by Ann Neuman
“I met Mr. C. because he was dying and his wife needed someone to sit with him Saturday nights while she attended Mass. I was a relatively new hospice volunteer, not long out of training, and Mr. C. was my first assignment with a patient at home, rather than in a hospital or health care facility. He had been given a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease 25 years before I first entered their small apartment in the Baruch housing projects, which stand where the Williamsburg Bridge meets Manhattan.
“After Mrs. C. slipped out, Mr. C. and I tried to get acquainted. But his disease had long ago ravaged his motor skills; his jaw, loose and roving, wouldn’t obey. I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. Insistent, he shifted from tell to show, waving his wandering, shaking hand at an instrument case beside the dresser. Inside I found a cuatro, a small Latin American guitar with a filigree dimple on each side. Its wooden face was worn thin as an eggshell from years of use. The neck wiggled, and it had no strings, but when I handed the instrument to Mr. C., he embraced it as if it were an old friend. He was calmed by its familiar presence. ‘Strings,’ he said, slowly and clearly.”