Short story by request number four…
“I can’t see out the window. You’ll have to turn my chair the other way… No. Turn it this way.”
Even from the desk at the nurses’ station, I could hear her voice. Grating, familiar, carping. We believed the stroke would be fatal, but once again, my mother surprised us all.
“I understand it’s your policy that new patients share a room, and I think socializing is important. I just think isolating her will save you a lot of work in the long run because my mother can be… Very difficult.”
“I said prune juice, not orange. Get me the manager!”
The headache began just where it always did, at the base of my skull. “I’d better go, I’ll stop the desk on my way out. Oh, and… Would you let me know when my father arrives?”
“… I still can’t see out the window. This blanket it isn’t warm enough I need another one, but before you go—”
She just stared as if I was speaking a foreign language then turned to face the window, without responding.
“It’s good to see you. I see you’ve wasted no time endearing yourself to every staff member on every shift.”
I pulled a chair over to her right side—to be sure she could see and hear me and took the blanket the aide brought her. “Thank you, I’m sure mother is very grateful for all your hard work.”
“You don’t have to speak for me, I’m perfectly capable. Besides, that woman might be the laziest person in this whole hospital. I don’t even know if she speaks English, all she does is mumble.”
“As I told you yesterday and the day before and the day before that, this is not a hospital, it’s Serenity Acres, a popular senior retirement center.”
“I don’t care what you call it, I don’t like it, and I want to go home. And besides, since when do you make all the decisions?”
The headache was getting worse. “Ever since you signed a Medical Power of Attorney five years ago, which you seem to have forgotten.”
“Clearly that was a big mistake, you haven’t made much of your own life, I don’t know why I expected you to be able to make decisions for me.”
I think my brain is splitting in two. “Just a reminder, we filled out the papers after you had your first stroke. That was the happy occasion when you lost your ability to speak for an all too brief time.”
“Nonsense. That never happened. Where’s that waitress with my juice?”
“She’s a nurse’s aide, not a waitress and I’ll go check.”
The head nurse was waiting at the solarium entrance. “Ms. Bane, we showed your father his room and Delia is bringing him down to the solarium. Do you think they’ll be glad to see each other?”
“I have no idea.”
“You understand that your father has limited speaking ability?”
“Yes, the doctor went over the tests with me. I don’t expect much improvement but hope he’ll be comfortable. He’s not eligible for a heart transplant.” I stifled a smile as the Imp of the Perverse with me muttered wisecracks about my father never having a heart to begin with. “I’ll take him the rest of the way, thanks.”
With the air of triumph, I wheeled my father’s wheelchair across the linoleum in the solarium until he sat facing the woman he divorced 20 years earlier. I locked the chair, resumed my seat, and carefully waited for the reactions.
Shortly after I graduated from college, my father announced his plan to change jobs and move north to the city. The plans did not include my mother or me. I remembered feeling nothing but relief. It seemed to me they fought and bickered from most of my childhood. College had been the happiest time in my life. To my young mind, their separation seemed like a good idea. Maybe they would be happier.
The two granite faces I saw today confirmed what I grew to understand: these two people would never be happy.
It took a full minute or more before my mother’s eyes narrowed. “What’s he doing here?”
“I thought I would surprise you both. Since dad’s heart failure happened just after you had your stroke, I’ve been spending way too much time in the car checking on each of you. This way, it will be much easier for me.”
My mother started to sputter and flap her left arm ineffectively. A bubble of joy rose in my chest. I glanced at my father who seem to be working very hard to figure out where he was and who the woman was flapping her arm at him.
Silence. She stopped moving.
“Yes, it’s Maude. Long time no see. I think it must be about 21 years since you’ve seen each other.”
“Get that lying cheating bastard out of here!” she screeched.
“I’m afraid we can’t do that. Given how you both squandered your money, this is the best I could afford for you so you’ll just have to make the best of it.”
He groaned. She flapped her arm.
“I refuse to stay under the same roof. What would possess you to think this was a good idea? Get the manager! I want him out of here.” Her face was red and puffy.
“You’ll need to settle down, mother, after all think what this is doing to your blood pressure. You don’t want to have another stroke do you?”
I heard my father chuckle, as he shook his head and mumbled, “I don’t know why I didn’t leave sooner. That woman is crazy.”
“Oh, look at the time. Tonight is our famous seafood extravaganza at the restaurant. It’s insanely popular. I need to get over there to make sure everything is in order. And you’re pretty lucky too, the administrator told me that Friday’s are when they serve Tuna Casserole Surprise. I arranged for you to be at the same table for all your meals so that you would have plenty of time to catch up. You must have so much to talk about.”
This time my father started to sputter and my mother sneered. “You can’t do this. I have rights I’ll get my lawyer—”
“Actually I can and I have. I have the Power Of Attorney for both of you. Don’t fret, your doctor has prescribed medications for your mood swings.So have a nice evening, and enjoy that tuna casserole.”
An immense wave of relief rippled over me as I walked across the parking lot. I looked back at the broad glass solarium windows back-lit by the glow of fluorescent light. Harold and Maude Bane sat captive in their wheelchairs in what might seem like purgatory for two intractably cranky individuals who had kept me hostage to their demands for most of my life.
The weighty sheaves of resentment and responsibility slid off my weary shoulders and I put the car in reverse.
Next time on Little Theater, NM camping adventures…