"So, tell me. How did you end up with this crummy job?" John asked the nice middle aged woman who was cutting up his dinner for him. He thought her name was Dolly. Or was it Molly? Ah, he couldn't remember. 

"Just lucky, I guess," the woman replied, smiling. 

She finished carving up his meat and held out the fork to him. 

"Think you can manage on your own from here?" 

"Won't know till I try," John responded optimistically. 

He took the fork from her carefully, like it was a loaded gun. His hand shook and he glared at it like the betrayer it was. It was disobeying direct orders from his mind to stop shaking. After a few minutes of trying and failing to get some meat on the utensil, he gave up.

"You better help me out, darlin'," John said, defeated.  

She took the fork back from him, delicately. She picked up a piece of meat from his plate and guided it into his mouth. John marveled at the grace of the simple act when performed by her hand. She prepared the next bite as he chewed.  

"So," John said with his mouth full, "you got kids?"

"Sure do," she said, feeding him the next piece. "I've got a son and daughter, both adopted."

"God bless you," he replied. "Giving those kids a real home. You're doing God's work, right there."

She smiled, but said nothing. She fed him the next bite.

"I had a kid, you know. A son," he said.   

John chewed, lost in thought and memory. Snippets of memory rolled through his mind out of order - Paul performing in his first play in elementary school, Paul as a tiny baby, watching Paul on the debate team. Then the bad memory came - Paul leaving the house in a storm of angry tears and John not realizing that it would be the last time he saw his son. 

After a moment, he returned. 

"What were we talking about, darlin’? I lose the thread these days," John said, then opened his mouth for another bite.

"You were telling me about your child," the woman said. 

John nodded, "That's right. Paul. He was a fine boy. Smart and athletic, and you wouldn't believe how handsome he was."

John shook his head and chuckled, "The boy obviously didn't take after me. No, he was just like his mother.  I'll never know what that angel saw in me. My Anna was way out of my league."

He stared out at the memory of his late wife. When he returned, he saw that the woman was trying discreetly to wipe away tears. 

"Hey now, I know I'm no catch, but you don't gotta cry for the woman. We were happy," he said. 

The woman chuckled, "I bet you were."

The woman started to feed him another bite, but he shook his head. 

"I'm done. Thank you darlin'," John said. 

She pushed the tray of food away from him and gently dabbed at the corners of his mouth with the napkin. 

When she’d finished, John gave her his most dazzling smile.

"How do I look?"

"Fine and fit," she responded. 

John laughed in surprise. "You know, that's what my boy used to say." 

The woman smiled at him warmly. John patted her hand. A young man in a hair net came and removed his tray from the table. 

"You are a lovely young lady. I know this job has to wear you down something awful, taking care of old folks like me, but you are always so kind and patient. It's the very best part of my day when you’re here," John told the woman, voice thick with emotion. 

"You old flatterer," the woman said playfully. "Feel up for a quick game of rummy?" 

"Only if you're ready to lose," John said, lighting up. 

"Big talk, daddy-o," the woman teased, shuffling the cards with practiced ease. As she dealt, John studied her features. She was pretty, even reminded him of his Anna a little. Around the eyes. He felt like he could talk to her, maybe she could even help him.

He gathered his courage and cleared his throat. 

"You know how I was telling you about my boy? Paul?" John asked. 

The woman had been studying her cards, but looked up at his question. 

"Yeah, I remember," the woman said, laying her cards face down to focus on John. 

"Well, we had a falling out a few years back," John said, pained by the memory. "I'm not proud of how I acted. I mean, nobody prepares you for those types of conversations. I was caught off guard. In truth, I was really scared for him, and well," John sniffled, wiping away his tears. "I was scared, but what I said to him was awful. Pure meanness." 

She took his hand, but said nothing. All he saw in her face was compassion. He took a deep breath and continued. 

"I want to tell him I'm sorry, but I get so confused these days. Even if I could find his phone number, he'd probably just hang up on me. I'd deserve it, too." 

John was starting to feel tired. He had to get this out before his mind closed up on him again. 

"Do you think maybe you could help me write him a letter? I can't remember his address, but I'm sure you could find it on one of those computers, right?"

"Of course, I'll find it," she said and squeezed his hand.

"If you are too busy, it's really okay. I know it's asking you to go above and beyond the call of duty, so to speak."

"It's not, I promise," the woman said.  "Let me go grab some paper. I'll be right back." 

She left the table, and John picked up his cards. It was a terrible hand. Annoyed, he put the cards back down. 

John gave the woman a tired smile as she sat back down. 

"I'm sorry, darlin'. I don't think I'm up for cards, after all. I'll have to take a rain check for when I'm not so gosh darned sleepy." 

"That's okay. I'll be back tomorrow. Can I help you back to your room?" the woman asked. 

"That'd be lovely," John said as she helped him out of the chair. 

They walked arm in arm down the hallway to his room. She guided him into the tiny bathroom off his bedroom and closed the door. He got his pants down with great effort and did his business.  Getting the pants back up proved to be more difficult, but like a mind reader, she was there, helping him. 

"Sorry about that," John said, embarrassed. 

"We all need a little help sometimes," the woman said, guiding him to bed. He could barely keep his eyes open as she covered him up. 

As he drifted off, he felt her kiss his forehead gently and say, "Sleep well. Love you, Dad."


The woman closed the door to John's bedroom, then changed her mind. She reopened it and left it slightly ajar. 

"See you tomorrow, hon," an aide said and waved to her as she made her way out of the facility. 

The woman waved back. She liked how the staff here always acknowledged her comings and goings.  Surely that was a good sign. If they were understaffed, they’d probably be too busy to notice.  

She got in her SUV and called her husband through the vehicle's bluetooth connection as she pulled out of the parking lot. He answered on the first ring. 

"How was your dad today?"

"Pretty much the same. He seems to be stuck back in the days when we weren't talking."

"Poor John, those were hard times for both of you. He doesn't remember reconciling or your transition at all?"

"No, it's heartbreaking. Today he wanted me to help him to write his son a letter," she gulped down the sob trying to break free at the memory of her father's face. "To apologize for how he reacted to my news." 

"You went along with it, right? You didn't correct him? You know what the counselor said about meeting him where he is in time." 

The woman rolled her eyes, despite being alone.

"Yes, Matias. I was there, too. I went along with all of it, even when I really wanted to tell him that we were all okay now, and show him pictures of the kids and tell him how much they miss him living with us." 

"I know, love," Matias said. "This is hardest on you. We'll get through it, though. Together." 

"I know," she sighed. "I'm heading home now. I really just called to check if I needed to pick anything up on my way." 

"Nope, all good here. See you soon," Matias said.

The woman drove on, not bothering with music or the audiobook she’d been listening to on the drive to Manor Homes Assisted Care. She was lost in her own head, trying to parse out the big, conflicting emotions and thoughts there. Deep sadness for her father's deteriorating state, alongside gratitude for his easy adjustment to living at Manor Homes. Fear for the future and gratitude for her memories of the past. 

Even the most painful memories were precious, because they were accompanied by the knowledge of what came after. It was odd how that worked. The sweet times were somehow made sweeter by the struggle that came before it.  Finally, a strange sort of acceptance took over. The woman drove the rest of the way home in a content daze, eager to spend another unremarkable evening at home with her family. 

Copyright © 2020 Katina Foster

August 13, 2020 16:16

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Elle Clark
12:47 Sep 06, 2020

Katina! What a beautifully poignant piece of writing! The depiction of a man suffering with dementia is perfectly done, both in terms of sympathetic and gentle handling and in terms of authenticity. The reveal that the woman caring for him was his transitioned daughter was clever and I loved the fact that she was clearly very involved in his life (including having him live with her before the care home) even though they'd obviously had quite a large emotional fight when she came out to him. It was a lovely look at the ways relationships ...


Katina Foster
15:57 Sep 06, 2020

(Oops... fumbled my phone and posted before done) Oh no! Do you mean when he referred to her transition? I left her name out. It might sound silly, but I didn’t feel like it was my place to name her. Thanks for reading and for your kind comments on this one. As you might have guessed, I usually lean towards fantasy/sci fi, so I wasn't sure how this one went. It was harder to write about something so personal. The last few years I've spent the majority of my time with three family members, all who have dementia. It's been difficult bu...


Elle Clark
16:53 Sep 06, 2020

I’ve had similar experiences so it rang true with my life, too. Sometimes it’s good to write about real life because it gives you a way to work through stuff but often it’s a painful process! You nailed this though 😀


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