I can’t reach my dad by phone at a quarter to six, so I guess he’s either at the nursing home or he’s dead. I tell him as much when I walk towards him and my mom sitting outside the front doors of Golden Age. It’s an old joke in our family. Whenever we haven’t seen or heard from someone (or now, with cell phones, if someone doesn’t pick up) we say as a greeting, “Huh, thought you were dead.” Most likely not funny to anyone but us.
“I thought you’d find me here,” he says. I lift my skirt and straddle the fence to get to my parents. I do this move to make Dad smile.
I settle in next to him, and I pull my mom’s wheelchair closer so I can brush the pesky house flies away from her without getting up. She doesn’t notice the bugs.
I can smell her, her diaper or her dentures. She’s not eating or drinking much. Maybe not even swallowing much. The lack of saliva makes her mouth smell like the stuff we clean out of the gutters each fall. I also suspect her diaper is full of urine. I say nothing to my dad.
She’s on her third month of hospice care, which continued even after she entered Golden Age. The hospice nurse comes to check on her once a week and the social worker talks to my dad often. Hospice runs in six month cycles. If she’s not dead in the next three months, she will be evaluated to determine whether she qualifies for ongoing end-of-life care. Hospice can be “renewed” if necessary. We know the end is out there, but we don’t know when.
Dad and I shoot the bull. He tells me who visited Mom in the past three days while I was out of town. I tell him highlights of my visit to Chicago: nice condo, cool museums and restaurants. “It was hotter than hell.” I know this is what he wants to hear about, how I survived the heat in a big city.
A tanned, blonde woman in a pick-up truck pulls up to the side entrance of Golden Age and parks on the grass. We watch as she tugs a faded color guard flag on a seven-foot pole out of her truck bed and walks towards us in her short-short jean shorts. I suspect the flag was once a radiant red and a bright silver, but it’s seen better days. The stitching around the edge is frayed.
“Molly here?” she says abruptly.
“I don’t know,” I say.
“She’s inside,” my dad says. Of course he knows everyone’s name by now. I still think of some of them as “chubby one,” “leg tattoo,” or “squeaky voice.” There are so many CNA’s, and if I visit at a different time on different days I may never cross paths with the same staff twice.
Chubby one bursts out the side door. Molly I assume. Blonde woman hands over the flag. Neither looks at each other or says anything.
Blonde woman storms off to her pick-up truck.
I look at Molly. She raises her eyebrows. “That’s my ex’s girlfriend.”
“Oh,” I say.
“What?” my dad says to me. He can’t always hear women’s voices, the pitch or perhaps it’s so many years spent tuning out a wife and six daughters in the house, their constant chatter.
I say to him loudly, “That blonde woman was Molly’s ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend.”
“Oh,” he says.
“My ex-husband’s new girlfriend. She made it so my kids don’t even want to see him. They won’t call him or go over there.”
“Too bad,” I say. “That’s rough. What was the flag about?”
Molly says, “I paid 300 bucks for this flag when my daughter was in color guard. Then I find out her kids are playing with it. That ain’t gonna fly. I really hate this word, but she’s just a cunt.”
I look to see if my dad has heard. He shoots me a look that says he has.
“Well at least she brought it to your work rather than your home,” I say.
“Oh, I never tell my ex-husband where I live.” She twirls the long flag pole back and forth between her two palms so the fabric flaps. My dad says nothing, just takes it all in.
I say to Molly, “Good plan.” Sometimes I’m amazed at how calm my life must be compared to the difficult lives of a lot of women.
“What a cunt,” she says again before she takes her flag inside the building.
I say to my dad, “Well that’s somethin’.”