End Grain

The Iowa Review - - CONTENTS - Joy Baglio

In her fi­nal days, my wife be­gins hoard­ing fur­ni­ture. She’s grown so weak that she can’t leave her bed, but she in­sists on flip­ping through lo­cal cat­a­logs, cir­cling all the wooden chairs, end ta­bles, and night­stands she wants in red marker. “There’s a par­tic­u­lar oak ar­moire,” she tells me. “A one-of-a-kind piece. Saw it years ago around here.” But she’s too weak to go out search­ing, and she can’t re­mem­ber more than “it has this end-grain look,” so she con­tents herself with her un­ex­plained love of all things wooden and carved and prac­ti­cal. Ar­moires are her fa­vorite. Beau­ti­ful, hand-crafted ar­moires with whole uni­verses of drawer space, ar­moires that smell like hard­wood forests, with doors that open like fairy por­tals. I sit on the end of our bed and or­der each one for her. She hands me the cat­a­log with its dog-eared pages and circled items, then watches, hawk-eyed, as I make the calls, whis­per­ing, “Make sure that’s cherry!” or “The Cuban ma­hogany, not the Hon­duran!” as I speak with the sweet-voiced sales­girls. My wife is a tough, loud woman, even with the cancer rav­aging her in its last stage, and there is some­thing in me that, even now, be­lieves her in­ca­pable of demise. Our grown daugh­ter, Celia, has moved back to as­sist with her care, and nei­ther of us has the guts to ask why, sud­denly, she cares about new fur­ni­ture. She says things like, “If I’m gonna die, for fuck’s sake let me have that wal­nut dresser.” Or, “Christ, Dan, if my dy­ing wish is for this cherry foot­stool, are you re­ally go­ing to tell me no?” The an­swer is, of course, no. I will not be the one to tell my dy­ing wife no, to deny her sim­ple wish to sur­round herself with what she loves, even if I do find it strange that a woman con­fined to a bed craves an ar­moire in her last days. She has a thirst for hard­woods. She wants to be en­com­passed, she says, by the smooth­ness of sanded maple, to be flanked by the sturdy thick­ness of oak. For years, the base­ment and spare bed­room were full of her old clothes, boxes of our daugh­ter’s child­hood art­work, shoes that my wife might wear one day, bins of craft-fair an­gels and Christ­mas or­na­ments, all of which she for­bade me to purge. Yet now, in the fi­nal months of her life, it’s all shoved into one ceil­ing-high moun­tain to

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