The menu hadn’t changed for 24 years. Every Friday, the nursing home served flounder filet with tartar sauce on the side, corn giblets, pears, and tapioca pudding. I tried to sneak in food like cheeseburgers or pizza but it became pointless. His attendance was required at 5pm in the main dining hall, so we just fell in line.
“What is that in your hands, Trent?”
The front desk nurse stopped me. I knew it was her job to be nosy and authoritative, but good grief, it’s his birthday. Some chocolate cake isn’t going to hurt a 90-year-old man. I faked a smile and responded to the six-foot-tall dark-skinned woman with black-rimmed glasses.
“He’s 10 short of a century, Ruth. Let’s let Bobby enjoy himself.”
Ruth didn’t undo her frown as she walked around the formica topped desk and placed her extraordinary large hands on my right elbow. Her grip was oppressive. She led me down the hall to his room. Even in heelless white Keds sneakers, she still towered over me by at least 3 inches. As we stood in the threshold, she leaned over and her onion-coated breath wafted over my face. I held a gag.
“If any of the other residents see that cake, I’ll have a serious problem. They act like children when they see sweets. Just keep it in his room.”
I thought about her words through the stench. Two Fridays before, Mary Ellen, the lady six doors down, had a visit from her grandchildren. They brought cards and balloons for her birthday. One of the little kids had a cupcake. It was everything I could do to keep Bobby from leaving his room and knocking the kid down for the pastry.
I shook my head in agreement and walked inside.
“Happy Birthday, young man!”
Bobby remembered me most of the time. Today was one of coherence. His wrinkled face of heavy jowls and half-smile lit up a little when I placed the cake on his television tray.
“Oh boy, you remembered….” His voice trailed a bit on the last couple of syllables.
My birthday was a few weeks earlier, Bobby had a bad day and forgot. I got over it. Had things gone slightly different 50 years, 2 months, 14 days, and about 6 hours earlier, I’d be in that bed, struggling to hold on to memories.
“Trent, there’s never anything on the tv on Friday nights. Remember when we used to watch Dick Clark’s American Bandstand in the Army. Those girls could dance their asses off, couldn’t they?”
We laughed. The lines around his tired gray eyes engulfed his lashes and the gleam appeared for a moment.
“Trent, get me up. I want to cut the cake after you help me to the damn bathroom.”
He dropped his pride when I was around. The nurses told me he’d refuse help, even when he couldn’t make it to the bathroom. He was scared of them and they’d never understand. I’d known him for over 70 years. I was the only one left he’d ever trust.
After he flushed, I heard him mumble.
“Come show me, Trent.”
I walked in the bathroom. Bobby leaned against the porcelain sink. He was weak. He looked like he was about to cry.
“Show me what I should have done with my life.”
This was an exercise in humiliation for him and embarrassment for me. He looked 90, I looked 40. What was the point? I unbuttoned my red flannel shirt. He stared at me with sadness and offered his right hand. I gently grabbed it and put it on my chest. He ran his calloused, wrinkled fingers over my right breastbone and felt the artificial heartbeat.
“You were always the smart one Trent.”
I pulled Bobby from the sink and walked him over to the cake. I saw a tear form in his right eye.
“I’m sorry, Bob, I should’ve made you go through with the experiment.”
He grinned and handed me the knife and fork.
“Trent, you know I shouldn’t touch these. Cut me a big ole piece.”
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Pamela http://wordsandthoughtspjs.wordpress.com/ challenged me with “A man growing old becomes a child again – Sophocles” and I challenged Carrie http://viewsfromnature.com/ with “a short skirt and a long jacket”.
Today’s song is one of David Bowie best covers. The Easybeats first did this in the 1960s. Bowie rocked it up a bit. Here’s Friday On My Mind