Kelly mulled over all the things she thought she should do before going to meet Al for lunch. She decided that she'd better look in on her grandparents again before she tried checking on care facilities or anything else. Despite their present state of mind, they still should have some say in how they would live the rest of their life, so she had to know what her grandparents wanted and where they wanted to stay.
After returning to the hospital, now with Arizona sunshine lighting her way in the door, she tried to smile at the nurses as she walked toward the room she had visited last night. The nurses were busy and barely took notice of her this morning. She walked into her grandparents room. Both Grandma and Grandpa were awake, and Grandma still had her breakfast tray by her bed, apparently untouched. Grandpa was watching T.V. and Grandma was looking worried, tugging on the bedspread in her lap.
"Good morning, Grandma. Good morning, Grandpa. How are you both doing today?" She smiled brightly, hoping her eyes didn't still look red from her earlier crying.
She was relieved to see her grandfather give her a bright smile and a "Hello," though it was said as if to a stranger. His eyes showed no recognition and the cheerful greeting could have been for a nurse or a passerby.
Grandma, however, looked at her sternly, as if Kelly had interrupted her fretful mood and on one was welcome there.
Kelly had already gone over some of the things she had done last night that she wanted to change. She knew she could not get trapped on the far side of Grandma's bed, unable to reach Grandpa or allow him to see her clearly. Kelly believed that eventually, when she had come to visit more often and had established a routine, her grandparents may be able to feel more comfortable with her presence.
She stood between the two beds so she could look at both grandparents at once. "Hi, Grandma. Hi, Grandpa. I hope you're feeling well this morning." No replies, just a smile from Grandpa and a glare from Grandma. "I spoke with Al this morning. He said he came by to see you." Grandpa turned to watch the small T.V. and ignored her statement, but Grandma pursed her lips and spoke stubbornly.
"Al, that old poop! He hasn't come by to visit us in months. That old poop. Who did you say you talked to?" Grandma pulled at the bedspread again.
"Grandma, it looks as if you haven't eaten anything yet. Do you want me to help you?" Kelly moved over to the tray table and started to pick up the fork when her grandmother burst out.
"No! Why can't you people just leave me alone. I can't eat this food! Can't you understand. And you force Johnny to eat it when he's not allowed to eat." She started to whisper, "He'll die from all those additives, you know. He's allergic." Then she wailed, "Why can't I cook for him?" She turned her face and looked away, as if afraid that Kelly would force her to eat some of the food.
"Grandma. It's me, Kelly, Grandma. Kelly. I'm not a nurse, Grandma. I came in from Germany last night to see you. Do you remember?"
"Kelly?" Her grandmother turned her face back around to look at Kelly. "What are you doing here? Kelly's in Germany. Is it you?" She still had an unfocused look to her eyes, but she seemed more coherent than she had been the previous night.
"Yes, Grandma. It's me. I came to visit you. I wanted to see how you and Grandpa are doing."
"Kelly. Well, that's a relief. Maybe you can keep some of these people out of our house." She looked around her as if seeing the room for the first time. "Kelly, you've changed the living room around so much. How did you do that without me even noticing." She looked at Kelly with proud, maternal eyes. "You always were so quick, weren't you. So strong. Remember when you were going to be a masseuse?"
Kelly laughed. She remembered that her grandmother had said she should become a masseuse because, as a young girl, Kelly had always been so good at massaging her aging legs, rubbing and kneading the long years away. At the time Kelly was very naive and so proud of her strength, that she thought it sounded like a good idea.
"Grandma, that was a long time ago. I gave up that idea along with firefighter a long time ago."
"Oooh. I know. Now you're in the Air Force, just like your father and just like Rachel. Isn't Rachel in Germany? Oh no, that's Kelly. No, you're here. Drat, what's the matter with me? I can't remember."
Kelly watched her grandmother go through this regression, seeing her eyes become more and more unfocused even as she spoke. Kelly said, "Grandma, now it's time to eat. Why don't I put some nice jam on this toast for you?" Encouraged when her grandmother didn't say anything, she spread the jam on the cold toast. "Here now. Take a bite of that, Grandma. I'll get some fresh orange juice."
Her grandmother took the proffered toast and moved it to her mouth. Kelly glanced out the door to see if anyone was out there to help her find some cold orange juice to replace the warm cup that stood next to the breakfast plate. Everyone who moved past the door seemed so busy.
She looked back just as her grandmother took the partially bitten toast out of her mouth and threw in on the tray. The toast balanced on the edge of the tray, almost falling to the floor, but fell back onto the tray, jam side down..
"Grandma! What's the matter?" Kelly spoke more harshly than she had intended and she watched as her grandmother turned away from her.
"I can't eat that poop. Leave me alone. You shouldn't be in my house, anyway. Why don't you take everyone else and leave. I've got to get Johnny's dinner ready and I can't cook with all these people in my house." With the tone of a spoiled, unhappy child, Kelly saw her Grandma return to her own world.
After several unsuccessful attempts to get her grandmother to respond to her, Kelly turned to her grandfather to see how he was doing.
"Grandpa." She moved next to the television, the sound was turned down so low that she was surprised he could hear it. "Grandpa, can I ask you a couple questions?"
As she drew her grandfather's attention away from the television, a tall, blonde nurse swept into the room, moving first to the far side of her grandfather's bed. She raised up the tent over her grandfather's feet while she smiled at him and said, "Hi, Blue Eyes. How are you feeling this morning?" Her smile was genuine and confident. Kelly could tell this nurse was good with the patients.
Grandpa's eyes moved quickly at the sound of "Blue Eyes" and he returned the nurse's smile, though his toothless grin seemed almost comical. He laughed and said, "Hi Blondie. How are you?" He turned to me and winked, "I call her Blondie 'cause she calls me Blue Eyes. I like that." He turned back to the nurse as she briskly went through her checks of pulse and temperature.
When she was through making a few notations on the chart, the nurse looked up at Kelly and said, "You must be the granddaughter. Ol' Blue Eyes here said you'd been in. He's a real sweetheart." Beaming at Kelly's grandfather, the nurses eyes literally sparkled, bringing return sparks from Grandpa. Kelly smiled at how much he enjoyed the nurse's flirting.
The nurse turned back to Kelly, with her voice a little lower. "Your grandmother, on the other hand, is impossible. I haven't dealt with many people who won't try, even a little, to get along." Before Kelly could respond that her grandmother didn't even know where she was and thought that all the nurses were either ghosts or burglars, the nurse continued, "That's her second breakfast plate this morning. She wouldn't touch her food, and when I tried to help, she threw the whole tray on the floor. We've had to clean the floor and get her new sheets, not to mention me spending half an hour in the little girl's room to try to get the egg yolk out of my uniform." Kelly noticed the pale yellow stains on the nurses otherwise crisp, stark white uniform dress.
It struck her as oddly significant that this capable nurse referred to the restroom as a "little girl's room" as if she were speaking to a child, but then, Kelly supposed the nurse was used to speaking with people in the same condition as her grandparents. Her grandma and Grandpa did almost seem like children.
The nurse now shifted to the end of Grandma's bed. "Hello again, Betty. How are you feeling now?" She plucked the chart off its hook at the foot of the bed and moved toward her willful patient. She pushed aside the table with the breakfast tray, noticing the piece of toast. She glanced at Kelly as if to say that she knew exactly what had happened.
While the nurse took her pulse and other vital statistics, Grandma glared at the woman as if she thought the nurse was going to bite her head off. The nurse said, "You know Betty, even if you don't want to eat, you should drink some water and some juice. Your blood pressure is a little high. I think you're still dehydrated, and I'm sure you'd rather not have that needle in your arm again." She turned to Kelly, "By the way, she thinks I stole her glasses out of her purse. As far as I know, she came here without any glasses. If you could check at her home, I think she'd be happier if she had her reading glasses. Maybe she'd settle down if she could read a book or magazine."
"Alright, I'll look." Kelly looked around the room, "Can you tell me where her purse is, I need to check for keys to their house. I still haven't gotten them."
"Sure, it's in this little cabinet here, in one of the drawers. I'd get it out for you but this woman insists I'm trying to steal things from her so I'd rather not provoke her." She darted to the end of the bed, replacing the chart, and Kelly reached into the small cabinet by her grandmother's bed. She found the purse in the second drawer.
Turning to ask the nurse about her grandfather's glasses and his dentures, Kelly was surprised that the nurse had soundlessly left the room.
Kelly rummaged through the purse to find the keys, and pulled out the wallet in order to feel the other contents more easily. She noticed that the wallet was very fat, almost over-stuffed. Once she found the keys, a whole string of keys of which many were likely old and useless, she thought that she should remove any money from the purse. Though she didn't really believe that the nurse or anyone else would really steal from her grandmother, she couldn't be sure that someone wouldn't take advantage of a patient's reduced capabilities.
Her Grandma watched her with untroubled eyes, so different from when she thought she was a burglar. Kelly carefully explained what she was doing to her grandmother, just in case the old woman changed her mind and decided Kelly was a burglar, anyway. Her grandmother nodded her assent and then watched the doorway, as if she were ensuring no burglars came in while Kelly performed such an important task.
Kelly found about twenty-seven dollars in odd bills in the part of the wallet that was made for folding money. The change purse portion was the part that was stuffed full. Kelly found it difficult to open. It seemed as if it were stuffed full of papers, perhaps bills or receipts. When Kelly finally managed to force it open, thick wads of money tumbled onto her grandmother's bed.
Kelly gasped and looked up at the door, as if she, too, thought a burglar might suddenly appear. The money included many ones, but even more twenties. Kelly even saw a couple hundreds mixed in with fives and tens. She shook out the last few bills from the coin purse, and a few pennies and nickels clinked on top of the pile. Organizing it quickly, Kelly asked, "Grandma, why in the world would you need so much money in your purse? Weren't you afraid you'd lose it or that someone would take it from you?"
"You silly girl, that's why I kept it in my purse. I always take my purse wherever I go. That way the burglars couldn't take it. If I left it anywhere else, the ghosts might even take it. I had to keep it." Grandma's face showed tolerance while she reminded her granddaughter of the facts of life.
"Don't you use checks anymore?" Kelly saw there were at least four hundred dollars worth of bills, and she decided an accurate count could wait until later.
Grandma replied to her question, "Only for bills. I don't seem to get out much anymore, so I need to get cash whenever I can. Al used to help me." She frowned, "That old poop."
Kelly started to put the money in her own purse, but thought better about it. "Grandma, I'm going to leave a few dollars here with you, in case they bring a snack cart through or something. I'll also leave your identification card here. But, I'm going to take all your credit cards and the rest of your money. Is that alright with you?"
Her grandmother smiled and said, "Anything you say, Babe." Kelly flinched at hearing her mother's name again, realizing her grandmother still didn't know who was taking her money. Kelly breathed a sigh of relief that she'd been the first to take money out of her grandmother's wallet.
"Kelly. Are you here to take me home now?" It was her Grandpa, speaking to her directly at last. She turned to him, noting the worried look on his face.
"I'm sorry, Grandpa. I can't take you home right now." She finished putting the wallet, minus a few bills and her grandmother's driver's license, into her own purse, then moved to the side of her grandfather's bed and took his hand. The skin seemed so thin and fragile, she was afraid she might tear it open. "I need to talk to you about that, Grandpa. I need to ask you what you think I should do. I'm supposed to make a big decision in your life, but I'm not even sure I should be doing this."
He was looking at her with trust and openness on his face.
"I'm glad you're not taking me home. That woman yells and whines at me." Kelly was shocked to hear him refer to his wife as "that woman" but he was probably very upset at the condition in which she'd kept him in recent weeks.
"Okay, Grandpa. Would you like nice people like that blonde nurse to take care of you?"
"Well. I don't know." He paused, "I'd like to go fishing. Will the nurse take me fishing?" His blue eyes sparkled again.
"I don't know about that, but I'll see what I can do. The main thing is, would you like to have some people around to take care of you, in the same way the nurse and the doctor have been taking care of you?" She hoped he understood, and he seemed to be thinking clearly at the moment.
"Well. Let me think. Why doesn't Carl take me home? Then you and the other girls will be able to take care of me." He smiled, "Though I wouldn't mind having that Blondie come over, too."
Kelly tried to smile but gave up. She looked back at the door again, as if she were going to find help from someone passing by, but she was the only one who could handle this. She wondered how much she should say at once, and how much he could stand to hear. "Grandpa. My father, your son Carl, died several years ago, you know that." She was going to say more, but she stopped when he winced at her words.
"Oh I know. What's wrong with me? It's like I can't remember where I am on this earth or where I am in time. Kelly, it's almost as if someone keeps moving me from place to place and time to time." He sighed, deeply. "I know. Babe's gone, too. And sweet, young Janet." He stared at Kelly's eyes as if trying to find some hidden truth there. When Kelly was a child, this was the man she had trusted so much to have all the answers and to know what to do in every case, but he was looking to her for answers now.
"Kelly. They shouldn't have gone before me. Betty and I should have been the first to go. Kelly. Why did they leave first?" He looked around the room, as if expecting to see his son and daughter-in-law there. Kelly thought he wanted to accuse them of leaving before anyone had been ready for them to leave. "Or should I ask, why didn't I go first." He actually started to cry, something Kelly was sure she'd never seen before. She leaned forward and cradled his head between her arm and her shoulder. She was unconsciously rubbing his parchment thin hand and she stopped when she realized what she was doing, but he motioned for her to continue, which she did.
As she held him and comforted him, her mind slipped back to the day, she'd been twelve, when she had snuck up behind him and lifted him up off his feet. At first, he didn't know what was happening, and then he'd gotten so upset with her. She thought he was upset because he didn't like people to pick him up. As it turned out, she'd scared him because he thought that she must have hurt herself by picking up a fully grown, tall man when she was so young.
All those years ago, she'd started crying because she'd scared him, and he'd knelt down beside her and comforted her as she was comforting him now. He had realized that he couldn't consider her a little kid anymore. Both of them had been upset and frightened back then, and now in that harsh white hospital room, they again shared some fright and some comfort.
After another fifteen minutes, Kelly finally managed to talk to her grandparents about whether they'd like to stay in Scottsdale or in Payson. Her Grandpa had insisted that Payson was where he wanted to stay, and he wouldn't take any argument. Grandma had insisted that they stay in Scottsdale, right where they were, and she wouldn't take any argument.
Despite the nagging thought in her head that she needed to hurry, because too much had to be done, two things struck Kelly about the discussion. The first was that her grandparents spoke as if they didn't even hear each other. They did not appear to be purposely ignoring or interrupting each other; yet, they sincerely did not notice that the other had spoken. At first Kelly wondered if it was because they had become hard of hearing. But when she spoke in the same volume, or even more quietly than her grandparents, they had no problem hearing her. The undeniable truth was, they'd completely stopped paying attention to each other.
The second thing that struck Kelly was that Grandma had absolutely no idea where she was. She currently believed that she was in her home in Scottsdale. Kelly worried that Grandma would quickly change her mind, that she'd realize she was in Payson; however, throughout the conversation, her grandmother thought she was in Scottsdale. Despite the hospital room and corridor, the strangers moving around outside of her room and the "burglars" who seemed to be in her house, Grandma believed she was in familiar surroundings. Kelly now thought that the final decision on where they would stay should not rest on what her grandmother wanted or thought at any given time. Her grandmother's frame of mind was too confused, too changeable and too tentative to be useful.
Shaking her head, Kelly left the hospital. Then she drove to the area of town where she thought Payson Manor was located. She'd never been to that part of town before, so she wondered whether or not she'd be able to find the place or not.
She was driving down a wide, winding street, passing some relatively new, large homes on the right, and an open area on the left. She let herself admire a particularly striking home, with a beautiful Spanish motif, when she realized she was passing a driveway and parking lot surrounding a long, one-story building on the left. She didn't have to see the sign to know that it was Payson Manor.
She'd gone too far to be able to slow down and pull into the parking lot, so she continued until she found a place to turn around. As she again approached the facility, she thought its general appearance seemed well kept, at least from the outside. She entered the parking lot, and pulled up near the main entrance. The innocuous entryway to the building looked like it could have led into a small hospital, a fifteen-year old government building, or, what it was, an old-folks home. Kelly sighed as she mentally corrected herself; it was a care facility.
Glancing at her watch, she realized that she only had twenty-five minutes until she was supposed to meet Al for lunch. However, she had so much to do that she couldn’t put off going in and asking at least a couple questions.
She parked the rental car and walked to the entrance, feeling awkward while trying to appear confident. Entering the foyer, she didn't immediately smell the expected institutional air for which she'd prepared herself. The windowed entrance let in ample sunshine. The bright foyer, some large rubber plants by the doors, combined with the effect of a new, tan carpet and some comfortable waiting chairs gave the appearance of any business office, decorated with a low budget but good taste. To the left, a window was open between the foyer and the administrative office, where bright florescent lights burned even brighter than the Arizona sun.
She looked in and a young woman, actually a teenager, saw her and smiled. "Can I help you?"
Kelly realized she should have thought more about she was going to ask, but managed to say, "Yes please. I just arrived here in Payson, and it appears that I'll probably have to put my grandparents into a care facility." Kelly stopped herself from wincing at her own words, but she thought they sounded awful. The girl didn't seem to think so.
"Both grandparents?" Kelly realized that this probably was not usual.
"Yes. The main thing I need is information about the different options available to them. I wondered if you might have some material I could look over." Kelly didn't want to say that she was in a hurry, but she didn't want someone to think she'd come here ready to sit down for a long discussion, either.
"Yes, just a moment." The girl disappeared around a corner and Kelly heard the sound of a drawer open. Another, older, woman appeared out of a side office and smiled at Kelly. Kelly nodded, but couldn't manage a smile in return.
Bringing a large manila envelope, the girl returned to the desk and handed the package to Kelly through the window. "Mrs. Wheelwright, the lady who handles new clients, is at lunch right now. Her number is in the package if you want to call to make an appointment." Kelly noticed that the other woman was listening. The girl continued, "One thing that all most people want to know is whether or not we accept state funds, and we do."
Kelly had another question to ask, but she thought the young girl didn't seem the right one to ask, so she hoped the other woman might help. "I know this might seem odd, but the doctor seems to think that I need to make a decision fairly quickly. However, I need to get a lawyer to help me, and I don't know any in town. Is there a lawyer that you know of who deals with this sort of thing?"
The girl looked confused, as if she didn't know what "this sort of thing" might be, but, as Kelly had hoped, the older woman came to the rescue. "I can recommend my lawyer, though I'm not sure he does this sort of thing regularly." The receptionist looked cross; as if the woman had no right to know what "this sort of thing" was if she didn't. "He's right off of Beeline highway, and we use him for everything. Everyone I know seems very happy with him. His name is Mr. Yoshida."
Kelly remembered seeing that name, along with only a few others, in the Payson phone book that morning. She thanked the women and turned to go. The older woman called out to her, "I know this isn't an easy time for you. Don't let the doctor push you into a quick decision if you're not ready for one." She smiled as if to say that she'd stood in Kelly's shoes before, and this time Kelly found she was able to return her smile.
Pulling into the rough dirt parking lot in front of the café that Al had told her about, Kelly noticed it was a couple minutes after twelve, so she hoped Al wasn’t too concerned about punctuality. She looked for his truck and didn't see it, but then looked for the blue truck she'd seen him in, but couldn't see that either. She opened her door and climbed out of the car, reaching over to the passenger seat to grab her purse. She saw a truck pull into the parking lot and saw it was Al's beat up brown truck. She smiled, at least she hadn't been later than Al.
"Hey'o young lady!" Al called out cheerily. He met her by the door and tried to stop her from reaching for the handle. Kelly, who usually felt very happy opening doors for herself, wasn't usually one to insist, but she didn't like the way Al almost pushed her hand away.
She smiled at him as he held the door open. "I'll make a deal with you. If we go to lunch again, or anywhere else for that matter, I get to open the door some of the time. I appreciate your gallantry in wanting to open the door, but I want you to know that I don't expect it, and I actually enjoy opening doors for other people now and then." She didn't say that she enjoyed opening doors for older people, though that was what she was going to say. She knew he wouldn't appreciate it.
"It's not the way I was raised, and not the way I raised my children." He motioned at a table, probably his usual, and held a chair out. "Yes, I'd like you to sit here, please." He gestured grandly at the chair, "You see; I enjoy doing this for young ladies, ALL the time." He laughed hoarsely.
Kelly decided not to push it this time, but over the coming weeks, she would often confront his perception of correct manners and would rankle, causing some interesting discussions which stopped just short of angry arguments. She settled down in the chair, and grinned mischievously at him, "Alright. Since you're from the old-world, I won't argue THIS time. Just get ready."
As Al sat down, and waved at one of the waitresses, Kelly could see that he was quite a regular here. The waitress brought over a steaming cup of coffee, and only one menu, for her. "Would you like some coffee, too?" She smiled at Kelly while she asked, then turned to Al, "Is this your new gal? I can't believe you brought her in here to make me jealous." Winking, she turned back to Kelly as Al let out a hoarse howl of laughter, and Kelly chuckled.
"Yes, please, I'd love some coffee." Kelly reached for the menu and suddenly felt extremely hungry. She realized that she hadn't eaten, hadn't even felt like eating, all day.
Al ordered a big breakfast, and Kelly pondered whether or not she should go for the scrumptious looking breakfasts, or the more practical lunches on the menu. She decided on a western omelet with extra salsa and hash browns. It wasn't very practical, considering she really needed to lose weight, but she couldn't muster the will to resist.
She and Al discussed a few things, such as the weather, for several minutes and Kelly decided to ask some of the difficult questions. "Al, you said you went to visit Grandma and Grandpa this morning. What did you really think about their conditions?"
Al gulped some coffee and said cheerily, "They were better than I expected. I thought Johnny looked great."
Kelly was surprised. If he had thought they were worse off than they had appeared, why hadn't he done something for them himself? "Had you noticed that they were kind of losing it?" Kelly groped for words, since to her they seemed almost to have lost their minds, though she realized it was a recognized medical condition they were suffering from. "Did you realize that Grandma wasn't able to take care of Grandpa?"
Al finally decided to become serious. "Look. I know you might find this hard to believe, but I wasn't sure how they were doing." The waitress brought their meals, and Al flirted with her some more. After she'd left, he ate a couple big bites of egg and sausage before he continued. "Betty had stopped talking to me several weeks ago, and refused to let me in the house. She would go inside every time I started over there and would close the door." His hoarse voice showed the same regret his eyes reflected.
"How long ago was that?"
"Oh, I don't know. It must have been over a month ago. The last thing she had me do was pick her up some groceries, cash a check and buy a bottle of vodka." He noticed her surprise. "Oh, yes. She had me pick up bottles of vodka fairly regularly. I also was always the ones to cash her checks, though I don't know how she spent all that money, she rarely left the house, and when she did it was for shopping with me." Al downed a few more bites and gulped his coffee again; waving at the waitress that he needed more coffee.
"Since she stopped talking to me, I haven't seen her go shopping with anyone. So I'd leave a bag with a few groceries, the kind she would usually buy, by her front door. Sometimes they'd sit there a couple days before she took them in, but it was cold out, so the food was alright." He looked at Kelly as if he was sure he had just answered an unspoken question, and Kelly nodded. "I know you may think that I waited too long, but I was seriously thinking about going for some type of help. I would have called you, but I didn't have your number and she wouldn't have let me talk to her and ask for it. I haven't met your sisters." Kelly didn't correct him. She only had one sister left, but he didn't really need to know that now.
"Did you see her doing her normal things, like laundry or anything?" Kelly was eating slowly, trying to decide what to ask in order to build a picture of what her grandparents' life had been like recently. She knew there were better questions to ask, but she was working her way through the ones she could think of at that moment.
Al pushed a piece of toast around his plate, trying to sop up the egg yolk, "I'd see her now and then. She'd come out to the front porch. Then she'd kind of look around as if she were seeing everything for the first time. Sometimes she would stand there for almost an hour, looking kind of confused and lost. I wanted to go and help her." Al looked unhappy, and his hoarse voice was getting even rougher than usual. "But every time I started out my door, she'd turn right around and go into the house. I even went to her door and knocked a few times, but if she'd seen it was me, she wouldn't answer. Once, I got a friend of mine to knock on the door. She opened it and then saw me standing off to the side and she slammed the door in his face."
"Do you have any reason why she was so upset with you?" Kelly thought about how Grandma had always counted on Al, but she had sometimes had a falling out with him - - usually over nothing much.
Al eyed Kelly and nibbled on his last piece of toast. "No. Well, maybe. It shouldn't have made such a difference." He seemed lost in thought for a moment and the waitress came over to refill the coffee and she commented that she'd never seen him trying to think so hard.
"But, then. Thinking for you always has been hard work, hasn't it honey?" She smiled at him and he looked at her affectionately but answered gruffly.
"What do you know about thinking? If you actually thought about anything, you never would have married those loser husbands you had and you would have waited for me to sweep you off your feet." He reached for her hand and pulled it to his lips. He grazed his lips over her knuckles and she actually blushed. After refilling their cups, she quickly left.
Al looked at Kelly. "I love to do that; it makes her blush every time." Then he remembered that he had been about to answer a difficult question. "Well, I think I know what made your Grandma so upset." He sipped some coffee and settled back as if for a long conversation. "The last time I spoke with her, or at least the last time she answered me, I was pretty drunk." He was looking down at his empty plate, but he now raised his eyes sheepishly at Kelly as if she were going to judge him poorly for having imbibed.
"I doubt that would make her upset, unless something else happened." Kelly remarked, sure that he would give her more details.
"Well, you never know what she's going to take wrong. I can tell you that for sure. She would sometimes get mad at me for the smallest things." He tried to clear his throat, "Actually, I think I may have said something mean to her. But, frankly, I don't remember what was said. I was so drunk I only vaguely remember talking to her at all. You see, Johnny and I used to talk all the time. I'd go into his bedroom and we'd shoot the…" He paused and remembered who he was talking to, "We'd talk about any old thing. He really seemed to like the company. Well, several weeks ago, I commented to Betty that I noticed the sheets on Johnny were getting a bit ripe. I told her I'd help her clean them if she wanted me to, since I could move Johnny a lot more easily that she could."
He wriggled in his seat as if he remembered how uncomfortable he'd been offering Betty help with such a sensitive task. He looked at Kelly. "You've been in his bedroom haven't you? You went there today, this morning, didn't you?" He saw Kelly's nod and continued, "I could tell by the way your face was so pale and you looked as if you'd been crying. So you know what I'm talking about, though I can't even imagine what it looks like in there now."
Kelly muttered, "It's pretty bad. I don't know how I'm going to clean it up."
"Exactly. It wasn't too bad when I spoke to Betty about helping her, but I could tell it wasn't going to get any better without some real hard work. But she seemed upset. She didn't say anything that time, but the next time I came over to see Johnny, she told me that Johnny didn't want to see me anymore. She said he got too upset and excited, and he was afraid he was going to die."
Kelly looked at him, remembering all the times Grandma had made excuses for not getting Grandpa on the phone.
Al shook his head. "Well, you know I couldn't believe that Johnny would say such a thing, but she wouldn't let me in the house. I tried to wave at him through his bedroom window, but she closed the curtains. She said that some kids had been looking through the windows and were bothering Johnny."
Kelly looked up, surprised. "I remember that she had told me the same thing a few months ago. Does that sound right? Were there kids in that area?"
"I doubt it. There are some kids around the area, despite most of the folks who live there being old farts like me and your grandparents. But no one around there would stand for kids running around and bothering their neighbors, so I really doubt any kids were looking at Johnny through his window." He shook his head again. Kelly realized he was more bothered by what had happened to her grandparents than she had given him credit for. Yet, she still wondered why he hadn't tried to do more.
"Al, please tell me more about what happened when Grandma stopped talking to you." Kelly tried to sound gentle but firm. She had to know this.
"Well, as I said, it had been awhile since I'd been able to see Johnny. I was starting to worry about him." Al's rough voice was filled with emotion. "I got drunk one day. Actually," he glanced at Kelly as if considering whether or not to tell her, "I've got a bit of a drinking problem sometimes. I'd been drinking for over two days at this time. It was an afternoon, and I was just starting to feel riled up about how she was keeping Johnny in there like a prisoner. I couldn't help myself, I was angry, so I went over and banged on the door."
Kelly watched him. He looked down at the tablecloth while he told the story, as if he could see the scene running again on the white cotton.
"I was really pushy." He winced with pain, almost as if he were still suffering the hangover from the alcoholic binge. Kelly realized that in a way, he was still feeling that pain. "Remember, I'm a little foggy about the details since I was so drunk." He looked back up at Kelly again to make sure she understood. "I think I tried to push past her into the house, so I could go and look in on Johnny. So, of course, she tried to stop me. She's pretty strong for a short gal."
"Yeah, I remember." Grandma isn't very strong anymore, Kelly thought.
"So she's trying to push me out the door, and even though I was drunker than a skunk, I didn't want to hurt her by pushing to hard. So I start yelling at her about how she's hurting Johnny and how she needs me to help." He looked down at the table again. "I don't know exactly what I said, but I think I said some pretty nasty things to her. I think I might have told her she was trying to kill Johnny and hide the body." Al looked miserable. "Anyway, that was the last time she opened the door to me. I even wrote a huge long letter apologizing and I stuck it under her door, but nothing worked."
Kelly tried to think of something to say, but couldn't. If she'd asked why he hadn't gone to the police himself he would say he knew about the incident down in Scottsdale, so he didn’t want to start that all over again.
Al spoke again, "So, what are you going to do, little lady? What do you do next?"
Kelly thought about her mental list of things she knew had to be done, and thought that she should probably write it down so she didn't forget anything.
"I've got so many things to do; I don't know where to go first. Well, actually, I do know what I have to do first." Kelly looked down at the food she was picking at. "I have to find a lawyer. Since the details of this whole process are unclear to me I need advice. Plus, I know that I can't just start taking control of my grandparent’s affairs. I'm not even sure that's what I want to do. Whatever I need to do, though, I know that some legal action has to be taken, like having them declared incompetent or something." Even as she said the words, Kelly wished she hadn't. Her face glowed with red heat.
Al saw her discomfiture. "I know you don't like having to do it, but I think you have to do it. It's not your fault."
Kelly knew he was trying to make her feel better. "I've got the name of a lawyer that was recommended. It's funny though, the person who recommended him didn’t even know if he does this kind of work. I don't suppose you have a lawyer, or know of one." Kelly looked at Al hopefully, but saw him shake his head.
"No, I don't like lawyers, after the divorce and all, so I can't help you there. What was the name of the one that was recommended to you?"
"Mr. Yoshida. I saw his name in the yellow pages, too."
Al sat back. "Yoshida? What is that, a Chink name?"
Kelly's jaw dropped, and she looked around to see if anyone else had heard Al. "Al, I can't believe you said that. If you mean, "is he Chinese?’, I don't know."
"Oh goddamn it, Kelly. Chink, Chinese, you knew what I meant so what's the difference?" Al looked as if he didn't care what he'd said, as long as Kelly had understood his meaning.
"Doggone it, Al, you can't use a word like that, it's insulting." Kelly looked at Al. She detected only a slight trace of the accent he had probably tried hard to eliminate altogether. His Eastern European background and his experiences in WWII made him much more complex than most people she knew, but she was surprised to find such blatant bigotry was a part of his make-up.
"Hey, I use all those words 'cause they're easier, not because they're insulting. You know, Chink, Wop, Greaser, Dego, Limey, all those."
Kelly again looked around to see if anyone heard what was being said. She hoped Al's guttural speech didn't carry far, but she saw one woman at a nearby table glance over at them, and she was pretty sure Al's comments had been overheard.
"Stop it, Al. I know you're older than I am and I want to show you respect, but do not use those terms around me! I find them offensive and if you want to show ME any respect at all, don't use them." Kelly watched Al as he shrugged. She was completely perplexed about how he could feel free to use those terms though he was obviously aware of their negative contexts.
"Listen, Kelly. I'm an old truck driver and I've worked with a lot of other guys, some of them Degos, Greasers, and Wops. They use those terms to describe themselves, so why shouldn't I? Don't talk to me about respect. I respect you, but you can't change the habits of an old man that easily." He nodded as if he had finished the discussion. "Now, back to my original question, where's this guy Yoshida from anyway? You don't want some foreign lawyer taking care of this do you?"
Kelly spoke through clenched teeth. "Al, I don't have any idea where he's from. I think he's probably from Payson, Arizona. Now, the origins of his name are obviously Far Eastern though I don't know if it's Korean, Chinese, or, probably, most probably, Japanese. That doesn’t matter; right now he's an American lawyer who practices law in this town." Kelly fought an urge to walk out on Al. Later, she'd wonder if she should have, it might have set the ground rules more in her favor.
"Okay, so the guy's Asian. I guess that's good, but I always thought Jew-boys made better lawyers. But Asian's alright, I guess. If I were you, though, I'd look to see if there are any Jew lawyers in town."
"Doggone it, Al. Just stop talking like that and let's talk about something else, alright?" Now, Kelly was determined to go to Mr. Yoshida, no matter what.
Over the next couple days, Kelly talked to Mr. Yoshida, she spoke with the policeman who had helped her grandparents, she made appointments with Payson manor authorities and realtors, she called her sister and her husband as well as her boss, and she bought food and cleaning supplies. She also called Scottsdale's listed care facilities to compare prices and services. She moved from the hotel and into her grandparent’s home.
Probably the worst thing she had to do was to go through piles of paper, letters, statements and bills which she found in corners, drawers, shelves, closets and in plastic bags throughout the house. Sorting through the piles of papers was part cleaning, and part understanding her grandparent’s affairs.
The cleaning, though a huge job, had to be started just so she could feel as though she was breathing healthy air. As she sorted through her grandparents' disorderly lives and cleaned their unexpected messes in surprising places, she found her mind was wandering more and more toward the macabre. She started to feel as if she understood her grandmother's precarious way of seeing the world. At night the sounds outside became burglars looking for a way in the house, the rustling she thought she heard in the hallway became a ghostly apparition, half seen out of the corners of her eyes.
As this mindset became more and more apparent, Kelly knew she couldn't continue functioning as she was. The first change she made was to put the book she'd brought with her back into her suitcase. The book, The Castle, by Franz Kafka, was enough to unsettle anyone's mind. Now, Kafka's descriptions of disturbingly obtuse people and bureaucrats, deranged methods and crazed illogical thoughts took Kelly's mind to unsettling recesses of her imagination. She realized she could not be with her grandparents during the day, trying to understand and match their thought processes, and then live with Kafka’s words before she went to sleep. Her mind was bending with every obscure thought she encountered, as well as her pressure of dealing with the still unknown priorities in caring for her grandparents. So, Grandma's dozens of westerns, mainly Louis L'Amour, found their way off the shelves and before her weary eyes as she tried to wind down enough to sleep late at night.
Another change she made was to diminish the silence in the house which only served to make every unidentified sound much louder and more significant than it really was. To do this, she decided she would turn on the television for most of the evenings, whether she was watching it or not. Unfortunately, the television was broken, since Grandma and Grandpa had rarely watched it. A Cable Television bill, from only a few months before; however, showed that Grandma had succumbed to watching the television, whether Grandpa had or not.
Eventually, after replacing some parts calling for a quick TV repairman visit, she turned on the ancient television and it flashed and hummed into life. Kelly went about her cleaning and paper sorting with greater peace of mind, and fewer moments when she suspected burglars or ghosts were descending upon the house.
Kelly managed to speak with Al occasionally, and he began to heed to her wishes to speak less offensively. She saw how he enjoyed arguing with her, and she sometimes felt as if she'd been too harsh with him; he was a lonely old man, after all. Kelly also hated the recent American trend for political correctness which seemed to be invading every aspect of life, and disliked her own part in correcting Al for using the terms he'd grown accustomed to. However, whenever he used any of those negative descriptors, she automatically rankled and had to ask him to use different terms.
Through all this, she also managed to visit her grandparents, to talk with them, and try to make them feel comfortable and secure; as well as try to feel better about what she was doing with them. She accomplished almost everything she had hoped to accomplish in those few days, except feeling better about what she was planning for her Grandma and Grandpa.
Despite all her frenzied activity, she felt she was accomplishing nothing. Every step she took only drew her closer to the big picture, revealing hundreds of details which had to be tended to.
One day, Kelly visited the Senior Citizen's Center, where she spoke to people who had known her grandparents, particularly her grandmother. She was trying to find out more about how her grandparents had lived in recent months. She left the Center and drove toward Payson Manor; she realized felt as if she were moving in circles, getting nowhere.
Copyright 2000, P-M Terry Lamar