Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Huh? (01/21/10)
TITLE: Loving Through
By LINDA GERMAIN
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“Morning sweetheart,” I say in the same way I have for decades, “What’s in the box?”
He places an old cardboard carton on the kitchen table. I fill two cups with fresh coffee and sit down to discover Barney’s latest offering. I open the dog-eared flaps and find yet another puzzling item: one roller skate; the kind that laces up and has a toe stop. It’s the left one.
I reach over and give him a hug as I cloak myself in that disgusting fake cheerfulness.
“Why honey, thank you so much.”
There’s no need to say more. He’s already staring out the window at a Red Bird sitting on the porch rail. I tell myself I chirp more than she does when the cat sleeps by the little wood feeder Barney made for me a few years ago.
My banal monologue continues. “Let’s have scrambled eggs this morning. I’ll make some oven toast and squeeze those oranges Sissy sent from Florida. Won’t that be yummy?”
He leaves the room as I carry on talking to myself, hating the sticky-sweet script I make up as I go along. I don’t know what else to do. I hear the front door open and am forced to set the eggs aside to rush to keep him from leaving. He‘s halfway out when I touch his arm.
“Why you rascal, are you trying to skip that delicious breakfast I’m cooking?”
For a brief moment he seems to understand, and even speaks.
“I’ve already eaten.”
Gently, I guide him back to the table. “No dear, you must be thinking about yesterday. Here, sit down and open this grape jelly for me. You know you’re so much stronger than I am.”
He takes the jar and stares at the label as if pondering the contents, or the manufacturer, or the questionable nutrition. Just as I fill the plates and turn around he seems to remember his assigned task and quickly turns the lid.
“My he-man,” I coo, with just a tad too much Olive Oyl enthusiasm.
Sometimes I make myself sick with the sound of my own voice, but on I go like a scared rabbit, half pretending…half dreading.
When I realize he’s gazing at the back yard again I move my chair next to his and begin to spoon fluffy eggs and bits of buttered toast into his mouth. He opens and closes and chews and swallows. We do that with some strange rhythm until it’s all gone.
I take him to brush his teeth then run back to the kitchen to try to break my record for cleaning up before our daily walk. I hear no teeth brushing sounds and hasten back to see why.
Barney has taken off all of his clothes and is wearing his old straw hat. If it weren’t so desperately sad, it would be too funny for words. I don’t blink.
“That’s a handsome chapeau, sweetie, but it would look better with a shirt and some kind of trousers. Underwear would be nice too.”
I murmur to myself, “…and will keep the neighbors from calling the cops.”
When we get back, he naps. I call our daughter to confirm her upcoming visit but don’t report his new level of confusion. We can cry later. The laundry is waiting and Barney will be awake way too soon.
I feel like I’m whirling in a tornado as I wash, dry, and fold. A glimpse in the hall mirror tells me a shampoo is way past due and there are bags under my bags. I hurry to the kitchen for a cup of tea. Just as I sit down to sip, I hear Barney shuffling in. He has on his old college sweater, buttoned the wrong way, and is carrying another box. He puts it on the table.
My unwritten script sounds suspiciously like this morning’s.
“Hey babe…what’s that, another present?”
He stands there looking vulnerable and precious.
“You are so sweet,” I say as I gush over the proffered gift: another shoe skate--the right one.
I re-button his sweater and we go out to sit in the swing and enjoy some sunshine. I hum a tune from our long ago childhood Saturdays at the roller dome. He and the cat watch mama Red Bird. It’s the best we can do.
*Several brain diseases or injuries cause frontal lobe deterioration which leads to dementia. God bless the other victims of this toll-taking confusion. They are unsung heroes...the caregivers.
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