Should I call her? Will she remember she’s angry with me? We haven’t talked to each other in three days. I call Linda’s number and ask her machine what her mom said last time she talked to her.
“But then what will I wear on my feet? They’re the only shoes I have!”“You have the tan ones I gave you.” The tan ones? “Yes, the stretchy mesh shoes.”
“Hi Jan. I want to see this, too.” Tim and I stand at the end of the bed, watching her pull out the tucked-in sheet to show us the quilted pad and the mattress. “SEE?” she says. “Before, the mattress didn’t show like that! Someone came in and did this for some reason!”
So this is the demolished bed she’s been complaining about for days. Tim scratches his head and smiles. “I’ve only been here for two weeks, but I’d say that what you need is a fitted sheet. I’ll see if I can find one for you.”When he departs, Jan tells me about a morning when she woke up and found every light on in the apartment. She shows me the large black suitcase with its one big zipper and several smaller zippered compartments. “Every single one of these was unzipped.”
“No, wait! You can’t discard this one.” She shows me several telephone numbers on the back of the card, written in her tiny printing. She tries to read them aloud, can’t see without her glasses, can’t see with her glasses that have part of the bridge missing on one side
“They slice my ears,” she says, and I think, I must do something about getting her new glasses)Now I come to the important cards and put them in my wallet: Massachusetts General Hospital, Medicare, Blue Cross Blue Shield . . . what about her Social Security card? I won’t tell her I’m wondering where that is.
“I couldn’t put those over my toe.”
“The directions say you can snip the tube to make it the right size.” No, it won’t do.I show Jan the envelope with her $45 dollars that I keep in my bedroom drawer. Did she say she has more cash she wants to add to it? She takes the lid off a paper cup with her name on it and counts the bills. A couple of fives and a good many ones that total twenty-seven dollars. I stuff the cash in the envelope.
“Okay, I’ll take care of it; you can stop worrying.“You mean I’m not going to have any cash?”
“You can keep as much as you want to. How much would you like me to leave?” My sister throws her head back, rolls her eyes upward, and cries, “I don’t knoowwww! I don’t know anything!"“Poor sweetheart,” I say, caressing her shoulders again. “It’s that effing Al Zheimer that’s doing this to you. I hate him!”
“That effing old Al Zheimer. Jack used to say we shouldn’t hate anyone, and I said what about that hypocrite Nixon and the eighteen-and-a-half-minute gap? Jack said you could hate the hypocrisy but not the man. So I call the disease Al Zheimer, and I can hate him all I want to because he isn’t a real person.”Jan has been listening. The faintest of smiles hovers around her mouth. It is a rewarding moment. I return to the question of how much money she wants me to leave.
How about four dollars?” I suggest, taking the bills out of the envelope.
“What would I do with four dollars?”
“Okay, I’ll keep it for you. Any time you want some cash, I’ll bring it to you.”
“You mean I won’t have any cash at all?” Round and round we go. At last, at long last, it seems as if Jan will worry less if her money stays with me.I say, “What about the heavy coins?”
“Where did you get all these quarters and nickels?”
“I won them at Bingo.”
“That’s wonderful, dear, I knew you’d be good at that game. Do you want me to leave a few dimes and keep the rest of the coins until you need them again.?”
“It takes more than a few dimes,” Janeth says.
“How about four dollars worth, that’s what I gave you for a start.”
She rolls her eyes and wails that she doesn’t knooooow. I count out four dollars in dimes and put them in the purse. “See how nice and light it is now?” She nods doubtfully, not sure of anything in this bewildering world.She picks up the paper cup with her name on it. “I’m going to start telling people my name is Janet. They know it’s something different, so they call me anything but Janeth. One person asked me if I’d been born in a foreign country.” She curls her lips to let me know how insulted she was.
She says she isn’t the least bit interested in going. I tell her how talented she is, there was that darling drawing of the upside-down girl on the swing, and the great sketch of Stony Resolve (in which the artist is trying to make her upside-down way with a pick-axe to the gentleman reclining on the top of a cliff).
“I have never done anything original. I probably copied it from somewhere.” That rotter, Al Zheimer, won’t let her be proud of herself for one second.I look at my watch. It’s almost time for the early lunch.
“I’m whittling in my pants.” While she’s in the bathroom I notice her other small purse with its strap attached with a safety pin. It’s the one I found in my car after she lost it. The Social Security card is inside. When Jan returns, I show it to her.
“I’ll keep this with the other important cards.” No more obsessing over identity theft, Jan, I say hopefully to myself.We walk down the hall to the elevator. During our descent my sister stares straight ahead and starts swinging her arms crazily forwards and backwards, forwards and backwards. She gives me a wry look and I say, “You’re so cute! You can’t help it, it’s in your genes.” A shadow of a smile is her response.
“Your sister’s mail?”
“I meant to say that my mail is being forwarded to my sister’s address,” I say in guilty haste. At last the masquerade is over. I can relax, read my e-mails, write a few words about my day with Janeth.The phone rings. My sister’s voice is at its most panicky level.
“That has nothing to do with it. I have always had cash on hand and I have always had checks.”“I’ll bring you as much cash as you want and a couple of checks before he visits.”