The Fragile Being

Just another wonderful Saturday morning I thought as I started out to retrieve my mail. But it wasn’t just another Saturday morning and it wasn’t wonderful because on this day the county sheriff and local police where moving in and out of Helen’s room. Her door was open and as I walked by I saw an officer cover her over with a blanket. She was dead.

I live in a converted old Victorian mansion. There are about 25 apartments in our complex and they are all very comfortable and well appointed. The age range of the tenants is from 22 years of age to 75 years of age. The grounds are spectacular, the view is breathtaking, and all in all everyone of us is quite happy and content. Of course we all have our problems as far as money, love interests, family, friends, and the world in general. We all wonder when the number of jobs going overseas and the effects of global warming will cease. We also wonder about the lack of totally honest government and what will happen to so many people who don’t have health insurance. But on this Saturday everything seems mute because a lovely life has just left our presence.

Helen was a portly lady of 60 years of age who was very nervous and shaky. She told me one time that she was taking a lot of medication. Helen’s face was a bit on the plump side and her complexion rosy. Her figure was reminiscent of a peach, as round and wide as she was tall. She seldom said a word to anyone and the only time she left her apartment was to catch a bus to go grocery shopping or to the doctor. Sometimes I would see her in the hallway and would say “good morning” to her to which she would meekly reply in a very weak voice, “good morning to you.” And that would be the extent of our conversation most of the time. Of course there were those times when I would say, “looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day,” and she would reply, “yes, it is.” But generally, Helen spent most of her time staring down at the carpet as she walked by or sat in the foyer. She always seemed to be on the brink of a nervous breakdown. It wasn’t until the day after her passing that I saw her relatives. Apparently, they are very wealthy and had placed Helen in our apartment complex. They never came by to see her, in fact the only person who visited Helen was her former roommate and close friend Patty. I met Patty because of an emergency involving Helen a couple of months ago.

I had just stepped out of the shower when I heard a lot of commotion and whispering going on down the hall from my apartment. I peeked through the blinds on my door window to see what all the fuss was about. To my surprise there were several EMT (emergency medical team) individuals and 5 or 6 tenants all standing around talking and as though they were very concerned about Helen. Patty had come over to see Helen and could not get her to open her apartment door. They began having a conversation through the door and Patty became alarmed because Helen told her that she had been sitting in her chair for a couple of days and could not move. Patty called the EMT squad and upon arrival they could not get the door open using a pass key or any other door opening device. They tried contacting the apartment management without success at first and decided to break the door down. The management came over immediately after checking their voice mail. They were very concerned to say the least. The good and bad of the process to gain entry was that the door was a solid door and that was good, but that meant that making a hole in the door was not an option so the only possible way to get to Helen was to pry the door jam away and push through the door. So that is what they did and after a couple of hours of effort the EMT people got to Helen. She had been sitting in her own urine for days and was very dehydrated. It was imperative that Helen be taken to the hospital immediately. Who knows what might have happened if Patty had not come by for a visit. None of us were aware of Helen’s plight and after all, we were used to not seeing her for days at a time.

A week later Helen returned to her apartment. The door had been repaired and painted and the room cleaned. Helen’s door was open so I stopped by to tell her how happy we all were to have her back. She nearly jumped out of her skin as I said good morning. Her nerves were very much on edge. So I calmly wished her well and excused myself. Later on that same day as I walked by her apartment I could her Helen talking with someone who was visiting her (Patty) and I heard Helen say, “I just don’t feel right.” Her guest replied, “well I am sure you will feel better after you have completed taking your medication.” “No, I won’t,” replied Helen, “there is something wrong with me.” “I called the doctor Helen but he can’t see you for a few days. He is booked up,” said Patty. “Okay, said Helen, I will just have to wait but I feel all funny inside.”

The next morning I heard noises in the hall once again. There was no whispering by our fellow tenants this time. Just a sadness in the way they stood arms linked, motionless, and tears gently caressing their cheeks as they realized that Helen had left us. Patty was there and talking with the Sheriff’s deputy she related the conversation she had had with Helen just the day before. “If only we could have seen her doctor yesterday she might still be with us today,” she said. “Well ma’am, replied the officer, that is something we can never know and the ‘what ifs’ can never be a reality. That statement really rang true for me. So many of us have opportunities to make amends for an argument we had with a loved one or friend and don’t do anything to make it better until way after the fact. Many times a chance presents itself and we hesitate because we are unsure either about ourselves or what the results of taking the chance might be. For Helen, it was a chance missed without knowing the chance to live longer might exist had she met with her doctor.

It has been 4 months since Helen departed and no one speaks of her or even mentions her name. Her apartment has a new tenant and life here is just as it was before. People busy with their daily routines, thinking about ways to improve their lot in life, and generally leaving one another alone to be who it is they are or will be. It is reminiscent of the effect one experiences when they put their hand in a pool of water and withdraw it. It is as though the act never occurred.

The Fragile Being


Auburn, United States

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Artist's Description

A lovely person living in a daze and suddenly gone.

Artwork Comments

  • Dawn B Davies-McIninch
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