The latest update by Janice is so intensely beautiful I’m reproducing most of it here:
Rembrandt’s paintings don’t just show faces. They bring out what’s behind the face; they show thoughts and feelings; they show souls. Other painters do that too, but I think Rembrandt’s the best, especially for old people. And Leyla was really, really old. She had big white cataracts across both eyes and swollen legs and blue lips, but the main thing was the wrinkles. Like when they put an old Native American on the cover of National Geographic and all you can do is stare at the wrinkles and see stories? Leyla had lived three and a half thousand years, give or take, and her wrinkles were Grand Canyon deep with stories. So deep you could go backpacking in them.
I wandered around inside those wrinkles. I got lost in them. I was still lost when Carol took Francine’s hands and helped her slide the needle into Leyla’s vein. Francine’s hands shook and Carol said something encouraging, and Francine got her courage up and pushed the plunger in. And the wrinkles filled right up with so much gratitude I nearly drowned.
I don’t mean tears of gratitude, because I don’t think Leyla’s eyes could make tears any more, but oceans anyway, gratitude enough to drown Baehl’s whole underground. I escaped drowning and just bathed in it. Bathed in showers of luscious gratitude.
At first, Francine didn’t know how to let it in. She kept her eyes on the hypodermic, pretending she was doing a biology experiment, and she kept her mind on the virus instead of on Leyla. And so Leyla turned her almost blind eyes up toward me.
Her whited-out eyes had tiny black dots in the center and, even though they were tiny, you could see through them. They shot out tons of gratitude rays, but I dived through the rays and looked inside Leyla.
I saw lots of things.
I saw the instant, the very instant, when a decrepit hugely old person on the edge of death turned back from the edge. Like getting baptized, her physical sins washed away. Even though I wasn’t old, I’d been brought back from the dead too and I understood. It wouldn’t show for a long time but I saw it starting.
And I another thing I saw, it so entirely needed a Rembrandt. (Afterwards I asked around hoping maybe Rembrandt had been a Hafeem and he was down here, but no luck.)
So here’s what I saw without him to help me: It’s complicated. You might think resurrection is pure joy, but not for Leyla. A sad part came along too, and it took her by surprise. She definitely wanted to live and not die. That’s why she was here. But another part of her had different ideas.
Supposedly, old people come to accept death. Ordinary old people, I mean, when they get to be eighty or ninety. Leyla was like someone eighty or ninety only she was a Hafeem, so it was thousands of years and she would have had centuries at least to work on accepting. And she’d done it. Some part of her had, anyway. At some level, Leyla had opened up to death, embraced it, even. And now she had to let go of her acceptance and take up life again just when she thought she was done with it. It hurt.
She was staring at me, and I thought maybe she was seeing herself young, remembering when she was the hottest chick in Athens. And she was about to become that hot young chick again whether she wanted to or not.