Last Days at Rosewood House
by Sarah Grey
Raul in the Dogwood Suite goes soft: a long exhale, a reflexive squeeze of his son's hand.
Around him, the Rosewood House Hospice--three stories of restored Victorian glory,
ornate as a spider's web--waits for Raul to pass. When it's over, the Rosewood drinks him up.
Raul's is a smooth life, a life ordered and humble, all the joys drawn from giggling infants
and midnight strolls and the roll of a dust cloud over high desert homes. Everything of Raul not
bound to meat and bone, the Rosewood claims. The scent of a long-dead grandmother's house,
lime and cigarillos, sinks into the grain of the parquet floor; the banister absorbs the slope of a
failed marriage, a cordial divorce; in the windowpane lingers the view from a small Costa Rican
hotel, the hot pulse of a tropical rain, the cry of howlers from the trees at dawn.
The Rosewood plays these moments through, invisible to the patients and staff, as if
reviewing a reel of film or rifling through shoeboxed photographs. The Rosewood has no patience
for nostalgia; these memories are curiosities and little more. It considers itself a collector. There's
a moment in the long life of Raul Emilio Williams Fuentes to which the Rosewood relates: Raul
walks a beach under an ashen sky. He picks up a shell. The shell is empty but intact, the creature
inside long since devoured. The exterior is an unremarkable white, worn featureless. The inside,
though, is a shifting rose-blue, iridescent. A whirl of abandoned magnificence. Raul slips the
shell into the pocket of his linen shorts and wanders on.
The Rosewood does the same. It gathers the beautiful parts, once the flesh has fallen
In an hour, the coroner's van pulls up to the Rosewood's rear doors, and then the cleaning
staff come and go and leave the Dogwood Suite smelling like ammonia and furniture polish and
fresh white linen growing hot in the August sunlight. Two nurses restock towels and toilet paper
and lengths of oxygen tubing. The taller nurse sucks black coffee through the stirring rod and eyes
"How long we got?" he asks.
The coworker, pixie-blonde in pink scrubs, answers. "Couple of hours? They're
transferring a woman from Mercy with a team, but the docs are still pulling the paperwork
"A team? Wow. Is she that bad off?"
The blonde nurse laughs, a high glittering giggle. The Rosewood recognizes this sort of
laugh: it's a laugh to launch a romance, in so many of the memories it's gathered. "It's
lymphoma," she says. "Lots of pain, but she's got a month or two still. No family though, and she
"How's she footing the bill, then? Not insurance, obviously."
"Got her own money, they're saying. Truckloads."
"Guess someone's gonna win the inheritance lottery when she's gone," says the tall nurse.
"If only you and me could get that lucky. Am I right?" He sucks his coffee.
"Right," says the blonde nurse, but now her laughter's gone, and she quickly leaves the
Later, as twilight sets in, an ambulance slips up the drive--no sirens, no lights--and stops
just beyond the Rosewood's front steps.
The Rosewood watches, considers. Each new patient is a gift still wrapped; the shape
alone hints at what's inside.
The woman who climbs out of the ambulance is curiously tall, even as she leans on a
paramedic's arm. Too tall for a woman, the Rosewood thinks. Too tall for anything but a
storybook villainess, glamorous and whip-thin, a smile like a pinch. The witch in a thousand
childhood nightmares, all stored in the Rosewood's beams and tin ceiling tiles. Cold, thinks the
Rosewood, and cruel.
"Oh," says the woman. She scrutinizes the Rosewood, takes measure of its height, its
shape. Her eyes, black and lashless, trace its stained-glass doors, its pale mint paint, its hand-carved garlands, its gables, its tower. "Oh, no, no," she says. "No good at all. You expect me to
die in this gingerbread trash heap?"