She watched the tiny droplet form at the tippy-top of her popsicle. Determined to stay within the comfort of familiarity, the small drop clung to its rightful place, but, eventually, the woman saw it slip free and streak red over the white and blue pattern of her Bomb-Pop. As the drop began to slide into the webbing of her thumb, the old woman was suddenly, once again, a little girl in a pretty yellow dress, with widening eyes at the first taste of her favorite treat.
A long, remorseful sigh, returned the woman to her old, frail body, imprisoned in a wheelchair and the indiscernible drop became just another spot on her paper like skin. Looking back at the popsicle, she saw four more droplets forming across its slick surface and she knew that, no matter how hard they fought to remain, they too would become the hapless victims of time. Melting away, layer by layer, until only the stick, stained by the vestige of its short life, endured.
“Oh mom, you’re making a mess,” her daughter, now mother, fussed with embarrassment as she removed the popsicle from her shaky hand and began to dab at her methodically with a fresh Wet-wipe. “She loves popsicles,” her daughter apologized to the smarmy looking man whom loomed over the top of them, flashing his practiced smile.
“Who doesn’t love a cold popsicle on a hot summer day?” Cheap suit over chuckled to himself and put a condescending hand on her bony shoulder.
With bored confusion, the old woman looked around her air-conditioned environment, finally placing herself inside the electric wheelchair store where she would rediscover all the freedoms of her youth.
“Isn’t this a lovely chair, mom?” Her daughter asked hopefully as she ran her hand over the red monstrosity, the liberator of old age and the lucky recipient nodded her head without enthusiasm.
“Red certainly is your color,” the man blustered, but seeing the glazed expression of the old woman, he shifted his gaze back to the daughter.
“I’m sorry,” the woman winced the words soundlessly and the man, with full sympathy for the burden of caring for seniors, nodded his head in understanding.
“Let’s talk features,” he said quietly.
The old woman wasn’t sure if mind reading came with age or if it was simply because the elderly were thought so little of, but she could read the collective thought shared between her daughter and the salesman. The word, dementia, had become a hushed whisper throughout the halls of her home, a dirty secret moored in sad expressions and the sole proprietor of her being.
The conclusion of the medical diagnosis meant very little to the old woman. The fact was that the lapses were a welcomed relief in the monotony of her everyday life and represented an escape raft from her lonely island. There, in her fantasy land, everything was still fresh and curious, a world of endless possibility, but now, in painful reality, she found every conversation to be a regurgitation of times past and opened eyes never revealed anything new.
The muffled sound of the salesman pitch slowly brought the old woman back into the now, only to discover that her undergarments were wet and the smell of urine permeated in a cloud around her. Looking up at her daughter and the salesman, she knew that they were ignoring it to preserve her dignity, but they needn’t bother. Humiliation had become her daily bread, no longer a question of if, only when. At first, when incontinence had start to become a problem, she was very proactive about staying dry and odor free, but over the last few years she had come to the realization that it just didn’t matter. There was a time when she had pride and strength, a true individual in a conformed society, but age had stolen her identity, leaving old as her only perceivable trait; a sub-species in the animal kingdom.
The bell to the front door buzzed and a young man in his mid-twenties rolled in his own pet senior citizen. ‘Grandson,’ the old woman thought as a devilish smile creased her face. ‘Unless, of course, the old gasbag’s diet consists of raw meat and blue pills,’ she laughed quietly to herself, delighted that, somewhere, the stick of her popsicle still remained.
“Be right with you,” the salesman said eagerly across the store and the young man rolled his grandfather into the center aisle to peruse the merchandise.
Ignored, forgotten or both, the two elderly people stared at each other like, she presumed, zoo creatures must do from one cage to the next. Not with interest or any kind of real empathy, but with a dry satisfaction that at least they were not alone.
“Hey grandpa, what do you think of this one?” The old man’s handler asked and whisked him away before she got a chance to bark like a seal at him.
‘Pity,’ she thought while contemplating whether or not to throw her used diaper at him and give the spectators a real show.
“Mom. Mom!” her daughter said impatiently and waved a hand in front of the old woman’s face. “Are you alright mom? Because we still need to make it to the grocery store before it closes.
“I’m fine, dear,” she answered or rather, the subconscious part of her that still gave a shit answered.
“Ok, but if this is too much for you, just say so and we’ll come back again another time. I know how you hate to be out and about these days.”
“I’m fine,” she said tersely and with a look to remind her over-bearing daughter who used to spank who’s bottom. “And trust me, dear, nobody wants to see me out in public any more than I want to be out in public.”
“I know I’d never leave home if I didn’t have too,” cheap suit added lamely and then went in for the sale. “I know, maybe what we need is a change of scenery. What if we take this bad boy for a test drive and get that adrenaline pumping again,” he asked with his chin wagging at full capacity.
“What do you think, mom, want to take a ride and see if this is a good fit for you?” Her daughter more insisted than inquired and with the consent of her bony shoulders, the old woman was lifted off of her chair and placed onto the folded blanket resting on the seat of the electric chair.
“Okay misses Henshaw, you should be all set,” the salesman said as he guided her bony hand onto the control stick. “All you have to do is move your hand and the chair will follow.”
Hesitant at first, the old woman gingerly moved the stick forward, but immediately pulled away at its first lurch.
“It takes a bit to get used to,” the salesman admitted. “But trust me, you will grow to love it,” he assured her.
‘What a yutz,’ she thought and slowly moved her hand outwards until she got the hang of it.
“I think we have a natural,” her daughter piped in with weird gratification and the old woman inched her way into a higher speed.
As she moved her way up the aisle, the old woman could not remember the last time that she moved with such agility and speed or, for that matter, at her own whim. ‘Decades,’ she thought and pushed the stick as far as it would go.
Burning around the corner, back on the approach to her daughter, the old woman wanted more. More moments, more memories, more life and before she even decided to do it, she was already veering around the smug faced salesman and heading for the front doors.
“Mom?” was the last thing that she heard as she cackled her way through the entry and into the parking lot.
Bursting onto the scene like an old-time gangster, the old woman breathed in the fresh air as if for the first time, reminding her that she still had the capability to do so and in handfuls, she began to throw the premature dirt off of the top of her casket.
Looking behind her, she could see her daughter and the salesman running and screaming after her, but she paid them no mind. She was heading forward, into the sun, in hopes that it too would melt her back to her beginnings.