picture found here
PARSIFAL IS DEAD. That is the end of the story.
The technician and the nurse rushed in from their glass booth. Where there had been a perfect silence a minute before there was now tremendous activity, the straining sounds of two men unexpectedly thrown into hard work. The technician stepped between Parsifal and Sabine, and she had no choice but to let go of Parsifal’s hand. When they counted to three and then lifted Parsifal’s body from the metal tongue of the MRI machine and onto the gurney, his head fell back, his mouth snapping open with no reflexes to protect it. Sabine saw all of his beautiful teeth, the two gold crowns on the back molars shining brightly in the overhead fluorescent light. The heavy green sheet that they had given him for warmth got stuck in the guardrail lock. The nurse struggled with it for a second and then threw up his hands, as if to say they didn’t have time for this, when in fact they had all the time in the world. Parsifal was dead and would be dead whether help was found in half a minute or in an hour or a day. They rushed him around the corner and down the hall without a word to Sabine. The only sound was the quick squeak of rubber wheels and rubber soles against the linoleum.
Sabine stood there, her back against the massive MRI machine, her arms wrapped around her chest, waiting. It was, in a way, the end of Sabine.
After a while the neuroradiologist came into the room and told her, in a manner that was respectful and direct, the one thing she already knew: Her husband was dead. He did not pluck at his lab coat or stare at the floor the way so many doctors had done when they had spoken to Parsifal and Sabine about Phan. He told her it had been an aneurism, a thinning in a blood vessel of his brain. He told her it had probably been there Parsifal’s whole life and was not in any way related to his AIDS. Like a patient with advanced lymphoma who is driven off the freeway by a careless teenager changing lanes, the thing that had been scheduled to kill Parsifal had been denied, and Sabine lost the years she was promised he still had. The doctor did not say it was a blessing, but Sabine could almost see the word on his lips. Compared to the illness Parsifal had, this death had been so quick it was nearly kind. “Your husband,” the doctor explained, “never suffered.”
Sabine squeezed the silver dollar Parsifal had given her until she felt the metal edge cut painfully into her palm. Wasn’t suffering exactly the thing she had been afraid of? That he would go like Phan, lingering in so many different kinds of pain, his body failing him in unimaginable ways–hadn’t she hoped for something better for Parsifal? If he couldn’t have held on to his life, then couldn’t he at least have had some ease in his death? That was what had happened. Parsifal’s death had been easy. Having come to find there was no comfort in getting what she wanted, what she wanted now was something else entirely. She wanted him back. Sick or well. She wanted him back.
Sabine fell in love with Parsifal from the day he called her up onto the stage to assist in a trick, and spent the next 20 years as his assistant, longing for a love that was out of reach. Parsifal loved Sabine, but as one might love a sister. Parsifal was gay. He spent the last 5 years of his life with his lover, Phan, a wealthy silicon valley type. When Phan dies from complications of AIDS, Sabine moves in with Parsifal to care for him. Parsifal is also infected, and wants to take care of Sabine, wants her to be his widow. And when he finally dies, suddenly, of an aneurism, rather than the slow, protracted death that had been promised, she is left behind to figure out what his life meant, and if there is any meaning at all to her life without him.
Sabine falls into a depression, spending most of her days in bed, refusing to leave the house. She is visited in her dreams by Phan, who tells her that Parsifal is fine now, that he is happy in the afterlife, though he is so very sorry and ashamed that he did not tell her his deepest secrets. That he had intended to do so, but that he had thought he had more time. It turns out that Parsifal has a family, a family that he always denied, and that they are alive and relatively well in Nebraska. Sabine is left behind to try to get to know a bit more about the husband she thought she understood, through his family, and perhaps find out some things about herself, and humanity in general, as well.
I love Ann Patchett’s writing. Her phrases can be lyrical and graceful, and while at times I wasn’t sure the direction the book was taking made absolute sense, I was happy to be on the journey nonetheless. I think my favorite passages were her dream visits, first with Phan, and eventually with Parsifal. They were so comforting and sweet, and were lovely to read. I’d recommend this book highly, and I might even like it more than Bel Canto. But I’m not positive…I’d maybe have to read that one again to be sure.