The old man could not place the name of the book he just read, and so his wife joined a support group. At the first meeting, a local newspaper reporter interviewed her for a forthcoming article with the tentative title “Caregivers: Can they give too much?” Because the interview would extend into lunchtime the man’s daughter came to stay with him, as he had wandered that one time and may soon do it again. Her husband came along, too, and installed a chain bolt high on the door.
When the man read the article, he said only that the choice of font for the title didn’t catch the eye as it should, and that one was drawn to reading the nearby ad for bananas at fifty-five cents per pound. He was thinking about the price of bananas, how it had changed since the days when his dad ran the corner market, as he tied his shoe, and while rising to stand he struck his head on the protruding molded design that separates the top two drawers of his dresser from the bottom three. The queasy feeling of having disturbed his fontanel (though he wasn’t certain it would still be called that at his age) momentarily troubled him. Together with his wife, who returned from the meeting and interview slightly flushed, he constructed a helmet from a metal bowl, a knitted cap, and some elastic; from that point on he would take only sponge baths. While sponging off he caught a glimpse of himself in the bathroom mirror, unshaven, of course, as the razor had been gone a while, and a little verse came to his mind:
There was an old man with a helmet
Who looked so ridiculous he yelled it
Since when did a man
Lose his marbles in the can?
The marble that was left?
He flushed it!
Such silliness! He sang the ditty and danced a jig, dipping the sponge from his helmet to the air in a salute. The gesture caused him a momentary loss of balance, and when he fell the noise brought his son, who found squares of toilet paper scrawled upon (the man had no paper on which to record his song).
More shapes and colors of pills were added to the SUNDAY through SATURDAY flaps open at the dining room table, and the label HOT appeared in masking tape over the right faucet knob in the kitchen. The man admitted to himself that he relied on these labels–or, at the very least, he couldn’t help but read them especially when he had processed sugar, as noted by his wife; they agreed to eliminate sweets entirely from his diet. (She would, from time to time, make a pie for herself and her daughter; peach was their favorite.) Desserts were fatty besides, and since his quadruple bypass surgery thirteen years ago, she’d cooked in such a way that avoided fat in most any form.
The day his heart failed he’d been in the local diner. Betty’s blouse puckered as she leaned forward to take his order, to hear above the bustle of the lunch rush, and the man could almost see the scent of the burger special waft from between her breasts. The man’s buddies made fun when he took that first bite of burger, juice had rolled down his chin like a baby’s drool. He remembered this, flipped the light switch toward ON, and sat down at the head of the table to his roll and carrots, saying “Thank you, Father in heaven, for your many blessings.”
And all the people gathered said, “Amen.”
Amy Scheer is a freelance writer and theater instructor. She lives in Grand Rapids, MI, with her husband and two sons.
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