The Cruelest Sentence
by Betty Castleberry
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Velma lay on the floor of her living room, looking up at a brown ring on the ceiling. She’d never noticed it before, but she didn’t spend much time lying on the floor, either. She had tried several times to get up, but the soreness in her left side wouldn’t allow it.
The mahogany mantle clock ticked away, keeping time with Velma’s heartbeat. She didn’t know how long she had been lying there, but she guessed it had been over an hour.
Petey was keeping her company from his cage. He called out “Hello Mama!” and clung to the bars, peering out at Velma. The parakeet was Velma’s companion, and she enjoyed caring for him.
Velma kept talking to Petey. He was giving her hope, and she didn’t feel so alone. “I’ll let you out as soon as I can get up.” She prayed that would be soon.
Relief spread through her when she heard her daughter Lisa at the door. “Mama? Are you home?”
Velma answered, but she wasn’t sure she was heard.
Petey whistled loudly and insistently. He didn’t stop until Lisa unlocked the door and walked in.
She hurried over to her mother. “Oh no. Are you all right?”
“I think so.”
“Does anything hurt? Can you move? Should I call an ambulance?”
“No, I don’t need an ambulance. I think I’ve just bruised my left side. Please just help me up.”
Lisa carefully helped her mother up and into a chair.
Petey danced on his perch repeating, “ Hello. C’mere. C’mon.”
Velma leaned back into the chair cushion. “Lisa, please let Petey out. He’s been caged up all afternoon. He wants attention.”
The younger woman opened Petey’s cage. He flew over and landed on Velma’s shoulder, laying his soft little head against her cheek. Velma gave him a scratch, and he shut his eyes, obviously content.
Lisa touched her mother’s hand. “Mama, you know what we talked about last week.”
“Yes, I know, but I’m not senile. I can stay right here and take care of myself.”
“You’re not senile, but you shouldn’t stay here by yourself anymore. You keep falling, and some day you’re going to break something. You know what the doctor said. It’s just a miracle I stopped by when I did. I left work early today.”
“Yes, I know what the doctor said, but I haven’t broken anything yet. Besides, I don’t have anywhere else to go, and even if I did, I might still fall.”
“Yes, but somebody would be right there with you.”
“I refuse to move in with you and Joe. You don’t need an old lady around.”
Petey made soft chirping sounds and nestled his little body into the curve of Velma’s neck.
Lisa folded her hands and rubbed a thumb across her index finger. “Mama, I told you we would take you in an instant, but since you won’t agree to that, I’ve been doing some checking. There’s a really nice assisted living center about 20 miles from here. They have openings. Would you want to go see it?”
Velma offered her finger to Petey. He hopped up on it and twittered happily. “Could Petey go?”
“They don’t allow pets. I’m sorry.”
“Then I won’t go.”
“Joe and I will take Petey. We’ll take good care of him, and we’ll take you home with us to visit him as often as we can.”
The little green parakeet tilted his head to one side. “Petey’s a pretty boy.”
Velma looked at Petey. “Yes you are. You’re a very pretty boy.”
She sighed. “Petey needs lots of attention. You work all day. He has to be covered every night. Who would play with him and give him treats? ”
“Mama, he’ll be fine.”
“Would you love him?”
The two women sat facing each other, eyes locked. Finally, Lisa spoke. “We would take good care of him.”
Velma chewed her bottom lip. “Sometimes he’s the only one who talks to me all day long. He calls me Mama, and says ‘I love you.’ Every morning we sit at the table and share a piece of toast. We watch the wild birds outside.” Velma smiled, but her eyes were glistening with tears. “I would miss him terribly. Please, I don’t want to go if he can’t.”
“Mama, it’s for the best.”
Velma snuggled Petey against her chest, and a tear fell onto his back. As if on cue, he looked up and almost whispered, “I love you.”
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I love this story! I felt as if I were there watching it all unfold, and in a way I have been, I guess. Helping aging parents make needed changes is something we all face sooner or later. I vote that Petey and Velma stay together.
Aw...this is a little sad and so sweet. As my mother-in-law just had to be moved to a nursing home (and let's us know - often - that she doesn't want to be there), I felt for Velma - especially because of Petey -, yet know what a difficult decision it must be for Lisa too. Nice job. I enjoyed your story.
Old age is very cruel - but, then, life at all ages is full of terrible and soul-shattering circumstances. I think that is why we need, so desperately, to cling to the Lord. And, we must hope to see our beloved pets when we return Home, once more.