Yesterday my uncle found great aunt Sonia, age 99, dead on her kitchen floor. It was my mother's brother's weekly routine to check on their spinster aunt. Aunt Sonia had lived alone for her entire life--to the very end, as it happened.
She kept herself impeccably. Her makeup and its application was old, not cakey so much as thick and iridescent. She used to be a cosmetologist. On her head were platinum curls. She smelled of perfume dabbed on from the same bottle, one finger at a time, over fifty years. She had wattles under her chin and both arms. She was not soft, though; there was venom and pride in all her angles, all her words.
My uncle arrived at the house on Sunday and considered going straight to the garage to give her big, blue boat of an unused car a start, as was his custom. Instead, he went to the back door. He let himself in. He walked into the kitchen, where she was lifeless in a nightgown. He told my mother later that it was a good thing he hadn't gone to start the car first. Those were the emotions talking, because reality stated she'd been dead for at least a day, maybe a day and a half. Aunt Sonia could've waited five more minutes.
My mom was no more ruled by rational thought. "I can't believe she's gone," she told me.
"What do you mean?" I honestly wanted to know. Did my mother mean she was struck suddenly by the passage of time, by a long life no longer, by the unbelievable inevitability of death? Or did she mean what I thought she might?
"I mean, I can't believe it. She was not supposed to die, ever."
So I was right. My mother was not being philosophical. My mother was in denial. But as strange as it sounded, I think I understand. Probably we all do, those of us who knew aunt Sonia. Somewhere along the line we came to believe what we had always joked about: "Only the good die young."
My grandmother went first. She was Nadezda. Her name meant hope. Vera died next; she was faith. Then Anna and Olga.
Sonia meant wisdom. She was the last to go.