The nurses were agitated. Spending most of their days picking up behind the residents, drawing up baths, being slapped and bitten when they tried to give the more resistant seniors their medicine. The last thing they wanted to do was clean up Jerry’s vomit. I offered to help, but I was afraid one of the nurses would curse me out.
“No! I’ll take care of it. This ain’t your job.” She soaked the mop in the mop bucket then put it in the wringer and squeezed out the excess water, sparse of suds and the same dingy gray as the mop yarn. She slapped the mob down into the puddle, splashing up the vomit, and pushed the mop across the floor from left to right, spreading the liquid rather than soaking it up.
The nurse checking Jerry’s vitals stepped back to avoid getting splashed. “Why don’t you try cleaning it up instead of making a bigger mess.”
“I don’t see you offering to help.” The other nurse rolled her eyes and dumped the mop back into the dirty water. Without wringing it out, she dropped the dripping mop onto the floor with a splash, and drew wide figure eights around the edge of the puddle, knocking the top of the mop against both Marcos and Jerry’s feet. When she finished cleaning up all the vomit, she left behind a significant amount of water from the mob, which she decided not to wipe away, putting the wet floor sign over it instead.
Some of the meanest and most callous women worked in assistant living facilities, caring for the helpless elderly.
A third nurse took off Marcos’ shoes and checked the hem of his pants. “Let’s get you changed,” she said, then looked up at Grandma. “I’ll bring him back in a few.” She turned him around and wheeled him down the hall toward his room.
One out of three wasn’t bad, but was it worth admitting aged loved-ones into places like this knowing that at least two thirds of the time they would probably be mistreated and abused? I was grateful Grandma could mostly take care of herself. She wasn’t as old as the other residents, and her mind was nowhere near as deteriorated—just last week we played Sudoku, and she finished hers before I could even get two columns done. She only hated living alone. At least here, she always had a face to talk to, even if that face was as numb and as inanimate as the walls.
“I’m fine now,” Jerry said to the nurse trying to check his blood pressure. His face was turning red the tighter the strap compressed on his arm. “It’s when Millie’s talking bout that Burt that I—” he quickly covered his mouth and belched loudly. We all flinched, afraid he was about to throw up again.
“140 over 90,” the nurse read. “Did you take your medicine this morning?”
“Hell if I know. Did you give it to me?” Jerry crossed his arms over his chest, refusing to meet her eyes.
“Come on.” She took him by the elbow and pulled him to his feet. “Let’s get your medicine in you.”
“When I get back, you better not still be talking about Burt!” Jerry called over his shoulder as he and the nurse shuffled toward the nurses station.
“Bye, Jerry!” Grandma fluttered her fingers as she waved. “Now, where was I?”
“Who was after Burt?” the woman to my right said in a wavering voice. It was the first time she’d spoken since I’d been there. Her shoulder-length white hair was pulled back behind a hot pink headband and the ends curled under at her ears in a hairstyle akin to an eight-year-old girl’s.
Grandma nodded. “So, I met my next husband at Burt’s funeral.”
“Wow, Grandma, moving kinda fast, aren’t we?”
“Sweetie, if you ever make the unfortunate mistake of marrying a man like Burt, you’ll understand why I had to rid all memory of him out of my system as quickly as possible.”
“So who was he?” I asked.
“Carl drove the family car for the funeral home. A beautiful Cadillac limousine. Doors so shiny you could see your reflection in it clear as day. The windows were tented. The seats were leather, and not a stain or rip in sight! I tell ya, if you every wanna make some money, get in the funeral business. Riding in back of that limo made me feel like a movie star!”
“So much for being in mourning, huh?” I said.
“No, I put on an acceptable show.” Grandma feigned dabbing under her eyes with her handkerchief. “It was spring, and the pollen was bad that year, so it didn’t take much.” Grandma leaned to the side, and slowly slid her legs out from under her. “Ahh, girl’s getting old,” she said. She massaged her knees and bounced her legs up and down to regain feeling.
“That’s how Carl caught my attention,” she continued. “After the burial, we went back to the church for the repast. When he opened the door to let me out, he took my hand, kissed it, and said, ‘Sorry for your loss, madam.’ ” Grandma shivered and patted her chest. “His voice was so smooth, like jazz, like the sax. He reminded me a lot of Andrew.
“There were a lot of people at the repast. A lot of his former patients came, and Burt had a big family too. Lots of aunts and uncles and cousins. Nieces and nephews. He has five brothers too, and one sister. Thankfully, they didn’t have the same problem of keeping their food down.
“The church had barely enough to serve everybody, so we weren’t allowed to have seconds. But Carl sneaked me a plate of mac and cheese and barbecue chicken when no one was looking. I’d like to think that was his way of proposing. ‘As beautiful as you are,’ he whispered to me, ‘you won’t stay a widow forever.’ I squeezed his hand and said, ‘Not for long.’
“Of course, we had to wait and be mindful of Burt’s family.” Grandma shrugged her shoulders innocently. “But we became husband and wife months before we said our I do’s.”
“Ooh, Grandma, for shame!”
Grandma sighed, and her entire face dropped. I knew then that it was another happy marriage that ended too soon.
“So how did he die?” I asked.
“A freak accident,” Grandma said after a long pause. “He was working under the car at the funeral home. Carl was good with his hands. Really good.” Grandma exhaled a weighted laugh. “The funeral home director told me the car wasn’t on the jack properly, and it eventually gave way…”
“The car fell on top of him?” I asked horrified.
“Crushed his ribs, and one of the broken ribs punctured his lung.” Her eyes began to water, and she quickly wiped the corners before the tears fell. “Our marriage was even shorter than mine and Andrew’s,” she said. “The accident happened seven days after the wedding ceremony. The hospital kept him alive another 15 hours, but he breathed his last breath into my ear when I laid my head on his chest. Even it sounded like the last wind from the percussion of drums and cymbals fading out at the end of a jazz song.”
“Oh, Grandma.” I stood up to hug her, taking a giant step over the puddle of water left behind by the moody nurse. Her emotion was very much real, even if I still believed Carl wasn’t. Her body shuddered as she sobbed into my shoulder, and I rubbed her back in a circular motion. There were so many more husbands we had to get through. Hopefully, all the stories weren’t as sad.
Check out more “C” posts from the A to Z Challenge.