by Gene Twaronite
Olivia stared at the woman removing the bedpan, then inspected it carefully. Its contents both disgusted and reassured her. It was one of the last links to reality left to her. She smiled at the nurse’s aide, thankful for another bowel movement and for still knowing what shit was.
Kara tried to look cheerful. It was not her favorite part of the day, and she couldn’t understand why anyone would smile at their shit. But it was her first week and she had much to learn. Gently she helped Olivia upright for a sponge bath.
At first, Olivia coyly resisted as she always did, pulling her arms tightly across her breasts. Then, looking into Kara’s eyes, she smiled and relented, opening her arms wide. And as Kara gently washed each part of her body, Olivia began to tense up, then shiver and moan, until at last she gave out an ecstatic cry.
Olivia lay back on her pillow, gazing out the window with a bemused expression. She had never been an erotic being, of that she was certain. It’s not that she hadn’t tried, plenty of times. But in the end sex had always left her feeling empty. For a while she had succeeded with the usual tricks in keeping it from her husband, Ernie. Dutifully she would moan and arch her body, often at inappropriate times. A couple of times she even managed to convince herself that she really did feel something. But eventually her husband saw through it and grew increasingly frustrated and resentful of his inability to satisfy her. Three years later, they parted, still good friends, as he went off in search of a more passionate lover.
Though she never remarried, Olivia still hoped to find passion at the touch of another. Before a date she would often practice in the mirror, touching herself tenderly and rehearsing out loud what she might say. But her lovers never bought it and neither did she. And her relationships only led to more resentments and rejections along with a growing sense of futility.
Eventually she stopped going out altogether. She couldn’t pretend any more.
But in the classroom it was a different story. In her literature classes she called forth the universe of fictional characters that lived inside her, channeling their words and passions into live performances for her students. She became Emma Bovary, liberated from a dull life and marriage. Or she became Thomas Hardy’s tragic beauty, Eustacia Vye, whose exotic, dark-haired looks Olivia fancied herself sharing. At times the performances seemed more real to her than anything she had ever experienced. In them she found the perfect embodiment of all that she wished to feel.
But she knew too well the lessons from literature. She knew that Eustacia Vye had loved Damon Wildeve only because there was no better object available to her. And to him she was just one more woman to conquer. Olivia had often wondered if she could ever feel Eustacia’s one great desire: “To be loved to madness.”
“Why does she moan and cry out when I give her a sponge bath?” asked Kara. “Lately she’s been repeating a name – Damon or something like that. It’s almost as if she’s …”
The charge nurse nodded and smiled. “She’s acting out some part of her past. It’s common in advanced stages. She’s losing speech and all control. She’s probably trying to find a place where things still make sense. Just try to go with it.”
Later that week, during a sponge bath, Kara noticed that Olivia had become strangely calm and quiet. The tenseness was still there, but it seemed more focused on something inside her. Then Olivia turned to Kara and spoke softly. “Is that you, Damon? Do you love me now? Tell me; I will know it.”
Kara thought quickly, then answered tenderly in a husky voice. “Yes, Eustacia. I do love you. Where do you wish to go to? Things will be different now. I promise.”