Taking Care
Of the Very Old
"G'mornin', Mrs. Gavin! How you this mornin'?" she says to the face on the pillow, to the open mouth which looks like a hole in cracked adobe. I peer around Eula's pale blue nylon shoulder to see Molly's mouth slowly closing, swallowing the hole. I don't want to watch Molly return to her body and feel I lack a training that Eula exudes like a highway patrol officer. I'm wearing pajamas, haven't washed my face or brushed my teeth, haven't had breakfast. I'm clearly disadvantaged and must hurry to catch up to Eula's corporeal, perhaps spiritual, headstart.

I duck into the bathroom and lock the door, remove a plastic bench from the bathtub floor and uncoil a long spray attachment looped around the shower head. When I turn on the water I am sprayed in the face with cold water which splatters into the toilet behind me. I adjust knobs until my pajamas are wet. The knobs are as sharp as cactus and the cold water is on the left. Is that where it usually is? There's no "C" or "H" and the right-hand knob turns off in a clockwise direction, the left-hand knob counterclockwise.

This seems odd. I adjust the spray to a suitable temperature and force, and climb over the side into the tub. I aim the water at my face and reach for the soap. Suddenly the water temperature plummets to freezing; in panic I throw the damn gadget onto the tub floor and step high over the side to safety. I wonder, not for the first time, why plumbing manufacturers are trying to kill customers. I feel sure Harry [her father] arranged these bath eccentricities. Did Molly [her mother] complain? Or did she adjust herself rather than risk a fight?

When I emerge from the bathroom, I am dressed in turtleneck and jeans for whatever "work" will be required of me. Eula is reading at the kitchen table. She looks up at me and smiles. "Your mother and father's eatin'. It take a long time for ol' folks t'eat. Mrs. Gavin wants to wait 'til afternoon for her bath. She say she too tired an' weak an' want to talk with you."

I hold in my hand a slice of Molly's seed bread and look for a pop-up toaster. On the counter there's a toaster oven. "Eula, I lead a very simple life. I don't have conveniences in my kitchen. Matter of fact, I don't even have a kitchen. I don't know how to work the dishwasher or the washing machine, that model anyway. How do I toast this piece of bread?"

"Oh, woman! You jes' put the bread in that oven an' push the lever down an' wait." She rises up huge and competent and places my bread in the oven, closes the little door and pushes down the red lever. She laughs kindly at my confusion.

"This kitchen is beyond me. I'm going to run around the block as soon as I finish breakfast." I lurch around the room being nervously silly.

"My doctor, he say I mustn't run, but I got to do thirty minutes of ex'cises ev'ry day to get this flab off my stomach." She lifts her uniform top to show me dark-brown luscious rolls of fat. The skin is taut over excess, without vein or white streak. "It look like beer done that to me, but I can't 'bide alcohol. My husband, he drink two six-pack a day, after work. He's ... I'm not s'posed to talk about family while I'm on the job. Sound like your toast is ready."

She sits down again at the kitchen table where she's reading sheets of paper each with a black cross printed in top-left corner.

"What're you reading, Eula? Doesn't look like anything you found in this house."

She smiles up at me. "This house got hidden love in it. Tha's all that matter. I have body ex'cises and spirit ex'cises. Thirty minutes a day of each kind. I'm doin' my spirit ex'cises. I don' need these papers. I can do it in my head while I work. This is Matthew Chapter 5 an' I already know all the Blesseds by heart. Seem like I always knew them. But I like to read 'em, seein' what's in your insides right out there on the table."

"Blessed are those who eat seed bread and drink weak coffee in the House of their parents. Is that it?"

"Oh you like to make a joke, jes' like your father. Your mother, she don' make too many jokes, not now anyway."

I mix my coffee with half and half and spread butter on the seed bread. Why can't I leave Eula intact? Why does this family resent simple faith, brood about God's place in the lives of others, and feel especially skittish and mean when sharing space with Divine Guidance? We should post "Thou Shalt Not Worship" signs on the walls, on the front door, and see then who walks past the warning to clean the urine smell from draining bodies.

--- From Vanishing
Candida Lawrence
©2009 Unbridled Books
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