[Eleanor]: 668.Contest entries.Famous First Lines.Septembe
“I know I left it somewhere around this damnable place! Let me retrace my steps. The phone rang and I answered it. It was Susan, calling to see how I was doing. I remember walking around the house with the cordless receiver while I was making lunch, holding it between my ear and shoulder while I spread mustard on the bread for my sandwich, sliced pickles and layered the cold cuts. Then she rang off, I put down the phone, ate my sandwich, followed it up with a glass of milk, and now I can’t find the damned phone. I could swear I put it on the kitchen table when I sat down to eat, but it’s not there. It’s not on the counter, either, where I was making the sandwich, and it’s not back on the cradle, which is the logical place for it. It’s enough to drive a man insane.”
Jack had been having more and more episodes like this. One day it was the phone, the next the TV remote. Another time he couldn’t find the can opener, and once he tore the house apart looking for a roll of toilet paper, only to discover a whole unopened package of them under the kitchen sink, right where they were supposed to be. Susan was getting worried. She didn’t like her dad living alone, especially now that his memory was starting to play these crazy tricks on him. She knew when he answered the phone that he sometimes had a moment’s disorientation trying to place her voice. She tried to save him embarrassment by saying brightly, “Dad! It’s Susan!” when he picked up, but there were a few times lately when he had hesitated, as though he couldn’t remember who Susan was.
That evening she came over with a bag of groceries and found Jack in his pyjamas and bathrobe. “Getting ready for bed early, Dad?” she asked, as she put away the cans in the cupboard and the milk in the fridge.
Jack looked down at his clothes, surprised to see that he wasn’t dressed. “I reckon I didn’t get dressed today,” he answered her. “Now I wonder why that was?”
“Dad,” said Susan, “I’m worried about you living alone here. Every day there’s some new crisis, and I really think you need some help. The cleaning lady comes only once a week, and that’s not often enough.”
“What are you suggesting?” asked her father. “I should get married again?”
“Oh Dad!” laughed Susan. “I’d love it if you got married again! Have you been seeing someone and keeping me in the dark?”
Jack shook his head. “No, I haven’t. No one could replace your mother. She was one of a kind.”
“I know,” Susan agreed, “she really was.”
One day Jack’s doctor called Susan saying that the pharmacist had informed her that Jack wasn’t refilling his prescriptions, which meant he wasn’t taking his medication. Alarmed, Susan arranged help for her father. A Filipino woman came in half days to do light housework, prepare his meals, and make sure he took his pills. At first he resisted Rose’s intrusion, but soon came to accept her as part of his daily routine. She made sure he got dressed every morning and went out every day for a walk.
After a visit to the neurologist, Susan had to accept the awful truth: Jack had Alzheimer’s and was going to need more intensive care soon. Engaging Rose for full days was out of their budget, so she started looking into assisted-livin
Shortly after relocating to the Mount Pleasant Home, Jack’s deterioration escalated, and the day Susan came to visit him and he thought she was her Aunt Lily, something died inside her. He diminished daily in front of her eyes, going from a robust, independent man to a shadow of his former self, needing help to go to the bathroom, and eventually someone to feed him his meals. The nursing staff were kind and gentle, with both father and daughter. They had seen many such cases and knew that the disease was perhaps harder on the survivors than on those who actually suffered from it.
Early one Sunday morning Susan got a phone call from the nursing station that her father had suffered a heart attack and the hospital emergency was sending him back to the Home. She arrived as they were transferring him from the gurney to his bed, oxygen tubes in his nose, and his face ashen. She held his hand and said, “Hi, Dad. It’s Susan,” but he didn’t respond.
Susan sat with him all day and well into the night, her only company the staff coming in and out checking pulse rate, blood pressure and temperature. One of the aides brought her a sandwich at lunch and then a tray at dinnertime. Her father remained comatose while she ate, and she realized that this was his supper she was eating.
Shortly after midnight Susan felt Jack’s hand go cold in hers. She rang for the nurse, who wrote down the time of death and told Susan she should go home. As Susan left the building, dazed and not yet accepting that she was now truly an orphan, she thought that she should be feeling relief. But it hurt worse than ever.