Friday, July 1, 2011

SwedenSara Week 58: All you need


Picture 1

Picture 2

SwedenSara’s Choice: Picture 2

All you need is a friend to hold your hand

The gravel crunched under the wheels of my car as I turned into the parking lot. I found a place to park in the shadows under a big oak tree, and as I stopped the car, the distinct squeak from the brakes made me wince and regret I hadn’t taken that offered appointment at the mechanics today. The conflict between two “should haves” had left me with yet another week of squeaking brakes, and a trip I had postponed for too long already. I didn’t have it in my heart to wait any longer, although I knew it most likely didn’t matter. The concept of time was one of the things that had left her early, and an hour, a day, a month or a year was all the same.

I turned the ignition off and sat back for a while, letting my eyes wander over the premises. The white, mansion-like building made a stark contrast against the soft greens of the surrounding recreation-ground, where plump bushes, slender young mountain ashes, big maple trees and old peony plants were scattered in between footpaths and small pastures. Small benches sat along the paths in the shade of the trees, providing regular places to rest for the old, crippled people slowly strolling the grounds.

A knock on my car window brought me out of my wandering thoughts, and I waved to one of the nurses I recognized from Grandma’s floor. He opened the door and lent me his hand to help me out of the car, like the true gentleman he was. His large hand was strong but soft and tender, and and my small one was white against his black skin.

“Here you go, Ma’am. Let me help you out.”

“Thanks, Darrell, that’s so sweet of you,”

“You’re welcome, anything for my favorite lady’s granddaughter. She’ll be so happy to see you. Today is a good day.” He smiled at me, an open and genuine one. The kind of smile you rarely see nowadays.

“It is? That’s good. Has she been giving you any trouble lately?”

“Oh no, Ma’am, not more than I can take. She’s a feisty ol’ lady when she wants to be, but that’s why I like her.”

“I know you do, Darrell, and I’m so happy she has you to take care of her. She’s in the best hands, I know that.”

“Now you’re making me blush, Ma’am, and that ain't easy for a black man.” He winked at me, and I laughed at him and locked the car. Small talk filled the short walk to the retirement home. Grandma was sitting in the common room, in an armchair next to the window overlooking the courtyard. A ray of sunshine fell through the window and made her thin, white hair glow like a silvery halo. Darrell kneeled beside her, taking her hand and patting it gently.

“Mrs Stevenson, Ma’am, you have a visitor,” he said in a soft voice.

“I do? Who?” Her tiny voice chimed and drifted across the room, and I cleared my throat as I approached her.

“Grandma? It’s me, Erin.” I took a chair, put it next to her and sat down. Her dim sight travelled across my face and confusion spread over her features, before recognition lit her eyes and she smiled at me.

“Welcome my sweet, it’s so nice to see you again. Although you shouldn’t have come by so soon, you are far to busy to be spending so much time with an old lady like me.”

“It’s no problem, Grandma. It’s been a few weeks since I visited.”

“Really?” She furrowed her eyebrows. “Oh. It felt just like yesterday.”

I swallowed the lump of guilt in my throat and patted her shoulder. I couldn’t decide if I was happy that she didn’t realize how long it had been, or sad that she either was so unaware of the time that she didn’t remember, or so bored and idle that days and weeks melted into each other.

“Darrell tells me you’re having a good day, Grandma. Are you feeling all right?”

“Oh honey, I’m as well as can be expected. Mr Eckhart keeps proposing to me everyday, I keep turning him down.” She glanced around the room, leaned her head towards mine and lowered her voice. “I think he’s just after my room since it’s bigger than his and closer to the television,” she whispered in confidence. I put my forehead against hers and snickered.

“Oh Grandma, always wanted by the gentlemen, are you? I see you haven’t lost your allure to the opposite sex.”

“Oh dear goodness, I’m sure it has nothing to do with my physical assets. I bet it’s just propositions out of convenience. But how about you, dear? You still have your assets in good shape, you must be drowning in suitors.”

“Oh, I don’t have time for suitors. I’m married to work, remember?”

She smacked her tongue and shook her head in disapproval.

“The ideas you young women have, I will never understand. When I was young, we married quickly, raised our children and served our husbands. It was a privilege to contribute to the family like that, to mold our young ones into fine citizens and give our husbands a home and a wife to be proud of.”

“I know, Grandma, and I know Grandpa was indeed very proud of you.” I watched her as her mind drifted from present to past and sat beside her in silence, stroking her hand once in a while. I knew better than to try chatting when her mind was wandering, and allowed myself to get lost in my own thoughts as I waited for her to come back from her absent state of mind.

Someone opened and closed the door, and her head jerked around.

“Joseph, is that you?” she piped up. I stroke her cheek and answered.

“No, Grandma, it was just a nurse. Grandpa isn’t around anymore, don’t you remember?”

She looked at me, and I could see the dimness covering her eyes again, telling me that her mind was still clouding her memories and her perception of now and then.

“Excuse me, who are you? And where is my Joseph?” she asked, annoyance in her frail voice.

“I’m Erin, your granddaughter. Joseph died a long time ago, you live in this retirement home now. Mr Eckhart wants to marry you, but you keep turning him down, poor man.”

“Oh, Erin, of course. How nice of you to stop by. How are your children, dear?”

“Grandma, I don’t have any children. I’m married to work, remember?”

“I’m sorry, my head gets fuzzy sometimes. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“Don’t worry, Grandma. Don’t worry.”

She fell silent again, leaned her head against the backrest and looked out the window. White clouds slowly moved over the bright blue sky and the leaves were rustling in an occasional breeze. A car honked in the parking lot and one of the old men sitting on a bench lifted his hand and waved.

“I wonder if Roland is stopping by later. He always visits on Thursdays, and he’s expecting homemade cookies,” she suddenly said. I scratched my head, wondering what to answer. Should I tell her that Roland, too, had passed away, and that he hadn’t visited on Thursdays since Grandma still lived at home? I felt bad already for crushing her hopes that Grandpa was still around, so I chose to play along.

“He still visits on Thursdays? That’s so nice of him,” I said, keeping my tone light and happy although inside I wanted to weep. Weep for my disoriented Grandma, for all the people that had died and left her behind, and for me because sometimes it felt like I’d already lost her, even though she was sitting right there next to me.

“Yes he does, he’s such a sweet man. Since his mother died, you know Joseph’s older sister, I think he’s started to view me as a mother of sorts. He’s very attentive and always calls to make sure I’m okay, asking if I need anything. He doesn’t have anybody else you know... No family, only a few friends, and since his... male friend... killed himself in that horrible way, he’s got no one to love anymore.”

She paused and thought for a while, and I nodded and mumbled something affirmative to fill the silence.

“I’ve always known he’s a sodomite, you know.” Her blunt words made me choke on a breath of air, and before I could admonish her for her choice of words she continued.

“Of course he’d turn out that way, with the way his mother doted on him. He was such a mama’s boy, and dear Lord, did he ever love his mother... The way he loved her, there was no love left in him for another woman. And believe me, if he’d ever meet someone, that mother of his would have made the poor woman’s life a living hell. No one was good enough for her boy, that’s for sure. Wonder if she ever asked herself why that handsome, polite and well-educated son of hers never got married, and spent all his free time with his male friend.” She lifted her hands and made air quotes at that last word, and I couldn’t help but snicker.

“I guess her perfect son couldn’t possibly be gay,” I said, and Grandma snickered back before turning to me with a pleading expression in her face.

“Could you please be a dear and go down to the cellar to see if I have any cookies left for Roland when he gets here?” I hesitated before I rose from my seat.

“Of course, Grandma. I’ll be right back.”

I left the room, closed the door and leaned against the wall with a heavy sigh. Nurses nodded at me as they passed by in the boring hallway, carrying bedpans, medicine and the occasional food tray. I rested my eyes on the pale green wall and the white border running at elbow height all along the corridor, counting the minutes until I got to a point where Grandma could believe I had rummaged through her freezer in search for home-made cookies and come up empty handed. I pushed the door open again and started talking as I crossed the floor.

“I’m sorry Grandma, there were no cookies left. I guess you need to make a new batch.” She sighed as I sat down.

“It’s okay. He always calls first, and if I tell him I’m out of cookies, he’ll bring his own. He makes excellent cookies, much better than mine anyway.”

“No one makes better cookies than you, Grandma,” I said and took her hand. She patted me with her other hand and looked out the window again, and I leaned my head against the side of her armchair. Time passed as we sat in silence, watching the sun move over the sky and the shadows grow longer. I knew I had to leave soon, and when I turned towards her to say good bye, I saw a tear roll down her cheek.

“Hey, don’t be sad, Grandma,” I said, stroking her cheek and brushing away her tear.

“Roland’s not coming today, is he?” she asked silently.

“I’m afraid not, Grandma. I wish I could stay instead, but I have to go.”

“I know, sweetie. It was good of you to drop by. It can’t be much fun for you to sit here with this old lady.”

I hugged her thin shoulders and mumbled in her ear.

“It may not be fun all the time, but I value every day I get with you. I love you, Grandma.”

She kissed my cheek, a quick, dry peck with her chapped old lips, and I made a mental note to bring her some chapstick next time.

“I love you too, Erin. Now go and be married to work again.” She smiled at me through watery eyes, and my chest hurt as I turned around to leave. Darrell showed up out of nowhere, being the excellent nurse he always was, and grasped my shoulder.

“Don’t worry Ma’am, I’ll take care of her,” he said in his deep, mellow voice, before taking his seat next to her. I paused and watched them together; one small, white old lady and one huge, black man, who had bonded beyond age, colour and gender to form a real friendship.

Her frail, pale hand rested in his strong, dark one as he stroked her wrinkly, paper-thin skin, and I knew she’d be alright with him.

Because all you really need is a friend to hold your hand.


Dangrdafne said...