Did you get what you want? Was that the question? Or what you deserved? She was sure that wasn't it. Or what you needed? Was it sufficient, your life? That question always drew her in. Was it sufficient? Or just sufficient? Quite sufficient? Barely sufficient? The gradations of a life. Her life.
The thoughts surprised her. They were alive, these questions, visible like roadside signs flashing behind her temporal lobe. She’d like to tell somebody, like to talk about it, hear others’ opinions, weigh the possibilities, argue about the distinction, the very fine distinction between sufficient and just sufficient, the power and thrust of a single word: just. The ambiguity. Which was the higher ranking: sufficient or just sufficient? Which was preferable? If sufficient was indeed higher, perhaps just sufficient was preferable; just sufficient spoke to a life in balance.
Yes. If just sufficient were in everybody’s column, then the world would be in balance and the power of just’s twin meanings, justice and proximity, would be achieved. So just sufficient must be both the highest ranking and the preferred. She got what she needed and what she deserved, if deserved was even on the list. Surely nobody deserved more than what was just sufficient.
She blinked. Maybe Ed would glance over, see the blink. She thought she blinked. She’d heard them say she had no signs of consciousness but, my god, even Steven Hawking could blink. She blinked again, but had no way of knowing if anybody saw. She knew when somebody was near her. She felt the heat of the body and the murmur of the hushed voice and saw the person too, as a cloudy shape, ghostly or angelic depending on who it was. Nobody hovered now.
She had a flash of anger, that sharp clenching impatience, and she could almost hear her own voice, too sharp, saying, “Damn it, I’m talking to you. Look at me.”
And Nell would turn slowly towards her, miming disdain and distaste, eyes raised, a barely sufficient attempt to look at her. But that was years ago. Not now. Nell was the angelic cloud, the soothing voice, the just sufficient presence. Ed was too kinetic, in and out, in and out, he couldn’t sit in the room for more than a minute. Ed, the stoic. She needed to tell him to go. That was the blink. It was sufficient.
God, she’d like to talk to somebody, anybody, to let them know she was there, and she knew where she was going. There was only one direction. It was up. Had to be up. It had begun with the stroke, this lightness, this floating, this movement up.
She smiled and blinked and chortled. Ed had always complained that her laugh was a chortle, an unattractive chortle, not feminine at all. She chortled again and didn’t care that no one knew. Anybody could see the blink or the light in her eyes if they’d just look.
Nell would see it, if not now, then later, and then they would all know what she knew. There was a heaven, and she was on her way, going up and up and up.
It would be just sufficient.
2011 Kathleen Coskran