Drama Contemporary Sad


“Mom, please, just this once.” Katie pleaded into the line. 

“I’m perfectly happy here. In my bedroom. I don’t need to go out socializing.”

“I heard you haven’t been to any activities for weeks. They have arthritis yoga, gardening...”

“I don’t have arthritis!” Mary interrupted, gripping the phone tighter. 

Katie sighed, and her mother waited for the tears that always followed when her oldest was frustrated, but pleased that they didn’t work on her like they did on her late husband.  

“I can’t be social even if I’d like to, and I wouldn’t, because they’re stone deaf. They think I have dementia just because I’ve locked myself out a few times so they put me in the problem child room.”

`“You're on the memory care side because you left the stove on,”

“Once! It was one time.”

“It was three times.” 

Mary continued, spewing the words as fast as she could muster. “I left the stove on when I was younger, too. I forgot names and birthdays and no one raised an eyebrow. And now I'm stuck in this prison for crazies where at least twice a week stoopy Stan lumbers in with his walker because he can’t remember his damn room number whenever the med aides leave the door open. And they always leave the door open.” 

Katie let her mother finish. She kept her tone soft, and spoke slowly, praying for patience to get through this conversation. “It’s just that I have the kids this weekend, and they’d love to see you. I think some fresh air would be nice. There’s supposed to be a load of snow in the hills.”

Mary didn’t answer. She stiffened as her resolve crumbled. 

“Mom, please come. The kids are really looking forward to taking you out. And I am, too.”


Katie spoke faster now, letting her irritation come through the phone. “Mom, I’m not going to beg, so if you don’t want to go then fine.”

“Alright,” Mary said. “I'll come if you want. But only for an hour.”


Katie held up her arms as her mother approached the exit. “Where are your boots?” 

“It’s not that cold,” Mary argued.

“Mom, it’s going to be 20 degrees up there.”

“I don’t have a jacket, maybe I should just stay here.”

“No, Mom! You promised. I have a puffer for you.” She held up the thick jacket and helped her mother slip her arms into it. “It will be just like when we went with Pop.”

“Like when you went.”

Katie stopped, threw up her hands. “You’re right. I went with him. It was his and my thing. It’s not fair to make you come if you don't want to.”

Mary took a step back and raised an eyebrow. “You’ll cry if I don’t go.”

Katie smirked. “Not in front of you.”

Mary stood still, regal and rigid. Her daughter gestured towards a car. 

“The kids are waiting, Mom. I can tell them you don’t feel well.” 

She turned back towards the rows of rooms where she stayed, so lonely most of the time. Maybe if I am better, she’ll let me come home. 

“Let’s go.” 

Katie had the car on, temperature set to 84 degrees, and the seat heater on. Mary climbed in the front passenger side.

“Hi, Grandma!” the two kids greeted her as she entered. A pre-teen girl with the first curses of acne splashed across her face, and a fidgeting kindergartener sat in the backseat. 

I know their names. Of course I do. They just escape me right now. Anyway, no need to worry anyone, I’ll just wait until Katie says them, Mary thought.

“Grandma, I made you a picture!” the little boy said. He held up a wobbly dinosaur picture and wobbly crayon letters “I LOVE YOU GARDNMA LOVE LOGAN.”

Logan. That was it

“It’s so pretty, I’m going to hang it up in my room.” She held the seat belt and wondered why she was holding it there. It didn’t feel right hanging mid-air. Katie stared for a second, and then took it from her and clicked it next to her seat. The car reversed, and they exited towards the main road. 

The teenager leaned forward and placed her hand on Grandma’s shoulder. 

“How are you, Grandma?"

“I’m fine. Where’s your father?”

The girl’s face folded, and Mary recognized that she’d made a mistake.

“We’re divorced, Mom, remember?” Katie asked. 

“Sorry, I just forgot,” she said to the girl.

When did they get divorced? Mary wondered, but thought better than to ask this question. The girl stared out the window with a pained expression, avoiding the eyes of everyone staring at her.

“Sorry,” Mary said again, but Katie shook her head. She looked at her own daughter through the rearview mirror.

“She’s a carbon copy of you. Stubborn.”

The girl took a moment to glare at her mother in contempt, but then quickly turned her head back toward the window.

“I’m glad you came with us, Mom,” Katie said. 

“That Tabitha woman asked you to come, didn't she?”

Katie sighed. “That Tabitha woman keeps a good eye on everything. Give her a break, Mom, she has a rough job.”

“Ask her who stole my necklace.”


“I’m in a place that’s not safe. They take things from you, hide them.”

Katie had her hands firmly on the wheel, biting her bottom lip. Both kids watched, intrigued at the mystery of who was stealing their grandmother’s belongings.

“That man keeps walking in my bedroom. It’s not safe.”

“I’ll talk to Tabitha about Stan.”

Mary crossed her arms. 

“I’ve got the license plate game,” the girl said. “I have a list of states, and we need to see all of them.”

“We won’t catch all of them, it’s only a 45 minute drive.”


“Alright. North Carolina,” Katie said. 

“South Carolina,” the girl called out.

“That one with the peach,” the boy called. The girl checked off Georgia. 

Mary stared out the window. 

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“Sledding,” Katie said.

“Robert used to take you sledding.”

Katie smiled. “Every year.”

“How come we don’t go every year, mom?” the girl asked. 

“Just hard to get away, with your soccer, Logan’s karate class, going back and forth from your Dad’s-” she trailed off. “I guess it’s tough to remember that I did it with my Dad, and I miss him. Right, Mom?”



She nodded. “He wouldn’t have let me stay in that place.”

They pulled up to the state park, known for it’s perfect hills when the snow finally came and floated down a layer just thicker than a dusting. Kids would come with their tubes and plastic boats and soar down the hills with pink cheeks, runny noses, and wide grins. Parents chatted, scrolled on their phones, and snapped photos of their children shrieking with delight. 

“We can relax while the kids play.”

“Fine,” she said. They sat in the warm car as the kids bolted to join the crowd, hauling a wooden sled by a rope.

“It must not feel fair, but it’s the safest place.”

“As soon as your father died, you got rid of me.”

Katie held her truth in. There was no point reminding her of the year just after Pop had died. Finding Mom unbathed. Finding the stove on. Books in the microwave. Car keys in the refrigerator. 

“Isn’t 60 too young for Alzheimer’s?” she’d asked the doctor, but she already knew the answer. She didn’t have time to discuss it, because her mother had stormed out of the office, indignant that her daughter would insist on coming to her appointment. She’d made the appointment when she found the pile of unpaid bills, strewn across a counter with ominous red capital letters screaming PAST DUE.

Her mother had paid $3,000 to someone who claimed he was in the IRS and she owed back taxes. It took him exactly 18 minutes to extract the information he needed to steal her identity to the tune of $43,000. It was easier logistically than it was affordable to become Mary's power of attorney to get the debt wiped out. She’d tried, briefly, to bring her mother home, but Mary wandered. She’d leave every day to look for home, and never got there. When Katie had to call the police on her own mother, and they found her in pajamas by the highway ramp, that was it.

Katie had reasoned Mary didn’t need the top of the line memory care home, but even a midrange one would bankrupt her. They were barely making ends meet as it was. Tabitha had impressed her with showing the art work, exercise classes, and resident garden, all locked of course. This memory care facility was “moderately priced” at $4,000 per month. 

Katie hid her embarrassment every time she’d seen Tabitha after that meeting where she burst into tears. But Tabitha never told on her other client’s families, who also broke down at the absurdity of the cost. 

“My father was a veteran! Mom was a nurse for thirty-five years… they won’t cover anything?” Katie fumed. 

“I completely empathize, this is something that should be covered. Her medical care would be covered by her insurance, of course, so there’s no extra for that.” 

“I’m a teacher, we’re barely making our mortgage as it is…” The words flew out before she could censor herself, seeing no reason she should be confiding with this stranger, airing out all of her problems; the impact of this mess on her marriage, or what was left of it, the guilt, her siblings that lived too far away to help. Tabitha had been prepared with tissues. She moved around her desk and placed her hand gently on Katie’s forearm.

“Figuring out how our parents and grandparents should be cared for is easy, it’s trying to fight for it to get paid for… It’s the worst part of my job.” Tabitha had said. It was well practiced, Katie thought, but she believed her. “The cost of the staff, and the upkeep, and the increased security needs. And the frills, honestly, but to me, if it were my mother, it would be worth it.”

They’d signed the papers, and Tabitha gave her a hug at the end. And that was that. Katie would sell the house, accepting that Mary would never forgive her, her siblings would never forgive her, nor would she forgive herself. She would find it was more that Mary couldn’t let go of all the little things that collected in a house over a lifetime. 

“When you move her in, a few treasures are best. Too much clutter can be intimidating as she progresses. Photos to remember the family by. Puzzles, or something to keep her hands busy. Visits and phone calls are gold,” Tabitha had advised. 

Katie cried for an hour after she’d dropped off her mother. Deep, heaving sobs right there in the parking lot. The guilt had done it, more than sadness. Guilty that she’d felt relieved, instead of sad, that she couldn’t care for her mother and she could now rely on someone else to do it. Then, guilt about her selfishness.

It would be so nice to have her home back, without yelling at the kids to keep the front door bolted. She wouldn’t have to fight the kids about food, making everyone eat walnuts everyday, banning white flour, trying impossibly to follow whatever the latest YouTube guru was touting as a way to “Heal your brain!!! Halt Alzheimer’s!!!” And that nagging worry that maybe she would get the same gene that would make her relive her mother's life.

Over time, the visits slowed down. It became harder to watch Mary deteriorate. It also didn’t seem to matter if it was twice a week, or once a week. Her mother would complain the whole time. Katie had to repeat herself more and more. She had to fight to get her to come out, just like today, after two weeks of prodding.

“I’m happy you could come today, Mom,” Katie said.

The two children sled down a gentle hill, whooping. 

“That’s the sled I used to go down with Pop,” Katie said. 

“He took kids every year, and if it didn’t snow enough, he’d drive to it.”

Katie smiled. “That’s right.”

Every now and again, she would find her mother, just like this, in the little memories from long ago. 

“I’m scared, Katie.”

Katie’s eyes welled, hot with tears. “I’m supposed to be the scared one.” She reached her hand out, and her mother took it. 

“I’ll know what happens. I will lose my more of my memory. I’ll stop eating, and then I’ll die.”

Katie wiped a tear away. “Mom-”

“I know what’s coming, and you should, too. I’m getting worse. If you can help it, don’t let me die alone. But if it happens, don't blame yourself.” Mary paused for a moment.  “I want my home back so much.”

Katies’s eyes still brimmed with tears as she tried to compile an excuse, empathy, any response. But that precious moment left her as fast as it had come. Her mother seemed to shake her thoughts away, and pointed out that people shouldn’t be feeding chips to the birds.

The two kids came running toward the car, breathless and eyeballing the hot cocoa. Katie got out of the car and Mary followed her lead. She passed them their thermoses, on which they warmed their hands and pressed the colorful metals to their reddened cheeks. 

“Why don’t you take me down with you on that thing?” Mary asked.

Katie raised her eyebrows. “Are you sure? You’ve never been before”

“And I might never go again,” she said, with a chuckle that pulled at Katie’s chest. 

“I’ll ride with Grandma!” Logan cried.

“I’ll go!” said the girl.

“I think she better go with Logan, Mary, you’re a bit heavier.” Katie was looking at her daughter.

Mary. She named her after me. She beamed at her granddaughter.

“I'll need you to take my picture so I can brag to the old grumps." Her granddaughter smiled, and lifted her phone to show she was ready.

"Let’s go, Logan,” Mary said slowly, appreciating her own remembrance of each syllable. She took him by the hand and helped pull the rope up the hill. 


Mary couldn’t stand it inside or out. The air outside was too hot and heavy. And inside, they always kept the rooms too cold. The woman who always came in the afternoon helped her to her room. There were too many faces in this hotel. Always up and down the hallways. So confusing. Easy to get lost. 

“Excuse me, would you tell me where my room is?”

“I’ll show you there myself,” the woman said. She escorted Mary back down the hall they had come from until they reached 104. 

“It’s so cold in here, why do you all keep this so cold?”

“Let’s turn the heat back up a little. Would you like a sweater, too?”

“Yes,” she said. “Who are you?”

“I’m Nancy. I’m your nurse.”

Mary stopped. 

“I was a nurse once,” she said proudly. Then, she gave Nancy an uncertain look. “Am I in the hospital?”

“No, Mary, this is your home.”

“Oh,” she said, but looked suspiciously at the stranger.  

“Your daughter is coming tonight.”

“My daughter?” she asked.

“Yes. She said she was bringing your grandson. The one in the photo.”

The nurse pointed to a framed photo of an old woman in a sled, arms wrapped around a young child. “You and him. You went sledding. Your granddaughter took the picture.”

“Is that so? That's me? And my granddaughter...” she tried to place her face. It was almost in her mind's eye, just out of reach.

“Your daughter told me about the time you went. Just once. Take a rest now, Mary. She’ll be here soon.”

January 23, 2021 02:36

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RBE | We made a writing app for you (photo) | 2023-02

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