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Art History
by Carol H Schlank

          Tillie is unpacking her husband Edward’s suitcases in his new room in the Finger Lakes Nursing Home. Edward sits in a wheel chair--one side of his face slack and distorted as if by a massive dose of novocaine. His head tilts on the bad side toward his shoulder, bobbing up and down like a child’s wind-up toy. He follows Tillie’s movements with his good eye as she places neatly folded shirts and underwear in the bureau drawers. She hangs his favorite tweed jacket in the closet, slides the empty suitcases under the hospital bed, and surveys the room. She is very thin, and her skin is wrinkled around her eyes and mouth and under the green silk scarf she has tucked into her suit jacket.


          Edward moves his tongue along the sloping side of his bottom lip. He makes a sound, a hissing syllable. “Sssit.”


          “Yes, Edward,” says Tillie, resigned. She sits until he seems to have forgotten her; then she gets up quietly and goes to the dresser for his comb and brush.


          She is combing his thin white hair into place when the nurse’s aide appears. Tillie studies the girl and approves. The girl is young, but has a confident, solid look, as if she knows she has a mission here.


          “Is your husband all settled in?” she asks Tillie. Her pretty round face is concerned.


          Tillie scans the young woman’s name tag. “Yes, Christine. I think he has everything he will need.”


          Tillie looks at the braided rugs, the Swedish ivy on the window sill, and the bright prints she has hung.


She smiles at the girl. “He likes TV. He can manage the remote switch himself.”


          Christine nods, approving. “It’s a nice TV.” Her eyes move to the prints. “Are those by famous artists?”


          She’s certainly not sophisticated, Tillie thinks, but that won’t matter now. She’s pretty enough.


          She smiles at Christine again. “The one of the nude at the picnic is by Edouard Manet. The lighthouse is by Edward Hopper. They’re two of my Edward’s favorites.


          Edward’s good eye slides toward the pictures. His mouth forms a slanted O. “Monet,” he says. “Wwwhere’s..”


          “There wasn’t room for everything, Edward,” Tillie says. “I did my best.” She picks up her coat from the leather easy chair.


Christine moves quickly to hold it for her.


          “Thank you.” Tillie has deep smile lines and even teeth. She buttons her coat, adjusts her scarf, and puts both hands up to her white hair arranging it on her head as if it were a hat.


“What did Mr. Blake do before he got sick?” Christine asks.


          “He was an art history professor at the University of Rochester.” Tillie raises her voice. “He was very popular with the students, weren’t you, Edward?” She looks past him at the window which frames the nearby Bristol Hills.


          She sighs and goes to him. She adjusts the plaid throw rug around his legs and leans over to kiss his forehead. “Goodbye, Edward,” she says. “Christine will look after you now.”


          Edward looks past Tillie at Christine. “Hellllo, C’stine,” Edward says. His crooked smile looks oddly rakish. His good eye studies Christine, who averts her eyes and pulls a pad and pencil from her uniform pocket.


“What kind of juice would you like, Mr. Blake?” she asks. “Orange or cranberry?”


          Tillie watches them a moment, then turns to leave. She closes the door quietly behind her. As she walks down the corridor, her one-inch heels make clicking sounds which echo in the tiled hallway.


          The front door of the nursing home is heavy oak with brass fittings. Tillie tugs it open the necessary crack and slips out into the crisp March day. She pauses and takes a deep breath of the early spring air before walking briskly down the steps. Then smiling broadly and swinging her purse like a school girl, she almost seems to skip as she heads to the parking lot and her car.


A specialist in preschool education, Carol H. Schlank co-authored three biographies for young children: about Martin Luther King, Jr.; Rachel Carson; and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She also co-wrote a book for educators on fostering gender equity in early childhood programs. “Art History” is her only published work of literary fiction.

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