One hundred five years was a long life. Bertha was quite determined to live longer but one morning she forgot to wake up and so it was over.
She had plenty of warning but that didn’t worry her. The sensation of an elephant sitting on her chest would come once in a while, and the nitro tablets under her tongue would ease it to down to walrus-size, and then to a small gorilla, and then finally to the plump calico cat that purred beside her as she slept. Occasionally the elephant wouldn’t leave, so she would make her obligatory 911 call to the beefy firemen in all their gear, followed by the uniformed paramedics who packed their equipment into her small bedroom and would hook her up and marvel at her steady heart rate. They would greet Bertha as an old friend as she recognized most of them, grilling the ones she didn’t know to make sure they knew what they were doing. Then they would take her into the emergency room where she was on a first name basis with the doctors. A steady stream of nurses, aids, orderlies and housekeepers would come by to rub her arms for good luck, everyone hoping her longevity would transfer magically to them.
Once Bertha was sent back home, she slept as little as possible. There was simply too much life to live and too little time left. There were things she still needed to accomplish– one hundred five years was not long enough. She still drove her Buick around town, sometimes missing a stop sign or two, but everyone knew to watch out for her and give her wide berth. Never missing church, she expected the rapture any moment. There were books to be read, articles to write for her retirement community newsletter, a literature class to teach for a dozen white haired ladies. Occasionally an unsuspecting gentleman, not knowing Bertha’s reputation, would wander into the classroom and sit down, looking for a diversion. If he lasted the entire hour under her piercing gaze and sharp tongue, it was a miracle.
The local schools would send students to interview her every year to learn her secrets about living a long life. Bertha would change her story each time, just to keep things interesting. One year it was because she ate garlic, another year it was because she said her prayers daily, another year it was the glass of port she drank every night. Everyone knew it was likely none of those things but rather her strong willed determination that her heart could not quit beating and her next breath would always come. There was too much left to do.
The night before she died, Bertha had called each of her three daughters, in their late seventies and eighties and made plans for their next gathering. She had walked down the hall to her favorite neighbor to chat about the next book due to be read for her literature class the following week. She ate a little bit, sipped her port, watched the evening news, got into her nightgown, crawled into bed, said her prayers and turned out the lights. The elephant didn’t wake her up as it usually did. It just simply sat down on her and refused to get back up.
Bertha lived many years, so many more than most. Even so, it wasn’t nearly enough. It never is enough.