It’s a rainy day and I sit for a minute staring out at the trees beyond the Maplewood parking lot. I check my phone again, just in case. The reception out here is really bad I tell myself. Then I gather up the flowers, mom’s green jacket and a travel mug filled with *real* coffee for mom and head inside. She thinks they don’t give her real coffee here. Once she drinks it she always tells me to hide the cup so they won’t see. I tell her every time that it’s OK , that I can bring her coffee, but she’s never convinced.
As I walk to the entrance a man drives up in a car wearing thick heavy framed glasses and a touring cap. I wonder for a minute if he’s a resident in the assisted living side, but he parks in the guest parking and follows me into the lobby, his gait slow and uneven . He is known by the receptionist, and I realize I am too now as she takes the jacket I’ve brought that will need to be washed. I don’t have to tell her, she already knows who my mom is.
At the elevator I wait and hold the door open button as the man gets on too. I ask what floor he’s going to. 3, -the same as me- I say too brightly. His face seems open and inquisitive. We make eye contact for a moment and I feel that familiar flash of empathy that I often get with fellow visitors here. He comments on the prettiness of the Jerusalem artichoke flowers I’ve cut from the garden in a thick New England accent; the accent I associate with my grandparents, farms, wood stoves and an utter lack of bullshit. I notice he’s missing a tooth when he smiles as we part ways on the floor, going to opposite wings.
Mom likes the flowers. She is surprised they are blooming now. I remind her it’s October. She drinks her coffee quickly and tells me to hide the cup
Someone on the staff has given my mom a copy of The Lovely Bones from the library. Mom has asked me to read it to her. I am doubtful of the wisdom of this, but she insists, so I oblige. Books have always been a bond for us. She stops me to cry at almost every page. “Mom, is this too sad- should I stop reading?” She wants to keep going. At one point, Susie, the narrator, mentions Breakfast at Tiffany’s and mom starts to cry again. “I saw that movie many years ago. It was the last movie I ever saw. Who was in it? Was it color or black and white?”
“Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, color, and I don’t think that was the last movie you ever saw, was it?”
She is inconsolable.
But on we read. After an hour and a half I tell her it’s time for me to go and she grabs my hand.
“I’m afraid. You shouldn’t have come by yourself.”
“I’ll be fine, mom. It’s broad daylight. There’s plenty of people around.”
I take the coffee cup and an aide badges me out of the unit.
Sitting on a couch directly facing the elevators is the man from earlier with his wife. Their arms are entwined and he sits very close to her, their hands clasped, but she isn’t looking at him. She stares at the floor in the opposite direction, her face expressionless. He looks the other way, out the rainy window at the trees beyond the parking lot.
I know nothing about them but I think I know everything:
The trip here is the one and only focus of his day.
The physical closeness he has to her here is vital to him
They once saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s in a theater when they were dating.
He will do this every day until he can no longer physically do it.
Then I notice a little gap of his belly because his shirt is a bit too small. Maybe it shrank in the dryer or he has put on a little weight. He hasn’t gotten a new shirt since she came here. That was something she did. And he will never think to buy another shirt for himself.
The elevator dings as it’s doors open. His face begins to turn from the window as I frantically push the door close button so he won’t see me start to cry.