She had begun to notice little signs: white spots on the shower walls and sometimes on her glasses, the rising of the hair upon her arms, tiny sparks running like baby alligators across her eyelids when she stood up. Miniature fireworks. A private show.
Last week there had been scattered glitter – purple and green and blue – blown in by a wind after her neighbors’ party. Yesterday bits of pink and yellow crinkled paper were trailing down the front hall steps. Then this morning Helga had found white feathers on her bedroom floor. The time was near, perhaps the hour.
While she wondered at the feathers her old cat worried open the hole in the pillow and rolled around in the eiderdown. Helga smiled at such abandon and was inspired to gather up the shattered remains of the cushion. She laughed and threw the feathers into the air by handfuls and she danced upon the balcony in her old white nightgown, danced amid the slowly falling, drifting feathers. She danced for joy, for memory, for tomorrow and somewhere in the dance she slipped to the floor and dreamed of dancing with her sisters.
So many years they had followed the steps that wove the ribbons around the pole on the first day of May. Spring after spring they had danced until one by one they each had gone. One to pneumonia, another to cancer, two missing in the city. The last had fallen asleep while pruning her roses and never woke up. Helga had never danced again – until this morning when she woke with fine down caught in the web of her blanching hair. Then she whirled and dreamed and smiled through to the end.
Self-Portrait with Black Hat and Veil painted by Charley Toorop in 1943-44
Kröller-Müller Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands