Wednesday, August 9, 2017


      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.
       Linda answers this evening:  “She had the usual list of complaints, some new, some old.  She said she knew she was alienating everyone, including you. She said, `Maybe she’ll do me a favor and shoot me.’”
       As soon as I hang up I punch in Jan’s number. “Hi darling, how were the shoes, did they fit?” 
       “Well, not really.  One of them gave me a stabbing pain in my toe, my sore toe.”
       “Which one?  Maybe I can have it stretched it for you.” 
“But then what will I wear on my feet?” she cries.  ”They’re the only shoes I have!”
        “You have the tan ones I gave you.”  The tan ones?  “Yes, the stretchy mesh shoes.”
        “Oh, those. . . “
        Thus life with Jan begins again.  She is worried about the cash she has in her apartment, and the coins are too heavy, and someone tried to fix her bed, but it still isn’t the way it was.  She was sitting next to a woman and could smell her, then realized she was the one who smelled, she had farted and smeared her pants.  {We sisters had always concurred that this was our least favorite four-letter word, but Jan uses it constantly now.) I tell her I will come over tomorrow morning.  What time?  I’ll call you when I’m nearly there.      
       I sign in at the desk and climb the stairs to Jan’s room.  Since the curtains are barely open, it’s dark.  A tall young man named Tim is with my sister.  She is showing him the problem with her bed. 
“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.”
       I find it difficult NOT to believe her.*  It does seem as if someone must be tormenting her, the way the Snoop at Southern Artery Apartments used to.  In the medical records I sent for, emergency room doctors at the Quincy Medical Center made comments like, “The patient says someone enters her apartment when she’s gone and taunts her by changing things around.”
*When Kathie calls me from her van, on her way back to Massachusetts, she says she is sure Janeth did the unzipping herself and then forgot. 

       Jan shows me her flashlight. “Someone came in here and took the middle battery out.” 
       The cylinder is clear.  I push the button, and the light comes on. 
“Yes, it works, but someone took out a battery.  It didn’t look like that before.”
       I rub her shoulder and say poor darling, I don’t know what to do.  If you want to move to the nursing home in Cohasset, I have a deposit there.  She shrugs, says it would be the same there.  Wherever she lives, it’s the same.
       I ask Jan if she wants me to take the identity cards she has been so nervous about. She digs them out and hands them to me.  Most are obsolete or lacking any current usefulness.  She still has the card for the appointment with neurologist, Dr. Patrick Martin, whose office Ray drove her to several weeks ago. 
“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.
       “Let me see your sore toe.”   She takes off her right shoe and shows me the toe that gives her stabbing pains. All her toes have little pink pressure marks caused by the new shoes. I take the tubes out of the bag, but she shakes her head. 
“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 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 27 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 knooooow!  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?”
         Jan lifts the small, white purse out of the big white one and hands it to me.
 “Wow, it is heavy!”  I pour dimes, nickels, and quarters into the nearest container, the Rite Aide Pharmacy paper bag. 
“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 worth of 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.

       I look at today’s activity schedule and see that a charcoal drawing class will be held at two o’clock.  “This might be interesting.  Even if you just went and kibitzed. . . 

       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 bastard, 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.
     After lunch I spend the next two and a half hours pretending to be my sister, so I can change the address on the important cards.  It would be a horrendous hassle if I admitted who I was.  I would be required to mail copies of my Power of Attorney to Social Security, Medicare, and Blue Cross Blue Shield.  I have all the answers to questions like what my birth date is and what my mother’s maiden name was.  Once I slipped up and said something about forwarding my sister’s mail to my address.
 “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. 
     “What am I going to do when Ray comes to see me?  I always have cash to give him or else I write him a check!” She is shrieking.
        After having promised her and myself that I wouldn’t argue, I argue.  “Don’t forget you’re giving him ten thousand dollars in your will.” 
“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.”

        With my excellent hearing aids, I detect a small sigh of relief, reminiscent of the sigh I heard from my separated husband when I signed over my half of the Vineyard house.

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