68. My Cherished Companion
Below us and across 11th Street is MilkBoy, a restaurant and bar situated on the corner with Chestnut. Most every night they have music. We can hear the beat of drums, the buzz of a bass. My hearing is better than Ms Keogh’s. Ms Keogh is my cherished companion. I can sometimes make out the singers, but not the words. I could hear that it was music when Ms Keogh first thought it was machinery at a nearby construction site.
I can also hear the Founder’s Bell chime the hour. Its euphonious tone makes it the most beautiful bell I have ever heard and, to think, it is here in Philadelphia. I can even hear it in our Philadelphia apartment, two blocks farther away. When I hear it, it instructs me to pause and meditate on good things. From the hospital room’s window, I can see it silhouetted inside its towering belfry atop One South Broad Street. It doesn’t move. It is struck by an electric hammer. (Originally the over seventeen ton bell swung, but it caused the building to shake.) I had meant to arrange a visit to the bell, but there never seemed to be the time.
From this window, I can see William Penn's bronze statue standing atop City Hall. It was created by Alexander Calder, the grandfather of the better known today Alexander Calder of the “mobile” fame. At one time, a gentlemen's agreement would not permit any building in Philadelphia to rise higher than the brim of Penn’s hat. That agreement was first broken with the construction of One Liberty Place in the 1980s, an attractive building with echoes of the Chrysler Building in Manhattan, and was soon followed by Two Liberty Place. Both buildings’ pinnacles I can see from Ms Keogh’s hospital window.
This is where I am, visiting Ms Keogh in her hospital room. She returned with me to the USA 29th September because in thirty-three and a half years we’ve never been apart for more than a week or two. The initial purpose for my return was to formally apply for residency to the UK. My solicitor thought it would take two or three weeks. I finally secured a Residence Permit in January. But there are other reasons for our continuing sojourn in Philadelphia. Ms Keogh was losing the transplanted kidney she has had for the last decade. She was also suffering shortness of breath due to aortic stenosis causing congestive heart failure. The doctors expected her to live only a few more months. In February, she was back on dialysis. Also in February, heart surgery preserved for her a longer future with a new artificial heart valve.
We have been in the USA for seven months, soon to be entering the eighth month. Ms Keogh has been in and out of hospitals multiple times during the last seven months and is in the hospital again with what was a serious infection. The mysterious bug has been vanquished with antibiotics, but it was never identified. It was one more ordeal in a seven month saga of too many ordeals that have left Ms Keogh too weak to make the arduous journey back to the place we want to call home, an apartment in Cardiff, Wales overlooking the Hayes. So, here we are in Thomas Jefferson University Hospital sitting across from each other by the large window of her room, a west view of Philadelphia’s cityscape.
Here is a little story about earlier today. Ms Keogh intended to help me write my next essay for Snakeskin. “It would be easy,” she declared. I was not to worry about the deadline because she would help. So, I postponed making a start of it. So did she. She said she needed her large sketchbook to do it. This morning I arrived with the required sketchbook.
“How many pages do you want me to fill?” she asked. She wrote in her large sketchbook, pages 8½ by 11. She stopped after the first page, perhaps 250 words. She was proud of what she had written and asked if it would be enough. I reminded her that she had promised four pages. I wanted three more.
She went at it with surprising energy. I cannot fill pages as quickly as she does, not even when I am inspired. When I write, it is slow and tedious, like squeezing oranges. For her it is like pouring orange juice from a pitcher. But when she had finished and read again the whole of it, she was very disappointed. She saw that it was all about herself and primarily whinging. (Americans whine, the British whinge.) She herself decided it wasn’t very good and concluded that it was unusable. She never believed composing essays could be as hard as I made it out to be. Now she admits it is more difficult than she realized. I am gratified she has learned that while a passion, writing is still hard work for me.
Because I had placed my trust in her, I was now to make a late start on my essay. The consequence is greater stress and anxiety, having waited this long to start. I cannot resist laughing.
Ms Keogh has abandoned the window. I assist her back into bed to take a nap. When we hold hands, I want life to flow out of me and into her. I don't need to be this strong. She needs to be stronger.
We are at an age when we know too many people with medical problems and colorful accounts of doctor visits and hospital stays. I don’t want to contribute another story that adds to my reader’s burdens. Ms Keogh is to be discharged tomorrow. It causes me to ponder the blessings of medical science and technology that continue to extend Ms Keogh’s life expectancy. As soon as she is strong enough, we are flying back to Cardiff.
There are plenty of bells in Cardiff. I’ve grown fond of bells. They make me happy. I do not deserve my happy life. I have not earned my good luck. I have not sufficiently contributed to the world in exchange for all the wonders it has presented me. And, Ms Keogh remains my cherished companion.
Mr Bentzman will continue to report here regularly about the events and concerns of his life. If you've any comments or suggestions, he would be pleased to hear from you.
Selected Suburban Soliloquies, the best of Mr Bentzman's earlier series of Snakeskin essays, is available as a book or as an ebook, from Amazon and elsewhere.