Maria loved that song. Not long ago, when she'd become unable to travel, an opera-singer friend of her daughter sang it to her over the phone from California.
Even as death approached, she remained beautiful. Her hair, which was always perfect, had fallen away, pitilessly, from radiation. Her dentures, which she'd had made with the same gold inlays and fillings that preexisted them so none would know, no longer fit and were gone. Only then, at ninety-three, was she finally starting to look her age. Yet her skin remained perfect: fine and unblemished, smooth and unwrinkled, her face simply did not brook its own gauntness. Absent her cancer, I think she'd have lived to a hundred and five. Until hours before she died, she'd been lucid, recognized us who were there, said "Thank you, Sid" to the things I said to her, took my son in a near head-lock and told him how happy she was for him in his engagement. She's known and loved his fiance for several years. (Hearing from us, when she asked, frequently, when they were getting married, that we studiously avoided bringing up the subject, she said, "Well I can," and she did, telling them she wanted them to marry before she died. She saw the ring, and approved.)