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Tante Joht
Part 4

by Phyllis Martens

The following Tuesday Rose read the report of their visits, including the failed mission to Helena Jungas. As expected, Mrs. Abe Balzer expressed indignation at this indication of pride with such vehemence that the ladies in the back row smiled at each other and shook their heads. "No wonder she didn't want it, that old stuff," several women told Rosie afterwards.

Several weeks later Rosie set out for the hospital on a dutiful round of visits. Mrs. Ortman had called saying she had a house full of company and could not go. Rosie herself had baking and laundry to attend to, but said she would go alone.

On arrival at the hospital, she was told at the reception desk that only one patient from Parkview Church was there, a John Ens with a broken hip in Room 7. Rosie hung up her coat on the rack near the door. She felt she had nothing to say to this farmer whom she knew only by sight, but she had chosen a short scripture and written out a prayer--that would have to do. She walked down the hall toward #7 past other rooms with open doors. She glimpsed a few visitors--a mother knitting beside a bed, a young man in work pants talking to someone behind a curtain.

The door to #7 was closed. A nurse came by. "Want to see Ens? He's on the bedpan, wait just a minute. Slipped on the ice and busted his hip. People shouldn't go out in this weather."

"Pretty slippery outside," Rosie agreed.

The nurse opened the door a crack and looked in, then closed it. "Might be a while. You can go see Tante Joht if you want, she's next door in 8."

"Tante Joht?" Rose exclaimed. "She's here?"

The nurse leaned against the wall, resting one foot comfortably behind her. "Came in Monday. Somebody stopped at her place, found her in bed half froze, fire was out...there was wood out back but probably she was too weak to get it. Pneumonia."

I saw her two weeks ago!" Rosie exclaimed. "She brought something to Helena at the hotel. Oh, dear. How bad is she?"

"Not too good." The nurse went to the door of 7, listened, and returned. "Hope he don't fall off the pan--broken hip ain't no picnic. You can go see her, she's awake. Not too clear though." She added, "Helena Jungas was here, looked pretty upset when she left."

Rosie entered #8, clutching her Bible. On the high white bed Tante Joht looked very small. Her face was very pale, the cheeks drawn in around her gums. Her withered hands lay on the white spread like brown dead leaves. Rosie looked at her unwillingly.

The nurse had followed her in. "Na, Tante Joht, do you know who this is? Somebody to see you!"

The old woman's eyes wandered toward the visitor, unseeing. She said in a thin whisper, "Tante Helena?"

"No, she went home. This is--what's your name?--Rosie Pankratz. Come on, grandma, wake up, she wants to talk to you."

The dim eyes focused slowly. Then Tante Joht smiled. "Jah. She brought me the pincushion...." Her eyes traveled toward the night stand. There, beside the photograph of John's family propped up against a glass of water, was the pink-and-yellow pincushion. Rosie noticed that there were no flowers in the room.

"A pincushion, hey? That's very nice." The nurse winked at Rosie. "Now lie still, grandma, or you'll start coughing again."

But Tante Joht was struggling to raise herself, trying to see into the hall. "Where is the other one?"

"She couldn't come today," Rosie said. "I'm by myself." To the nurse she explained, "Mrs. Ortman came with me to her house."

"The other lady couldn't come," the nurse said loudly in Tante Joht's ear. "Maybe next time." She helped her lie back on her pillows.

"Should I read to her?" Rosie asked, looking doubtfully at the Bible.

"Go ahead, why not? I'll go fix up Mr. Ens. Tante Joht, the lady is going to read from the Bible. You stay awake now and lie still." The nurse walked out, leaving the door open.

Rosie read the passage chosen for the day, from Matthew 5: "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek...."

Tante Joht lay with her eyes closed. Rosie shut the Bible and looked helplessly at the shriveled face, wondering if she had heard. Her eyes fell on the photograph. "How is John's baby?" she asked. She leaned closer and repeated the question.

Tante Joht did not answer. Suddenly she turned her head and began to cough, her breath rasping in her throat. The nurse hurried in. Putting an arm behind the old woman's back, she raised her slightly. "All right, grandma, you'll be all right, it's almost time for your medicine."

The coughing fit passed, and the nurse eased Tante Joht back onto the pillow.

"I'll go now," Rosie said hurriedly. "Maybe I can come again in a couple of days."

"She'll come again," he nurse said loudly, leaning over to pat the old hands.

But Tante Joht caught hold of the nurse and began speaking rapidly. "Jah, those two, they came to my house...walking, it was terrible hot...I cooked cabbage in...they brought me pincushions, two...schon, ganz schon...one for me, one for my John's wife...they walked from town, so far...walking...." Her voice murmured on.

On impulse Rosie picked up the pincushion from the night stand and put it in Tante Joht's hand. The old lady looked at it. Her words ceased, she closed her eyes and seemed about to drift into sleep.

The nurse tapped Rosie on the arm. "You can see Ens now, he's all fixed up."

But Rosie walked past #7 down the hall, put on her coat, and went home.

Three days later the local paper carried, under an elaborate account of the wedding of the daughter of a prominent businessman in Dumfrey, a brief notice of the death of Mrs. Maria Joht. Rosie stared at the two lines of print for a long time. Then she clipped the notice to take along to the sewing circle as part of her next report.

At the meeting on Tuesday night, the chair woman, supported by the unanimous vote of the assembled women of the sewing circle, commended the various committees for their work. She mentioned Rosie's visit to Tante Joht in the hospital. "As it turned out, it was our last chance to do anything for her," the chair woman said. "It was very good you went in. I understand you also went to the funeral."

Rosie listened dry-eyed. After the meeting she went home without speaking to anyone. She put the newspaper clipping carefully into a drawer, then tore up the report and threw it into the stove.

Saying she would be back in a minute, she put on her coat and went out the front door and sat on the porch steps. The night was dark but clear. She gazed at the trees, trunks and bare branches black against the dim sky, thinking of nothing in particular. A few lights were on in windows, here and there. Above the town the bright cold stars hung in their appointed places. Rosie leaned her chin in her hands and looked at them. They were so far away, she thought--so calm, so beautiful. After a while she noticed among the white stars a red one, and then near it, she thought, another faintly green, glowing like jewels in the night sky.

She sat on the porch step, huddled in her coat, watching the stars, until one of the children came out looking for her.