This is a short story I wrote a few years ago based a friend’s elderly mother. Enjoy.
It’s not true I hate everything.
Sure, I don’t like this dinner with the overcooked turkey, dry stuffing, and mushy potato salad. I hate the ugly knit pantsuit picked for me and despise the way Elise styled my hair into a ratty bun. The pumps pinch my bunions, and I really need to scratch in a delicate place. I would throw my plate across the room to get the attention of this nattering family if I could raise my bum arm. Instead, I sit in a wheelchair, scowling into my plate, blinking back tears, and thinking of the last Thanksgiving when I prepared the holiday dinner fit for a queen – or me, at least.
Sigh. Elise fusses again, hovering around me like a bird around a wilting flower. She’s my favorite child. We decided I’d live with her when the time came, but it hasn’t been anything I anticipated; I imagined being independent, living downstairs in the “mother-in-law” apartment, driving to my usual daily walks around the mall, the Wednesday night bridge games, or the occasional night out with the girls. Instead, I exist in a jerry-rigged bedroom off the kitchen.
Elise’s smothering cheeriness sucks the very breath from me.
I can’t seem to wrap my tongue around words like before, but you’d think I was speaking gibberish the way they repeat outlandish things back to me. Really, after ninety-two years on this earth, people should know me by now – understand me. Shouldn’t they?
“Mom, would you like some more green beans?”
Oh, good heavens, no. They taste like Sissy dumped them from a can and cooked them to death to boot. I taught Elise to cook, but obviously she hasn’t passed it down to her daughter. Surely Elise must remember all the fluffy mashed potatoes, the delectable roasts, and the fresh string beans from our modest garden. She certainly knew how to cook turkey to perfect, juicy done-ness; Sissy only presented this dry, tasteless excuse for a bird. And what was with all the mushy food? Really, I’m not a babbling baby who needs to gum her meals.
“Elaine, did you hear her? Have some more, you need to eat.”
Yes, I can hear just fine, Stephen. No, I’m not hungry and don’t need my son-in-law to keep harping on my diet. That’s another thing: the portions are too big. I eat what I can; the rest they should save. There’s no reason for me to paw over it so they can throw good food away. Back when times were hard, we did not waste food like that.
Ah, time for everybody to disperse to different rooms. I see the young ones trooping into the den to play on their video games. Must be time for Stephen and boys to puff their cigars outside; the smoke isn’t good for me, you know. Sissy’s cleaning the kitchen. I’d love to hear the gossip in there but-.
“You look tired, Mom. Ready for a nap?”
Yes, all that hovering and nattering has tired me out, but I really don’t like being put to bed like some toddler. Well, it’s not so much the naps I hate; it’s the gloom that falls after the door closes. It’s just me, wrapped up in the blankets, the darkness and the quiet, confined to a bed until somebody moves me. Often I lie awake staring at the walls, the silence so deep that Death could come any second and take me at last. I’ll close my eyes and never wake up; he’ll take my hand and we’ll walk out the front door together. When I feel ill, I warn Elise I’m waiting to die, but she gives me a vacant look and bustles around as if I hadn’t said a word. I hate when she does that.
The day nurse doesn’t demand I take naps. When I’m tired, I can doze off in the comfy winged-back chair with the music of Lawrence Welk on the television. I don’t mind sitting in companionable silence – no nattering, no hovering … just the click of her knitting needles.
Then I can cast my mind back to better days with dear Albert and our times together, to when we first met as children at school, our first date at the local soda shop, our courtship spent jitterbugging the nights away, and the lonely separation during the war. I think about our modest wedding after the army released him from the hospital. I relive the births of each of our children, their first hesitant steps, their graduations, their weddings. I think about life after my Al: the bridge games, the mall walks, and the grandchildren. I loved those things.
So, it’s not true that I hate everything.