Alive, but never quite in the right ways… (Goddess Grove, Ch. 6)
The sickly bleating that found its way into my sleep turned out to be the hotel alarm clock. I had been running through a forest with a faceless lover, chasing the deer as if we were all part of some collaborative dance. When I thought I heard the calm beating of nearby waves, it soon became apparent that it was the damn alarm. Its siren disrupted everything, brought an angry fire truck into my forest. I hit snooze, but no one ever hits snooze and expects to get more sleep.
We had all stayed up too late, the kids swimming and Zoraida grading papers. Now I knew how to get her quiet: give her some grading to do. The silence gave my tired mind some time to rest, to put aside Grandma and Zoraida’s mysteries while I enjoyed time with my kids. It was easy to let my body lap against the side of the pool with the water. That feeling of being surrounded by liquid comforted me, made me want to be the liquid. I wondered if I could break apart into such elegant droplets and go down the drain, just like the water. The haunting, wordless rhythm penetrated my dreams all night.
So the next morning, I wasn’t surprised that my body was telling me to stay relaxed in bed. Our Saturday morning routine had been disrupted: no tea, no flower arrangement from the garden to place on the kitchen table, no trip to the library. We planned to trudge back to the nursing home for one final round of introductions with Grandma. Then, running on empty, I’d have to hurry back home to help Aviva with our weekend orders. Still, I was glad to see Grandma again, even if driven here under false pretenses.
In the bed next to mine, a small body tossed and turned under bleached white hotel sheets, fighting morning as long as she could. The other bundle next to her laid quietly, immersed in some sweet dream. Their hunger for life anchored me, which is probably why I sat there staring at them a few more minutes, thankful that I hadn’t fully turned liquid in the pool. These solid beings had something special going on.
“Good morning, Muira.” The scent of Zoraida’s morning coffee helped to wrench me out of bed.
“Good morning. How did you sleep?”
“Fine, thanks. You?” She didn’t look up once from her newspaper.
“Like a rock.” I couldn’t tell if she heard me above the rustling of the paper back into its folded rectangle.
“Come sit with me. Have some coffee.”
“I’m more of a tea person. Green tea with stevia.” This wasn’t entirely true. I drank it every morning for the antioxidants, but secretly wished it was coffee.
“Have the coffee. Allow yourself this treat.” She pulled out the chair next to her at the small hotel table. It would take a while to get used to having conversations with a psychic, or to understand that two firm pats on the chair meant don’t argue.
My nose savored the strong coffee scent before my mouth did. The hotel mug must have had hundreds of different mouths on it, and it was the closest I had come to kissing anyone in ages. The sugar swirled into the darkness before the warmth flowed through me, awakening, but not quite healing. It was alcohol’s bitter cousin, that drug that made you feel alive, but never quite in the right ways.
“Your grandma loves coffee too. They only give her decaf at the Manor.” She put her own mug down and looked at me more seriously. “We need to talk.”
“Oh, can we do this later? Now’s not really the best time; I need to get the girls up and moving…”
“It’s about your grandma,” Zoraida interrupted. “We need to get her out of there.”
“Oh.” My own mug clanked down awkwardly, ringing in the silence. “Out?”
“Muira is so unhappy there. She should be in Dobron; she should be around family and friends.” Zoraida’s insistence, or command rather, left me feeling defensive. I had children and a business to consider.
“I’m not sure I can do this. I mean, when my husband was working, I had the time, but I have to support myself; I’m a divorcée now.” The coffee mug, my temporary wine glass, again found its way to my lips. Twenty-five more strangers I kissed.
“I know, Muira. I’m not asking you to do this alone. I want to help.” Zoraida’s serious face made me laugh in spite of myself.
“You’re the same age she is! You hide your age well, but I know you wouldn’t have the strength to care for Grandma.” It would be the blind leading the blind, or the elderly leading the elderly.
“I have an idea though. I’ve been cutting back at the college, I’ll be retiring soon, and my house is on the market. I’m really too old to take care of a whole house by myself.” She peered into my face, wanting so badly to reach part of me that just wasn’t there. “We could both live with you.”
“I-” The coffee mug again clanked down on the table, my clumsy hand trying not to drop it in surprise. Was she actually inviting herself to move in with me? “I don’t know what to say, Zoraida. This– I– I have two daughters in my house, so it’s not just me that’s affected.” Meghan began to wake up, her careless rustling knocking pillows off the bed. “Good morning!” The too-short pajamas inched up each limb as she hugged me. Didn’t I just buy these? She then jumped into Zoraida’s lap before recounting her dream. Children always seem to sense a family connection. Or was it more? Was there something about Zoraida that made people trust her, even with all her eccentricities?
It was a cold trek down to the hotel lobby for some cold cereal, the chore Wes always did for us while we showered and watched cartoons. My mind meandered through the Celtic knot pattern in the carpeting as the Shannon and Meghan argued over who got to carry the oranges. We returned to to the room to eat amidst more bickering and Celtic knot imagery. The chords had interlaced, independent and dependent all at the same time. It took effort not to lose myself in their pattern, to let my consciousness slip away. I began lacing my fingers together in imitation as I finished a banana.
“No more arguing! Time to get dressed. We’re going to see Grandma.” With no desire to shower, I threw on some clean clothes and ran a brush through my hair. What was one more day of disheveled red frizz laying on my shoulders? I loved how in movies the Irish woman always had long beautiful red hair, nothing like the thick wavy mess that was my reality.
Shannon reluctantly agreed to help Meghan get her shirt on while I packed up our bags. A small pamphlet caught my eye, snuggled discreetly into the pocket of my tote. It had been years since I really traveled, so it couldn’t have been from Europe.
Visit Dobron. There on the front of the visitor’s guide was Dobron House. The chills ran through me just as the pain in my wrists shook my hands enough to drop the damn thing.
“You okay?” Zoraida bent over to pick up the pamphlet as she asked. “Oh.”
Zoraida’s simple brown knit dress flattered her curves, especially with the warm red and yellow print of her scarf. She was so much like my grandma, like they were separated at birth. What an image she would have been, my Irish grandma growing up in Oaxaca, being the only pale-skinned redhead for hundreds of miles. I bet they don’t have Guinness there.
The two of us stood there in silence, staring at the Dobron House image. It was as if we expected the photo to speak to us, to reveal whatever secret it was hiding.
“Can I watch cartoons?” Meghan asked innocently. Her question, more a squeal of excitement, startled us both back to the present. With her sweet face cupped in my hands, I reminded her that we were going to visit Grandma.
“Awwwww.” The disappointment in unison was too familiar.
“I’ll tell you what. If you two can be good while we say goodbye to Grandma, then you can help me cut flowers at the shop later!” They yielded, still disappointed that we wouldn’t take advantage of the hotel’s cable channels. I wondered if Wes let them watch too much television while they were at his house. One more thing to bring up with him later.
“Do you guys have your hair brushed and teeth brushed?”
“And butt brushed?” Meghan laughed.
“Yes, and butt brushed.”
Zoraida’s snort of laughter made us all start laughing harder. Watching her joyful body bounce in delight, I thought to myself, I hope I grow old like that.
“Butt brushed! Butt brushed!” Meghan sang. I’d be hearing this all afternoon, but the silliness was a welcomed change from the quiet when they were at their dad’s. Somehow the kids had adjusted better than I had. Surely the new wine collection didn’t count as adjusting.
The mood felt lighter as we tossed our bags into the car and headed to Sunset Manor. Zoraida was welcome company as she laughed with the kids, her arthritic shoes avoiding each crack in the sidewalk that Shannon pointed out. I carried in the kids’ activity bag, while Meghan tried to imitate their hopping. It was the first time I found myself thinking the word family since the divorce.
The long building, only one floor, looked more sterile than it smelled, with an entrance in the middle and two long wings on both sides. The only sign of life was the pool shimmering in back, though I knew we didn’t have time for that today.
“Can I color the princess book?” Meghan begged as we went in the front door.
“Sure,” I answered absentmindedly. Sometimes– and I’m not proud of this– I answered the kids without thinking because something else was on my mind. Today that something just happened to be taking Grandma back to Dobron.
“But it’s mine Mommy!” Shannon screeched, her skinny arms beginning to flail. The outburst helped snap me out of my thoughts. Please don’t let this be a meltdown. Shannon pointed to her name on the front; the princess coloring book was indeed hers.
“Calm down, Shannon; it’s just a coloring book. Meghan, it’s Shannon’s book. You can ask her nicely if you can have a page out of it to color in Grandma’s room.” Their squabbles over possessions would drive a saint insane, but to be fair, I had been the one to push them into sharing a bedroom when we still had a spare one. They would learn more about cooperation and hopefully be less spoiled, not like the kids we met at Wes’s Christmas party two years ago. His boss’s house was filled top to bottom with authentic modern art– including the Ian Baxter& painting that I fell in love with– but was completely void of any discipline, as if one replaced the other. Grape juice thrown on the wall got only a “please don’t do that” as a response. My kids wouldn’t turn out that way.
Shannon eventually agreed to give one, and only one, page of her coloring book to Meghan. With crisis averted, we walked toward Grandma’s room, Zoraida humming behind us. Was that another 80’s song she was humming? Before I could ask, we arrived at Grandma’s room to find the morning sunshine pouring in. The flowers I had brought were beside her bed, in her line of vision as she stared out the window. Is this how she spent her time, sitting and staring?
“Good morning!” Nursing home patients surely never bought the forced cheerfulness of visitors. But there it was, fake as ever.
“Muira! Zoraida! What a nice surprise! You know each other?”
The warm hug I gave her was difficult to end. We’d have to get on the road again soon if I would have time to help Aviva with the Saturday customers. We stayed open Saturdays mostly to catch the brunch crowd. Morning Joe, far more trendy than its name implied, had opened up next door to my shop. People seemed to enjoy coming in and browsing as they waited for a table, as if Brennan Blossoms was only good for filling up time. A placeholder.
I nervously sat down in the metal folding chair, not wanting to get too comfortable if we’d be leaving soon. The kids each had their own coloring page, so I relaxed as Zoraida talked with Grandma for a few minutes. It wasn’t easy though, relaxing in a nursing home. Zoraida and Grandma chatted as if they were catching up again– for the second or third time this visit no less– but I stood there uneasily, too aware that this place was where people came to die.
“We have something to ask you,” I interjected as Zoraida let herself into the recliner again. The yellow flowering vines had grown taller since yesterday. Was that even possible? Perhaps it was golden tiara, the clematis that I once saw growing more than ten feet. Shouldn’t that be blooming in the fall?
“Are you happy here, Grandma?” The question should have distracted my thoughts from the vine, but I kept imagining the golden tiara towering over Grandma’s bed, forming a gigantic arc over her bed. Why was it so difficult for me to concentrate lately? My gaze shifted toward Grandma as I hoped for an honest answer. She often gave only jokes or cursing as answers, wanting to avoid the truth.
Grandma snorted a laugh and took my hand. “Muira, Dear, the decision to move me here was never about my happiness.”
“Grandma, I’m so sorry. I wanted you to live with me. Wes wouldn’t allow it.” The sadness spilled out as I dabbed my eyes with a tissue. I cried for Grandma, for Tara’s unkindness, for the divorce. Still, all the pain inside only produced a few tears that the tissue caught quickly. It’s surprising how good we humans are at holding things inside.
“It’s okay, Dear.”
How much of moving out of her home did she remember? Did she need to be reminded of where she was each morning? I should have done more. I should have fought for her, but I thought my marriage was more important. A lot of good that did me.
“Zoraida suggested that you to come back to Dobron and live in my house. Do you think you would like that?” It had occurred to me that she at least deserved a say in her own fate.
“Oh, you have a house in Dobron? How nice! But wouldn’t I miss my dinners here?” She looked genuinely confused.
“No, Grandma. We’d make your dinners for you, Zoraida and I.”
Grandma smiled approvingly at the idea of not having to prepare her own food, though I suspected she was equally relieved not to wash the dishes herself either. She was the kind of grandma who played card games while someone else baked the cookies.
We chatted a bit more with Grandma about the weather, my flower garden, the shop, the kids. But the poem I found never came up, not when we had this moving decision to make. One stressful thing at a time.
Grandma had to be introduced to the kids two more times while we were there, and they were unexpectedly patient about it, probably still worn out from the previous night’s swimming. The uninspired clock– black and white, and no personality– sneered that I would need to get on the road soon. Just as I was about to get our things ready and packed up, Grandma surprised me.
“Are you in love, Muira Dear?” Her bright green eyes glistened at me.
“Grandma, Wes and I are divorced. He has a new wife now.” A tinge of pain– or was it disgust?– always struck me at the image of Miss Four Inch Heels in Wes’s convertible.
“No, Dear, not him.”
Zoraida held back the paisley scarf hanging around her neck to lean over and whisper something into Grandma’s ear. The room silenced as they whispered, so that the only sound was the jeering clock’s second hand. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. It was counting down the seconds left in people’s lives and it didn’t even care. Grandma’s eyes followed Zoraida’s gesture over toward the calendar.
“Oh.” She responded simply to Zoraida. “I’ll see you again on the twenty-first then?” Grandma’s eyes settled again on the flowers I brought, so I wasn’t sure who she was talking to.
“We certainly will, Dear.” Zoraida answered as she kissed my grandma’s forehead. “Right on the equinox.”
*** to be continued.