Friday, September 22, 2006

Another Talking Marathon Begins ...

“Has anybody seen Helen?” Bea asks, as if my deceased aunt has just stepped outside for a cigarette, biting the edge of her thin upper lip with its garish red lipstick, also a shade favored by my mother, who applied the lipstick more meticulously so it did not smear.

“No,” I say. “Are you worried about Helen?”

“Helen takes care of herself. What about Dorothy? Is she dead?”

From the look on Bea’s face, I know that, quick as greased lightning, we have left the dream world behind. I acknowledge that sister Dorothy has indeed died, more than a dozen years after Helen.

“How did that happen?”

I have told the story before, but she needs to hear it again: “Dorothy had a stroke, walking across a bridge, in Austria, on a guided tour. Remember when you went on a guided tour of St Petersburg? Aunty Dotty did the same in Austria. Seems like a good way to end a life, don’t you think? Having a good time? Dorothy was a good-time-kind-of-girl.”

Bea nods. She is all there this morning.

“Has anything changed in the neighborhood?”

My mother sounds ready to organize her annual cocktail party, a source of the latest gossip on our neighbors and always a fun occasion. They all used to meet for cocktails at least once a year, a tradition Bea initiated.

“No,” I lie. Why bring up friends who have died or been moved to assisted living facilities?

Upon my return from the kitchen with breakfast, I notice her mind has raced elsewhere.

“They don’t have fights now, do they?”

“Who are you talking about?” I ask.

“The people on television.”

“You were watching a movie on television?”

Bea nods. There is no television set in her room.

My elderly mother experiences dreams in a new way: mind-movies have become a real source of pleasure in her stripped-down bedridden world. Often when I peek in, there’s a beatific expression on her face. Not now. She is peering around expectantly. I glance behind me. There is nothing there.

“Where did that Pauly go?” Bea asks, as if her grandson had just ducked behind the armchair, a game of hide and seek from the past recreated by her overactive brain.

It is so bizarre to careen from reality to irrationality this way. The dizzying ride doesn’t bother Bea, but it makes me queasy, especially when I think we have only lived through the first ten minutes of our day!

“Paul’s in California,” I say in a firm voice and push the balls of my feet against the floor in search of grounding for us both. Bea has started another one of her talking marathons.

“What’s the name of the guy here then?”

“You mean someone was here?” I ask innocently and switch on the stereo. “Italian, with an amazing voice?”

I leave her with Andrea Bocelli and go about my own life for the next hour…


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