Emend by Eclipse
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
June 18, 1975
Gladys Parker was born in 1903. At 72, her eyesight was failing, her hands trembled, and she wasn’t as spry as she had once been. She lived alone, but it was getting harder to maintain her independence. Her children had taken away her driver’s license because her eyesight wasn’t good enough. Even she had to admit that she didn’t feel comfortable behind the wheel of a car and had known it was time to stop driving.
Her children were pressuring her to sell the house and move into a retirement home. She understood that they had her best interests at heart. Her kids were in their late 40s with teenage and college age kids who were running hither and yonder. They didn’t have the resources to take care of her. They didn’t even have a room for her to live in.
She didn’t want to live in a retirement home. She had visited a few and what she had seen horrified her. Sure, they tried to be nice places, but they were depressing. It wasn’t that the facilities were bad or the employees were horrible people. The real problem was that the residents were old, real old, and they acted old. Some of them were losing their memories. Other were confined to wheelchairs. They were old, but even at 72 she didn’t feel old. She felt like she was 50 inside. She felt that getting immersed in a community of old people would age her faster than anything. She didn’t want that.
Her larder was empty of bread and lunch meat, so a trip to the grocery store was on the agenda for the day. Not driving made shopping difficult. On bad weather days, she took a taxi to and from the supermarket. On good weather days, when she felt energetic, she walked to the supermarket. She never bought much on any given trip to the store. It wasn’t a matter of money, it was that she couldn’t carry the heavy weight of a full shopping bag very far. Fortunately, she only lived a block away from the store.
Today the weather was nice. The temperature was 80 degrees and with the slight breeze it was comfortable. It was slightly overcast, which was a little easier on her eyes. She decided that it was a good day to walk to the store and do her marketing.
The walk to the store had been pleasant. The weather was nice, and the flowerbeds in front of the houses along the way were filled with blooming flowers. With her impaired eyesight, she might not have been able to see the individual flowers, but she could appreciate the profusion of colors. She arrived at the store in a pleasant mood.
Shopping had also gone well. She had gotten a cart and pushed it around. Miracle of miracles, it didn’t have a wobbly wheel. She picked up the lunch meat and a loaf of bread. She swung by the meat section and picked up a package of pork chops thinking it would be a nice dinner. She decided to treat herself with something special, and bought a pint of vanilla ice cream. While in the frozen foods section, she noticed the frozen orange juice concentrate was on sale so she added it to her shopping cart. She also grabbed a package of butter. She paid for her goods and left the store with a paper bag filled with her purchases. It wasn’t all that heavy, just a couple of pounds.
She was about halfway home when disaster struck. While the temperature wasn’t that high, the humidity was around 70%. The can of frozen orange juice and the pint of cream were freezing cold. The cold products in the humid air created condensation, which soaked into the paper bag, which weakened the paper of the bag, which finally gave out, dumping her purchases onto the pavement at her feet.
Nothing was damaged other than the bag, but that wasn’t the problem. She had ice cream, orange concentrate, butter, pork chops, lunch meat, and a loaf of bread to get home, and no way to carry it all. It was too much to carry in her hands, and the paper bag was useless.
She stood there looking at the products scattered on the sidewalk for a moment, and then burst into tears. It felt like some power above had just rung a bell of doom announcing the end of her independence. She saw herself walking into a retirement home and becoming ... old and feeble.
Driving home from having mowed lawns all morning, Sandra was hot, tired, and sweaty. She wanted nothing more than to get home and take a nice cold shower. She had great hopes of eating a light lunch and taking a short nap. After all, she had spent the morning pushing a lawn mower and that evening she would be pushing a vacuum cleaner around an office building while managing an office cleaning crew.
Sandra couldn’t help notice the elderly woman standing on the sidewalk crying. It was tempting to drive past the little old lady, but she just couldn’t do it. She parked her car along the curb and got out of it. She walked over to the woman.
“Ma’am, are you okay?”
“No. My bag broke.”
Sandra looked down and saw the groceries scattered on the ground. She looked at the woman thinking that the tearful reaction was overboard for such a little thing. It was clear to her that the woman was very upset.
“Nothing is ruined,” Sandra said.
“I can’t carry all of that home.”
Sandra’s imagination put together a reasonable explanation for the elderly woman’s reaction. Her mind filled in details that weren’t quite accurate, but reasonable. The woman was on a fixed income, the food was going to spoil before she got it home, she couldn’t afford to replace it, and then she would end up having to go hungry. That was a good reason to cry.
Putting as much cheer into her voice as possible, she said, “That’s not a problem. I have a box in the back of my car. We’ll put your groceries into the box. We’ll drive to your house and put your purchases away, all before anything spoils.”
“You don’t need to bother yourself on my account.”
Sandra returned to the car and opened the trunk. It took her a minute to remove the cleaning supplies from the cardboard box. She carried the box over to the elderly woman and knelt to pick up the items that had spilled from the paper bag. There was barely enough food to make the box necessary. A box that was a quarter of the size she had would have sufficed. She put the box in the rear seat before opening the passenger side door for the elderly woman.
Trying to sound cheerful, Sandra said, “Ma’am. Come and get in the car. I’ll give you a ride home. We’ll be at your house before that ice cream has a chance to melt.”
Walking woodenly, Gladys made her way over to the car. With her age, she was a little slow getting into the seat. Sandra waited for her to settle in, she closed the door, went around to the driver’s side and got into the car. She looked over at Gladys. The old woman looked perfectly miserable.
“Please excuse my appearance. I’ve been mowing lawns all morning and I’m hot and sweaty. I probably smell like a pig.”
“Mowing lawns is a man’s job.”
“That may be, but I’m with Two Guys Working. I’m proud to say that we don’t let little things like that get in the way of getting the job done. I’m the boss of a landscaping crew in the morning, and an office cleaning crew in the evening. I’m proud of it; but just because I’m the boss, doesn’t mean that I’m not in there working.”
“Kind of like Rosie the Riveter.”
“Exactly. Now, how do we get to your house?”
“It’s just up the street here.”
Her house was only seven houses down from where the spill had taken place. Having just finished mowing lawns all morning, Sandra took in the state of the house with a practiced eye. There were no flowers in the flowerbed, although it wasn’t filled with weeds. The lawn was overdue for mowing and it looked like no one had edged it that summer. The exterior of the house wasn’t in bad shape, it just looked old and tired.
Following Gladys into the house, Sandra carried the box of food into the kitchen and then put things away. The elderly woman seemed listless and radiated a sense of hopelessness. Sandra didn’t understand why because things didn’t look that bad to her.
“What’s the matter?”
“There’s something the matter. You look like someone killed your dog. Please, tell me what’s the matter? Maybe I can help.”
“I’m old, and I can’t take care of myself anymore and I’m going to get sent to a home and I’m going shrivel up and I’m going to die and ... I’ll die.”
“Whoa! Slow down there. Let’s back up and take this one step at a time.”
“Yes, you are.”
Giving the young girl a dirty look for not being polite about the matter, Gladys said, “You could have been nicer about that.”
“I’m sixteen. Anyone over thirty is old. You’re old.”
Despite her generally sad state of mind, Gladys had to laugh at that. There was more than a little truth in the young woman’s words. To Gladys, anyone under thirty was still a kid. The girl in front of her was still a kid.
“So what was that about not being able to take care of yourself?”
“I can’t drive. I can’t carry much of anything. I had a hard time getting into your car. I’m getting incapable of taking care of myself. I’m alone and if something happens to me, then I’m dead.”
“I don’t see that, but I’ll assume that you know better than me.”
“My children will put me in a nursing home.”
“Are you sure of that?” Sandra asked.
“They can’t take care of me. If I can’t take care of me, and they can’t take care of me, then who will? I’ll have to go into a home.”
“That’s a reasonable argument, although that presupposes that you and your children can’t take care of you.”
“I’ll shrivel up and die if I get sent to a home.”
Although she didn’t understand it, Sandra could see just how upset the idea of going to a home made the elderly woman. Just talking about it made Gladys pull in on herself. She literally and physically shrank. It was clear that the thought of getting sent to a home horrified her.
“Because I’ll be surrounded by old people and it will make me old.”
“You’ll be surrounded by people your own age. You’ll have a lot in common with them.”
“I don’t have a lot in common with them. I’ve still got my memory. I’m not stuck in a wheel chair.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
“I don’t want that. I’d rather die than go through that, but I’m not ready to die yet.”
“You do have a problem,” Sandra said thoughtfully. She pulled on her bottom lip while thinking about it. “You need Benny.”
“Why do I need Benny?”
“You have a problem, he solves problems.”
“You seem confident in him.”
“I’ve seen him in action. If you have a problem, he can solve it.”
“There’s no solution to my problem. I’m going to a retirement home.”
“Can I use your telephone?”
“To call Benny.”
“Do you really think Benny is going to be able to help me?”
An hour later, Benny was staring off into space. Gladys was wiping the tears from her eyes. She had just finished an extremely emotional venting of her problems to Tim who had guided the conversation with his usual remarkable skill. Benny had listened to the session with eyes half shut and slouched in a chair. Now, he was thinking about her problem. Of course, the simple answer to her problem was obvious to everyone except Gladys, but Benny was thinking it through at a deeper level than that.
Gladys asked, “What’s he doing?”
Sandra whispered, “He’s thinking.”
“What’s he thinking about?”
Tim opened a paper bag and pulled out a can of soda. He opened it and put it in front of Benny. He placed a stack of crackers next to the can. Sandra reached out and grabbed a couple of crackers earning a dirty look from Tim.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m making sure that he’s not interrupted by thirst or hunger.”
Gladys looked at Tim and said, “That boy is not all there.”
Tim wasn’t going to argue the point. Gladys was wrong. Benny was as much there as was humanly possible. He just wasn’t here. The place where Benny was living at the moment, was a magical place.
“He’s there all right. He’s just not here. He’s thinking.”
About every five minutes, Gladys asked about Benny. Each time, she received the same answer, “Benny is thinking.” She was becoming convinced that these young kids were making fun of her. She was startled when Benny broke the silence.
“You are right in the main, but wrong in the totality,” Benny announced.