Thursday, January 31, 2008

I Want to Live Here 9

“Her car?” I asked, idiotically.
“I can’t find her keys!” cried Susan, now dumping the contents of the leather shoulder bag onto the couch.
“I haven’t seen her car in days,” whispered Mrs. Mason, leading the way out the front door. I followed, scanning the available parking on Biscayne. Abigail, and the other residents in this section of townhouses, usually parked along the side of the building, where spots were easy to come by. Abigail’s little car was often in the first or second spot, but not always. If she drove home from a trip late, she might have to go further down into guest parking.
“I’ll take a look around later,” I said, repeating my thoughts to Mrs. Mason. “Tim may have seen it. And, who knows, if it’s not here, it could be at the airport or in the shop. I don’t think we have to panic Susan.”
“She’s very nervy,” said Mrs. Mason.
“She’s earned it,” I said. “She’s all alone now.”
Mrs. Mason, tilting the vodka bottle so that its blue glass played in the light, mused on this. “You know,” she said, “I left this bottle behind about a month ago. She’d brought it home from one of her trips and wanted me to have it. I’d come over to complain and she offered me a drink. She was a nice girl, a polite girl.”
“I thought so, too. A pleaser.”
“But I left without it, which I regretted. It’s not easy to find the imported stuff.”
“Uh huh,” I said. Vodka was fast replacing gin as the spirit of choice among drinkers, but I was not a drinker.
“She didn’t drink vodka, you know. She said it made her sick.” Mrs. Mason held the bottle up, as if calculating the remainder. “I wonder who drank this besides me?”
“I don’t see any keys in here!” Susan, standing at the front door jamming one key after another unsuccessfully into the locks, was close to hysterical. “Nothing for the car and just these house keys and they don’t belong to this apartment. Where are they?”

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Knuckle Update

I return to Florida this week to help my fantastic sister-in-law as she single-handedly arranges for mover from "the home" to move the Knuckle's basics from her house to her wonderful new apartment in Clearwater and decant the knuckle from her rehab...all before 4 pm on a Thursday.

Plot twists abound even in real life. In my last worried post concerning my mom and her busy bossy daughters, we were arguing over whether to move her without the 'dignity' of a night in the old sod, a potentially fatal chance to go no further. As with many Americans with limited funds, it was the Knuckle's insurance company who came up with the perfect plan for moving her onward and ten floors upward. They simply stopped paying for her care at the rehab!

That's right. The athletic feat of ambulating 250 feet with a walker (and under supervision) has enabled her to qualify for Home Health Care.

This means no more lolling around the nursing home for this perky 91-year old. Despite Wellcare's acknowledgement (big of them) that their client may, in fact, still need help in such minor functions as dressing, toileting, showering and preparing a meal, the fact that she can shuffle behind a walker while wearing a safety harness means she can go "home."

Here's the funny part. During the appeals process, I got to chat up the Medicare contractor (you didn't think they let govt. lifers handle these, did you?) and found out that if we did take the Knuckle home, leaving her there, at the mercy of her one-hour-a-day visit from a nurse or therapist, would qualify us, her family, as elder abusers! Her doctor, who hasn't returned a phone call since Christmas, would have just cause to call family services.

So that's what a rock and hard place looks like...

We ended the torture by plunking down for a lovely studio in an indie/alf floor of The Oaks of Clearwater where, by Thursday night, she'll be tucked up in a safe place with a million dollar view. If she does fall again (okay, when she falls again) it will be a matter of hours and not days before she is found. In this brave new world, what more can we hope for?

Monday, January 21, 2008

I Want to Live Here 8

It was, inevitably, one of those giggle fits that would linger like a fart in an elevator. Mrs. Mason, her dyed black curls crinkling audibly, refrained from joining in. She laid the Patterson's card down on Abigail's dining room table with a snap and marched into the tiny kitchen.

The vodka, a Russian import with label featuring a volcano, stood on the small counter beside the sink. Abigail had used it as a bookend for a row of paperback cookbooks that included Recipes for a Small Planet, and The Moosewood Cookbook.
Had she been drinking before she fell? Did she fall because she’d been drinking? Had she fallen, got up and then had a drink? Another drink? The bottle, I noticed was half full. Or half empty.
I looked down, my gaze following the inevitable trail people with carpets make as they traverse the same paths from room to room, habitual as rats in a cage. Shouldn’t Abigail’s silly shoes should be lying nearby, marking the place where she had slipped and fallen? But there was no sign of them. I peeked under the couch. Nothing there.
Mrs. Mason turned sharply and began a recitation that must have been organizing itself in her head all morning: "You can live for hours, even a day, after a blow to the head, she said, her eyes trained on the dining room table, her fingers grazing its smooth edge. We’ll find out whether she had been drinking. We’ll know how much. But I don’t think it will matter. She fell. Whether she had a shot of vodka in her or a cup of tea. She fell. She hit her head. She died. It happens."
Her remarks, each enclosed in their punctuation like gift-wrapped stones, ended my desire to snoop through Abigail’s things.
“And a Merry Christmas to you, too!” she said, snatching up the bottle. The gesture was as inappropriate as it was effective. Susan said nothing, merely stepped back and let her pass through to the living room. I hurried to the front door, as if to usher her out, but she stopped short.
“So,” she announced, pointing a long finger, “That’s the object.” She was talking about the television, which, encased in yet more glass, took up most of the wall opposite the white leather couch. An elaborate stereo system shared space with the TV. Abigail’s electronics were advanced and expensive. Two speakers the size of end tables ranged alongside the teak and glass shelving ‘system’ (there was no other word for it.)
Abigail had enjoyed the stereo’s full range of sound giving anyone near her an earful of her taste. Her television was plugged into the same large speakers.
Mrs. Mason flipped it on. The face of Bill Tush, a local announcer on Channel 17, appeared. On his head he wore an aluminum colander, the expression on his slightly goofy face deadpan. He was more comedian than newscaster and a local character. But there was no sound coming from his mouth. Mrs. Mason, balked, turned to me, frowning.
“Great,” I said. “She finally turned the sound down.”
“What’s going on?” asked Susan. She was rummaging through a large leather shoulder bag I recognized as the one Abigail carried most often.
“Yesterday she had the T.V. blaring,” said Mrs. Mason. “I could hear it so loud, I had to move in from my patio and shut the door. Remember?” (she pivoted in my direction) “I asked you to make her turn it down.”
I nodded. She had stopped me cold as I was giving a tenacious 'prospect'. “I forgot.”
“You yessed me just fine,” said Mrs. Mason. “But you didn’t talk to her?”
“I meant to. I got caught up in a rental. By the time I remembered, the sound was down. Off.”
“When was that?” asked Susan, now curious.
“Late. I was next door, at the Bakers. I was helping them pack. They gave me a bunch of stuff they didn’t want to move. When Steve and I were carrying it back to my place, I noticed Abigail’s back door was open. That’s when I remembered I was going to ask her to turn her TV down. But, of course, by then it was quiet.”
“Do you think Abigail had already fallen when you complained about her stereo?” asked Susan.
“I don’t know when she fell or how she fell. I just know there’s more going on here than meets the eye.”
I could see Susan’s face change from paper white to a mottled red as she worked to control her impatience and interceded. “What? What?”
“Let’s see if we can find the keys to her car.”
Instinctively, I looked out the open door at the cars parked along the front and sides of the building. Abigail drove a red MG. But it was nowhere in sight.
“Where’s her car?” asked Mrs. Mason. “Where is it?”

Friday, January 11, 2008

I Want to Live Here 7

“There’s another downstairs, looks like her uniform bag.”
Susan pawed through the contents of this one, coming up with a small appointment book. I made a note to look at it when she was finished. There would be clues in there to where she’d been staying. Maybe. The book disclosed a work schedule. Sure enough, Abigail was AWOL. Susan snatched up the telephone, dialing a number.
While she was on hold, I walked into the smaller bedroom at the rear of the townhouse. This was the only room Abigail had furnished with her own furniture. Against the window, which looked over her patio and, I noticed, into Mrs. Mason’s and another neighbor’s patios, she had placed a blue rocking chair and, on it, a pair of porcelain-faced dolls. Near the door stood a girl’s roll-top desk, cheap oak painted white and stenciled with gold lines and curlicues. It was the kind of desk you get when you’re ten and stop sharing a room with your brother. My own had been antiqued a soft green. I’d outgrown it by high school when my parents, noticing my nascent taste for antiques, replaced it with a Governor Winthrop secretary that, had I not sold it to help finance my impulsive move to Atlanta, I would still be happy to own. I wondered why Abigail still had her girl furniture, but nothing more. Had she brought nothing to, or from, the marriage with Kevin?
Against the longest wall, Abigail had placed daybed of a Victorian style: white painted metal bars softened by at least a dozen throw pillows and a bolster, each one a different floral pattern. Over the bed she had hung a large mirror, flanking it with snapshots of friends, other Eastern stewardesses living it up in the big Northeast cities the carrier served. The contents of this room were juvenile, but well worn and probably gave the best clue as to who Abigail Snowe had once been before opting for trendy sophistication.
Her record keeping was not up to par. In one drawer I found a bundle of telephone and utility bills. She had opened the accounts in October with deposits indicated on each. Nothing was overdue. Opening her two Southern Bell invoices I noted what I considered to be hefty long distance charges especially to the 617 area code.
I called out to Susan, “Do you think she might have been staying in Boston?”
Receiver in hand, Susan stretched the cord as far as it would go, which was to the door of the second bedroom. “An hour ago I would have said no,” she said. “Now I’m not so sure.” Whoever she was holding for reclaimed her attention.
The closet doors in the small rooms were the kind that slide on tracks to the left or to the right revealing half their contents. Opening the door on the left revealed a row of dry cleaner bags. Summer uniforms: skirts, blouses and two jackets. On the shelves above were stacked blue jeans, sweaters and T-shirts. Had she used this room for herself? In that case, who lived in the master bedroom? A roommate? Rent the big room, keep the small one for yourself? Not a bad idea if you were a traveling girl who didn’t spend much time home anyway.
When Susan returned, she was shaking.
“I don’t even know what to say to these people. I mean, they want to know details. Funeral details. Viewing times! Flowers. Jesus. I don’t know. Do you know?”
“I’ve never organized a funeral,” I said. “Beats me. Won’t your mother know?”
“My parents are dead too,” she said, sinking onto the rocker, holding both dolls in a familiar cuddle. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Kneeling in front of her, I tried to gently pull the toys from her grasp. I wanted to take her hands in my own, press them confidently and say, “We’ll figure it out.” But she gripped them so tightly there was nothing I could do but place my hands upon the dolls' worn and well-loved heads. “I’ll find out for you. Don’t worry. Judith will know. Someone here will know.”
And with that the doorbell rang and a voice called up, “Is anyone here?” It was Mrs. Mason, looking for her vodka, but carrying, we would see, a business card for Patterson’s Funeral Parlor. “If Patterson’s don’t do you,” she said with the confidence of a matriarch, “you ain’t dead.” I’m sure our combined giggles arose purely from nerves.

Monday, January 7, 2008

I Want to Live Here 6

Abigail’s bedroom furniture had the same disco quality as her living room. In this room black predominated and although the furniture was not, in fact, too large for the space, it felt as if it was. Maybe because the carpet up here, a black, brown and white short shag, added so much texture that the tall padded leather headboard, faux fur bed throw and hot pink sheets (satin, no less) fought back. As for the art, oversized posters from the Museum of Modern Art in New York and graphic representations of the New England coast took up what wall space remained. Her dresser, I need hardly say, came with a mirror that measured five feet across.
“If Kevin sees this, he’ll have a fit,” said Susan.
“I think he has seen it,” I said and told her about a visit Abigail received from an unseen man the month she moved in. During that afternoon, she had reached me at the office sobbing that she was being held hostage by her ex-husband. We’d obliged her by calling the police who had arrived quickly but after two hours of loitering uselessly outside her door had left when their shift was up.
“Kevin? Drunk and dangerous? That doesn’t sound like him at all.”
“But she said it was her ex-husband. That he was all fucked up and holding her hostage.”
“She may have.”
“She did.”
“I’m sure she did, but I’m also sure Kevin would never show up here, or anywhere, in that condition. What was he supposedly holding her hostage for, anyway?”
“I’m not sure she told me that. Come to think of it, I just hung up and called the police without asking her too many questions. But I got the feeling, he wanted her to come back?”
“Ha! Then it definitely wasn’t her husband. That man’s as gay as a goose.”
“Is that why they broke up?”
“Yep. He came out 18 months ago, more or less. At a wedding in New Orleans, if you can believe that. Sent her home alone and stayed down there for six months. When he got back she was supposed to be moved out of the house and on her own. That would have been last December.”
“But what did she tell you?”
“She didn’t tell me anything. I got all this from Kevin. I haven’t heard from her since, lemme see, Spring? She called me from Boston. I was flying there and we had lunch.”
“So maybe she was living up there and doing her layovers here. Maybe at a friend’s?”

We sat on the bed staring into Abigail’s open closet doors. They were the louvered kind that opened on tracks and could, when fully open, display the closet’s entire contents. Susan sighed.
“You really think the uniform is tacky?” she asked.
“I didn’t say that.”
“Damn!” she said, slapping herself on the head and looking furiously around.
“Where’s her purse? I bet she’s supposed to be working today!”

Knuckle Update

Knuckle Update, or Why 700 Years of Irish Resistance Training Can't Be All Bad

Less than a month after spending two days on the floor of her bedroom, the Knuckle is now fully hydrated, eating better than ever, doing her therapy like a good girl, bitching about her hilariously foul-mouthed roommate who bogarts the air conditioner controls AND the TV remote, and playing her daughters and daughter-in-law like the ladies-in-waiting she secretly thinks we are.
Here’s a conundrum that, like parenting, is something only those with experience should comment on. Given that the woman does not want to move to the indie section of an ALF (or any other section), and is totally capable of a sit-down strike, do we move her basic furniture first and then whisk her into the new digs before taking her on a visit to the old house for some hand picking of her other things, or do we spend a day or two with her in the old house packing around her and letting her “choose” which items to move and then rent a giant crowbar to get her out?
Given the time constraints we’ll all be under, the former has a certain efficient, if ruthless, charm. Given the golden rule, the latter does offer a kind of purgatorial discount. I mean, we’re all going to hell anyway, why make it worse if not to assuage the collective conscience by doing what seems so right, so respectful, so soothing to our audience of friends and well-wishers?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

I Want To Live Here 5

I found Susan sitting in one of her sister’s white leather chairs, tears streaming down her face. On her lap she held an Eastern Airlines flight attendant uniform and an age-stained Raggedy Ann.
“Oh, Abby,” she wept, her eyes traveling around the leather and chrome-furnished room. “Oh, Abby, you poor little idiot.”
Her resemblance to Abigail had faded a little. Susan had a firmer chin and a more determined cunning, but the two were remarkably alike: pale skin the color of paper, hair so blonde it seemed white. They shared unhealthy look of Appalachian-bred mill workers, yet I knew they had grown up just south of Atlanta. “Who are you?” she asked.
“Nora Cahill? The manager here? I rented Abigail this apartment. I—“
“You’re the one who found her?”
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” I said, kneeling close enough to touch the arm that held the doll. “Yes, I found her last, no, I’m sorry, two nights ago.” It felt like a week.
She inhaled deeply and with it seemed to suck up the strength to get on with her allotted task. “Look at this crap,” she said, standing up and waving an arm at Abigail’s rented furniture. “What was she thinking? She had a house full of beautiful antiques and she rented this… junk.”
“What house?”
“Her husband’s house. Kevin’s house. The man she just had to leave. So what if he was a--- oh, well. I guess it wasn’t ever going to work out. You’d have thought he could have spared a few lousy sticks of furniture, wouldn’t you? I mean, really. This is so unfair.”
“But it was just temporary, wasn’t it?” If I remembered correctly, Abigail had told me she and her husband were only separated.
“You call a year temporary?”
“A year? I had the impression she’d just left him”
“Now why would you think that?”
I tried to remember the dates on Abigail’s application. I’d read her file before showing it to Detective Boeker, but all I could picture was a blur of ink and the loopy, immature handwriting of the average student.
“I’ll have to check her application, but I could have sworn she listed a 5th Street address?” I remembered it because it was the first numbered street address I’d encountered in Atlanta, which even in 1976 seemed littered with Peachtrees, though no one ever seemed to live on the famous street.
“That’s Kevin’s address, all right, but she hasn’t lived there for a year.”
“Where did she live?”
“I have no idea. She spent some of her time in Boston, at the layover apartment we used.”
“Do you work for Eastern too?”
“Delta,” she said. “But I fly the northeastern route too.”
“An airline family.”
She looked at the uniform she had laid across the chair.
“Do you think it’s tacky to bury her in her uniform?”
“I don’t know. It makes me think she died while working.”
“That’s a good point. It’s just that Abigail changed her style so often, her uniform was the only thing that stayed the same.”
“My sister works for the airlines, too. T.W.A. She has tons of clothes. She says she grew up in a uniform and likes to buy as many other clothes as she can. I think she’d want to be buried in her mink.” I made a mental note to ask Caroline if this was so.
“Well, we never talked about this. I guess we should have. Would you help me pick out something else?”
Would I?I held myself from dashing up the stairs. One of the tackiest things about me (and there are plenty, I have to admit) is my nosy streak. I can’t spend an hour in someone else’s house without looking in every drawer and cabinet. In a way, this job is either perfect for me or it will prove as potentially disastrous as an alcoholic bartender.