It was one of those days. Even the sky was sad, ashen and dripping its misery onto oil-soaked streets. Judith sat, watching the children play in the patch of brown grass in front of her apartment building. She loved to watch the children. She no longer went outside...it had progressed too far...she did not have the strength. She felt like she was broken. Her mind was diamond sharp, but her body was failing her...letting her down. She tried not to think about it. Tried to watch the children playing tag, running on legs they never doubted.
Judith did not like being spoken to like a child. Most of the nurses understood this. Some didn't. A few realized who she was and would bring her books and magazines to read. Some of them tried to convince her that she should be in a home. She told them she was in a home. Her home. Some of them understood.
Night. It was the night she couldn't stand. Her insomnia was a weight around her neck. She read; she did not own a television. Books were a good crutch, but she craved the light. She needed to see that people still did things that she could not. She watched the young mothers with children in tow - headed to the store - there was always a twinge of sadness. She had never experienced motherhood. The children who played in the brown grass and the nurses were the closest thing to family she had.
They saw her watching sometimes, but they were kind. Curious. It had surprised her. She had always assumed that she was some kind of joke...a caricature...the crazy lady who stares out the window all day. But the kids saw her and, for whatever reason, they saw an ally, not a spectacle.
It happened slowly. They began to do tricks for her. Cartwheels, juggling, feats of daring. It seemed like they were for her, but...
The first wave almost stopped her heart. It was from a young boy. He was all blond hair and freckles, and it wasn't so much a wave as a salute with a smile attached. She waved back without thinking. Now, it was their custom. They waved to her every day. And every day, she waved back, wondering if they knew the unfathomable kindness of their actions.
When the pain hit, she thought she would scream. It was a tearing, breathless horror. The nurse that was on duty was one of her favorites. Courtney, a strong southern girl. It happened fast. Courtney pounded on her chest, willing her to live, but Judith shook her head. She tried to speak, but her lips just barely moved. The nurse put her ear closer.
"Courtney, it has been a comfort to have you here. Thank you."
"No, Judith...ma'am...you just..."
Judith smiled and squeezed the girls hand. The pain was her friend now. Her guide. She knew to follow.
"Courtney...tell the children I said goodbye..."
Courtney knew who she meant and nodded, tears streaming down her face. She had watched the children with Judith many days. She knew.
"Courtney...tell them I loved them."
Courtney kept nodding and crying as she watched Judith die. The life seemed to slip from her body. It was like one long exhale. Then she was quiet and still. Outside, the boys and girls were laughing, gathering for a game. Some of them looked up at the window and shrugged. Courtney walked down the steps slowly. When the children saw her, they froze.
"Ms. Stupps has passed children. She is not alive anymore."
The children stared, open-mouthed. The younger kids cried outright, while the older kids did their best to bore a hole in the ground with their eyes.
"She wanted me to tell y'all that she loved you. And she did. You were the highlight of her day. Did you know that?"
None of the children spoke, and Courtney was just turning to go inside when the small blonde boy stepped forward.
"Can she still see us, " the boy pointed toward the sky, "up there? Can she?"
Courtney closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
"Yes, I believe she can."
The children did not play in the grass that day. They covered the sidewalks with pastel chalk. They wrote it big enough so she could see it from way up there. They drew flowers and hearts. They sat on the sidewalk with pastel hands and they did not stop until it was dark. By that time, the whole sidewalk was covered. It was a simple message conveyed many ways, the echo of a dying woman.