Rosebud never did have a calm set of mind, and though none of us was surpirsed that Granny should become sudden sick, Rosebud made it out as though a tornado had passed through their farm, carrying Granny with all the livestock and the children next door half a mile down the Savannah River. Well, sure enough we all come to the E.R., fast as could be, it sounding like the entire family was in with the Bubonic Plague.
I remember walking through those sliding glass doors, holding mama's hand as tight as could be. It looked bright inside from the outside, and it was even brighter inside on the inside. I still don't understand how people can move around so fast in such bright light wearing such bright, white clothes, doctors, nurses, whoosh! everywhere, and the paramedics drinking coffee, talking with the policeman on duty. One of them offered me a donut but I was too scared to take it. I saw the needles and bags and green plastic hanging on the walls, pushed by me on stainless steel carts with wheels that squeaked as awful as the light inside that emergency room. It smelled of rubbing alcohol and urine and sweat and vomit, and I wanted to hide in mama's skirt. Harold took my hand and led me to the sitting room when mama had to leave to see Granny. We couldn't go back yet, said they didn't want small children in where she was. Harold was probably as scared as I was, but he always took things better, being the older one and all. Some nice lady showed us to seats in the back of the room and a nice black lady gave us a magazine her kid had been reading before she fell asleep in her lap.
I sniffled and cried in my hands. Harold got me some kleenex and told me to clean my face and quit crying. I wiped my face but was still crying. He got me a drink of water then put his arm around my shoulder which made feel a little better.
When mama came back she was pale and we could tell she had been crying. Harold went a little pale and I hid my nose in the kleenex. She gathered us in her arms and told us we could see Granny, that this would be the last time we could see Granny, she was going to meet the Lord soon.
It seemed endless following mama through the halls of that hospital. She walked so fast, behind some doctor with a long white coat and green scrubs underneath. He had a big clipboard with a pen attached to the metal clip that went 'ting ting.. tap tap,' keeping time with the nurses and ordelies yelling 'STAT!, Get this! and Bring that!' He smiled at me through weary eyes and put his hand on my head from time to time. His hand smelled clean like the clean of the hospital before it became mixed in with everything else.
He led us into Granny's room, as bright as the hallway and filled with equipment, lots of equipment, equipment for breathing, equipment for eating, equipment beeping, so much equipment doing so many things. Right in the middle of all that equipment was Granny under a white sheet with two tubes up her nose and her cheeks puffing in and out with labored effort. But Granny didn't look so bad, she looked about as she always looked, her hair a bit out at the edges, her eyes wandering here and there, only she was in bed with all these tubes comin' out of her. Rosebud looked more like she belonged in the bed. Her eyes was sunk and her face was pale. She was still crying. Earl had his arm on her shoulder. Uncle Johnny was sitting close up on Granny on the other side, holding her hand and whispering into her ear.
He smiled at us when we came in and motioned for us to come over, told us not to be afraid, Granny wanted to see us before she departed from the earth. I knew he meant she was gonna die. Mama had told us about death, like when the preacher at church talked about it. We were going to see Granny die and watch her soul rise into heaven. I was always worried that if I died it would be under electric power lines, and my soul would get caught in the lines, and Jesus would have to come down and untangle me before I could rise into heaven, but in the hospital the nurses and doctors had moved the equipment lines away from Granny, so her soul could rise into heaven without getting caught on anything.
With his long arm he herded Harold and me to the side of the bed and let me sit on his lap so I could see over the railing of the bed. Granny turned her head towards us, and now I saw that she looked really awful, with those tubes and the fluid collecting in them. I wanted to cry. Her eyes wouldn't stay put in her head and she smelled of sweat and rubbing alcohol, but she was singing. In between the puffs of her cheeks we could hear her singing, just barely. Uncle Johhny leaned forward, 'Now what's that you say Fanny-Mae? It's me, Johnny, you can tell me. You know I can keep a secret.' She just kept on singing lightly to herself, turning her head this way and that, singing. Rosebud just looked confused and unhappy. 'What's she singing Johnny?'
'She's singing to the angels Rose, it's to the angels coming down..'
I didn't know what she was singing, but I couldn't see any angels anywhere..
'Mine . . eyes . . seeee . . . . . rhe . . . . . dalaba . . . . ooo
'Why, she's singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic.'
'We . . . hav . . . tor . 'ched . . ev . . . . teech . . we . .av broo . . . .ev . . . roo.'
I looked at Harold and swallowed a big hard swallow. We knew what Granny was singing. It was what we had been singing in the garden last week when we came to visit her and Aunt Rosebud. Uncle Johnny gave a disturbed grunt that I could feel through his lap. He leaned over Granny and held her hand real tight in his. Then he whispered real soft in her ear so Rosebud couldn't hear.
'Now Fanny, it wasn't you who burned the school at Windsor when we was kids..'
And for a moment her eyes stopped wandering and she looked at Uncle Johnny right in the face, not even looking to the side at me or Harold, just at Uncle Johnny. Her lips trembled in the corners a few times between puffs, like she was smiling through a coathanger, then her eyes went back to being wild and out of control.
I couldn't cry anymore. I felt like I had to pee real bad, but when I tried to get down from Uncle Johnny's lap he just wrapped his hand around my waist and told me I was being good, he was real proud of me for behaving like a big girl.
I don't know how much longer we sat there. Granny started singing some more of 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic,' the line with the prinicipal and his secretary. Uncle Johnny just rocked back and forth in his chair with me in his lap and Harold by his side. Mama was crying, Rosebud was crying, and the doctors and nurses kept coming in to look at the machines and equipment. One of them took mama to the side and talked with her in a low tone. Mama started crying again in her hankerchief, which made Rosebud cry with loud sobs. I think Granny heard her, beacause then she stopped singing. Her cheeks flapped for a while then stopped. I saw a little light come on by the side of the bed which I though was to show that her soul was rising, but then alarms went off and people came rushing in from the corridor. Somehow Harold and me was pushed into the hallway and back to the waiting room. I felt real shook up and started shivering like it was cold inside, even though it wasn't.
I went to school the next morning, but just for a little bit
until mama could come pick me and Harold up.
We never sang that song again.