I was sitting with Snatchko in Mumbai Masala, wolfing down as much of the buffet as $11.99 would get me, when the couple walked in. Or maybe they weren’t a couple. Co-workers, classmates, former inmates of the same institution. They came in, sat down behind us, and she immediately says, “I just don’t know how much more I can take.” Then the monstrous sigh.
“I’m tellin’ ya,” Snatch tells me. “People are fools to go into nursing homes. We keep them geezers so zoned out they don’t know which end is up. They can’t even plan an escape. The ones that wander off are looking for the living room of a house they lived in in 1968.”
“There’s got to be something you can do, some recourse,” the man responded.
“I’m going back in,” I announced. “Cover me.” When I returned, heaping plate in hand, I saw the two ordering from the menu. This was how the financially solvent lived, ordering off the menu when the buffet would see them into the next day. Or maybe I was a bitter peon. Or maybe it really was a dire strait she was in, and at times like that you don’t worry about an extra seven bucks when you’re miles from shore and the bilge has risen past your ankles. I resumed the assault on my digestive tract with the paneer makhani which, like myself, was a bit salty.
“I filled out the forms, I jumped through all the hoops,” she continued. “They just don’t let you say you’re sorry! Doesn’t everyone make mistakes?”
“So. I tell the nursing supervisor that there’s old folk not getting their meds, other old folk getting too much, and half the staff is wandering around blasted on the narc that gets lost in the shuffle. You know what she says to that? She asks me if I like working there. The implied threat, all that.” Snatch gestured with a skewered pakora. “I got the message.”
Outside, the sky was trying to decide whether or not to vomit. The air out there left condensation on you the moment you walked out the door. I reminded myself to be grateful for this air conditioned oasis with its fantastic cuisine and, oh, there’s the handsome young server now, refilling my water glass. The secret to happiness is realizing you’re already in heaven. The falafel was (were?) delicious, lightly breaded, and taken out of the fryer the moment they were done. I held a bite in my mouth, letting it slowly disintegrate. Through the window I could see the horizon turning the faintest shade of green. Hurricane weather.
“So I’m starting over. Thirty years old next month and I’m beginning all over again. It really feels like it’s too late.” Another sigh, this one though her mouth, using her cheeks as bellows. That’s a great stress-reducing technique, but she could have been blowing into the mainsail of the Santa Maria for all the good it did her.
“If you wind up at Happy Acres, it’s your own damned fault.” Snatch was angry now. No spring chicken, mortality was evidently tugging at his dentures. “You were either nasty to your children or you raised selfish jerks or you didn’t have kids and didn’t plan. Not me, man. I’ve got a .357 magnum. The trick is not waiting until it’s too late to make your decision, to make your move.”
Behind us, the poor woman finally disassembled. Her voice wailed in a whisper.
“It was my last appeal...”
Outside, thunder gave us a round of applause.
The poetry and prose of Robert L. Penick have appeared in well over 100 different literary journals, including The Hudson Review, North American Review, Plainsongs, and Oxford Magazine. His latest chapbook is Exit, Stage Left, by Slipstream Press. The Art of Mercy: New and Selected Poems is forthcoming from Hohm Press, and more of his work can be found at theartofmercy.net
3/13/2023 12:43:46 am
I think his work is wonderful. He has quite a way with words!
3/13/2023 03:50:03 pm
Marvelous setting - nursing home and an Indian restaurant
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