American Contemporary Fiction

Adrien pulled the brush back another stroke through the wispy, gray hair, her hand gliding over the bald, front part of Emily's head. She felt a sigh rising up and swallowed it back before it escaped. Fluff the hair, brush back, fluff the hair, brush back.

Emily's bright, blue eyes were closed in bliss, her head tilted back into Adrien's fluffing hand. Her skull felt warm from the blow drying - and so small. Almost like she was holding the head of an infant, instead of an 88 year old woman.

Adrien was one of 4 staff that rotated in the big house taking care of the six residents. Not including the occasional hospice workers that came and went with the dying. But they had 3 residents that were very old. and very helpless - but who seemed as though they would outlive their children, who also came and went. Emily was one of those 3.

She had Alzheimer's disease. What a thing! To watch the faces of her children and grandchildren sag in such sorrow as they realized there was nobody home today behind those electric, blue eyes.

They were Emily's finest feature - still hypnotic when staring out of the pale skinned, bony face. Emily's weight was down to 87 lbs. She had the Alzheimer's shuffle, and was constantly in motion - picking at this and that as she wandered the living area and dining room, over to the kitchen and back. Over and over and over all day each day all week each week. For 7 months now, Adrien had watched over her.

She tried to comfort the daughters. The son rarely came, living out of town. And tried to comfort the grandchildren that would bring Emily homemade gifts in their sticky hands - only to have the popsicle frame or crayon portrait slide to the floor unnoticed at most visits.

But the family would march in so cheerful and talk to the staff, sit patiently with Nana as she was spooned her liquid lunch, tell stories of what everyone was doing and how much they loved her. They were ever looking for a glance, a flicker of understanding in the sapphire eyes that meant they would get a real smile this time, a pat on the hand - maybe even a word that made sense. They longed to hear their names in her mouth again and would finally turn away tearful and state they must be off, see you soon, call if she needs anything. They wanted her to need something. Anything, Some sign she still had pleasure and needs in this world where she seemed to be stalled.

Adrien came back to the present and put the brush aside.

"Would you like a little massage, Miss Emily?" she asked without waiting for an answer.

But her glance shot up to the mirror Emily was sitting in front of and caught a returning gaze when she heard the little voice say, "Mmmmm yes."

An answered question! Wait till she told Buck, Emily's occupational therapist.

"You would, huh?" Adrien began babbling," well then you shall have the best."

Her hands went to work removing the towel from Emily's neck, and began lightly massaging her temples, brow, chin - moving up to the scalp for a light pressure rub to both sides of the skull, never taking her eyes from Emily's. A cherub's smile began to lift Emily's lips as the impression of understanding deepened.

"Do you remember my name?" Adrian asked, knowing she did not. "It's Adrien. I am your caretaker all day today!"

She acted as if this news should thrill Emily - but it was only her own surge of grateful surprise that Emily continued to watch her in the mirror with understanding. Nodding. Smiling.

People just do not realize what it is like to care for a sweet someone who is almost always living far away in the past. Her hands touch the table top and try to sneak a French fry from her neighbor's plate - but in her mind that neighbor might be her toddler son and she believes she is serving him lunch. Her feet shuffle down the hall back and forth from the bay window seat to the kitchen - over and over all day long. But in Emily's mind, she is walking to work, or taking the kids to school, or going shopping. She often takes things from other peoples rooms because she is in a place where that magazine belongs to her, or she was sent to pick up that tape dispenser from the office and take it back to her own office.

Who knew what memory was running her body through it's storyline again?

But...every once in a while...due to some weird jolt of her brain chemistry or a miracle or whatever...Emily would look out on the world on the same date that the rest of them were. She would not be able to tell you what that date was, or who the president was, and it may not last more than a day or an hour, sometimes only a few minutes - but she would be there with you. Present. Interacting in the feeble way that was left to her. With smiles, nods, patting your hand as if comforting you, touching, touching, touching. Emily had taken a momentary break from her patrol over the river of time to join her for a chat, a lunch, a walk in the garden.

And on those days - Adrien knew why she went through the ritual of bathing, dressing, feeding, toileting and dosing Emily the other 364 days a year. Because she was just as alive as you or I. She was helpless, like the baby-Emily her mother cuddled for a year. Unable to voice specific ideas or carry a load - but incredibly human. An individual full of hope and wonder and love - and the need to be loved and touched and part of a family.

"Would you like to go for a walk in the garden, Miss Emily?" Adrien crooned as she helped her into her favorite tennis shoes. And as she stood her up and began helping her down to the patio doors, she was rewarded with a loving grin, a pat on her arm and the miracle of a little sentence:

"I take you garden if'n you want."

To the hurrahs of the other staff - Adrien drifted out to the roses and daylilies, the koi pond and bluebells and little benches in the shade. Emily drifted with her - glancing occasionally at the little canoe she like to paddle down the river of Time, eager to get back to it. But for now, this woman needed to be shown through the garden.

And as she was escorted by this little elf of a woman, Adrien saw her job as what she had wanted it to be when she got her license. It was an opportunity to watch a life - so different it made the families cry. But a life that still had meaning and value and purpose and pleasure. A life that had challenges and needs. And it was her privilege to watch over this life and to love it. To watch and to serve until the canoe turned upstream and Emily paddled around a bend where she could watch her no more.

Until then, the garden.

Susan Whitlock


July 06, 2021 15:13

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