He didn't die alone. My mother says she never left him, and at the end I was there—the elder son. She, my mother, prayed she'd find him dead every morning when she went in. But he wasn't. When I heard her talk like that I came. I knew it was different this time, from the small, flat pitch in her voice and because I was experienced. I had seen the signs of death before from other lives and had come to know its timing. So I knew and I came, quickly. My mother opened the door, briskly, as any nurse might do. It was what she had become. The bungalow was familiar, except that there was a faint but persistent smell of stale water, pills, and antiseptic. “He's in there, if you'd like to go in and see him,” she said. I thought he must be lying dead already.
At first I took the signs of his final illness as something other. He looked neglected. His face and hair were disheveled, and I noticed that it was one of the few times I had seen him unshaved. The contrast between his own disorder and the tidy landmarks of the bedroom (hers, not his) surprised me. Afterwards my mother said he had started crying when he heard me come into the house. I had only heard him cry once before, one night when he was drunk and his marriage was in extremis. Then the tears had been showy; now there was the intermittent sobbing of an old man, his body huddled up on the bed with his face turned to the wall.