to the edge of the pier. “Are you ready to go over?” I ask.   

She’s surprised that I have the courage.  

  The reality makes her scared. She hesitates for a split second.

“Rub my shoulder,” she says. “I slept on it wrong last night.”

 I rub the large knot in her shoulder, kneading it gently, patiently waiting for the cue to push her into the sea.

“The water looks cold,” she says.  

“Yes, the water is freezing, Rosemary. It’s choppy and deep. But if you hold onto the wheelchair, you will sink to the bottom; you’ll lose consciousness in a few minutes and you’ll forget.”

“Henry, I’ve changed my mind. I’m hungry now. Please take me to McDonald’s.”

I smile and shake my head in approval.

“I understand,” I say. “You still have a lot to live for.”  

I unlock her brakes and pull her back from the edge, turn the chair around and push her on the bumpy wooden pier, pass the shops, the tourists and the fishermen.  I wheel her back down the boardwalk to McDonald’s.  

At bedtime, I tell her the story about a young blind woman who sailed from a dark and impoverished place to a country of hope and freedom. “She struggles in this new country at first,” I tell Rosemary, “but the struggles become less with time.  Eventually, the blind woman discovers that her blindness is actually a strength.” 

The story makes Rosemary sleepy. Her rheumy eyes close. Her broken body lay painfully across the bed.  I fluff her pillows, prop up her bony legs, and tuck her white veiny arms under the covers to stay warm. She sleeps comfortably, with only a slight wheeze and minimal discomfort.  It brings a smile to my face, knowing that Rosemary will be with me for another day.