KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 1: Fall 2014
Flash Fiction: 997 words

Aging in Place

by Leslie What
 

My daughter has welcomed me into her home. I’m grateful, but condos on Russian Hill are expensive and small. By necessity I live in a walk-in closet. There’s new carpet and clerestory windows. Agatha bought an antique commode on Craigslist—glued a needlepoint pad to the hinged lid so you can’t tell it’s a commode. She had drawers built beneath my mattress, connected the television and lamp to a Clapper, hung a cherry cabinet to display my miniature teapot collection.

Agatha’s the Deputy Director of AAAA San Francisco Elder Care. She knows more about aging than I do. As we grow older we lose friends, family, function, form. We interact less and less with the outside world. Our lives become smaller until finally, we spend our days in bed. We sell the family home and move somewhere we can age in place. Agatha is a good daughter. She takes good care of me.

But a suitor from before I married Henry found me on Facebook and we’ve been messaging. He’s stopping by to visit the next day. “I won’t have a man see me in bed,” I say.

“Oh, Mother,” Agatha says, with a disapproving glance toward the carpet beside my commode. She doesn’t trust me on her furniture.

I can’t fault her thinking. “I feel awful about the spots,” I say.

“I’ll rent a carpet cleaner my next day off.”

“I don’t want to be a bother,” I say.

“You’re not. Who is this man?” She’s probably wondering if Maurice is incontinent.

Not having seen him in fifty years, I can’t vouch for him. “He still has his driver’s license,” I say.

“You still have your driver’s license.”

“He still has his car keys.”

“I had no choice,” Agatha says.

“Nobody’s blaming you,” but of course, somebody is blaming her.

“I’ll ask the agency to send over an aide,” Agatha says.

“Thank you,” I say, hoping they won’t make me shower. The thing I hate most about San Francisco is the cold.

The next day, the aide lets herself in and brings me coffee with cream and sugar. I’m not supposed to have any, which makes it taste all the better. Ten minutes later, I get palpitations. It could be nerves but is more likely the coffee. “Could you hand me my Inderal?” I ask.

The aide says, “No medication, mama. I’m not allowed.” She potties me and gives me a sponge bath. She helps me tug blue stretch pants over protective briefs, slips a navy tee-shirt over my head. The pockets obfuscate my braless state, so long as I don’t wiggle. She transfers me to a wheelchair and then to the living room loveseat. I’m severely disappointed by my reflection in the floor-to-ceiling windows that form one wall. I have bed hair. My skin is pale as clouds. You’d never guess I graduated from Bryn Mawr.

My aide finds my brush, styles my hair. She spritzes me with rosewater and retrieves lipstick from her purse to brighten my lips and cheeks. “Looking good, mama,” she says. She notices my stained slippers, pulls them off and walks away. She returns with a pair of Agatha’s black strappy heels.

“I can’t wear those!” I say.

“You can.” With a wink, she slides my feet into Agatha’s elegant shoes.

I cross my legs at the ankles, feeling twenty years younger. Will I even recognize Maurice? Everyone on Facebook puts up idealized photographs of themselves, so I’m not expecting hair. I tell myself not to be disgusted if he has white papillomas on his eyelids or brown spots on his chin.

The buzzer rings. My aide answers the phone. She presses “nine” to let him enter the building. She opens the front door to his knock. She points to the loveseat and Maurice sees me and smiles but takes the rocking chair to sit.

Do I look as old as he does, wrinkled as a linen shirt at the bottom of the laundry heap? His hems are ragged. He needs a shave. He looks nothing like an astronaut.

“Hello, Gracie,” he says. “Good to see you.”

I’ve long wondered what might have been had we not broken up.

“I’ll bring you coffee,” says my aide.

“Got any decaf?” Maurice asks.

“No decaf, papa,” says my aide. She returns with two fragrant cups of joe.

“You sure have a nice place,” Maurice says. “Much nicer than mine.” He scans the apartment, nods at the muted view of the Golden Gate Bridge. “I sure miss you. Don’t you ever get lonely?”

“Not really.” I used to.

“I wanted to ask you to move in with me,” Maurice says. “Now I’m thinking I should move in with you.”

The whole world shines through the wall of windows. Outside is so bright, so open, so vast, so uncontrolled. I desperately miss Henry. Why did he have to go and die first? I want to return to my bed, to my little closet. “This is my daughter’s place,” I say.

Maurice nods, sighs.

We sit, drink our coffee.

“Sure been nice seeing you.”

“It has,” I agree.

“We’ll IM on Facebook,” he says.

“Yes.”

He leaves.

My aide removes my shoes, walks them to the pantry where Agatha stores her clothes because she’s given up her closet. “Sleepy mama,” she says. She changes my Depends when I don’t have enough strength to use the commode, puts me to bed. I clap on the TV and catch the last of Ellen before falling asleep.

When Agatha comes home, she takes out roast chicken, preheats the oven, and asks if I need to use the commode.

“Yes.” All that coffee. She helps me transfer, hands me a bell to call her, bends to kiss my forehead. “Love you, Mom,” she says.

“Love you, too,” I say, and blow her three kisses. Only then does my darling daughter rush away, into the privacy of her bathroom, where she lets herself relax and be alone.

— From a series of short stories in the author’s manuscript-in-progress, “Standing Still”

Leslie What
Issue 1, Fall 2014

Nebula Award-winning writer who has been dubbed “the Queen of Gonzo” by Gardner Dozois, former editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction. Ms. What is the author of the novel, Olympic Games (Tachyon Publications, 2004); and her story collection, Crazy Love (Wordcraft of Oregon, 2008) was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award.

Her writing has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Fugue, The Los Angeles Review, Best New Horror, Mammoth Book of Tales From the Road, Bending the Landscape, Asimov’s, Unstuck, Flurb, and Calyx, among others. Her work has been short-listed for the James Tiptree Award and she is a former Campfire Youth leader.

Ms. What has served as nonfiction editor at the literary journal, Silk Road, and (with R.A. Rycraft) co-edited the anthology, Winter Tales II: Women on the Art of Aging (Serving House Books, May 2012). She is also the fiction editor of Phantom Drift: New Fabulism.

www.lesliewhat.com

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

The Elephant Man’s Love Child, micro-fiction in Daily Science Fiction (1 February 2011)

Dog Eat Dog, micro-fiction in Serving House Journal (Issue 1, Spring 2010)

Milkweed, micro-fiction in Serving House Journal (Issue 2, Fall 2010)

Interview: Leslie What by Molly Laich in Unstuck (14 October 2013), which begins with an excerpt from the story, “Big Feet,” which in turn was inspired by a miserable cross-country flight

All of My Love, L. Timmel Duchamp’s review of Crazy Love in American Book Review (Line On Line, Issue 30, Volume 2, January/February 2009)

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