I’m finally starting to get into a bit of a groove again with writing. It’s slow, but it’s happening. I’ve been working on my new book since July, and I’m not quite done the first draft yet. However, I thought I’d post just a little bit of what I’ve been working on. I hope you like it!
Lisa was barely in the door of her apartment when the phone rang. “Hi Mom,” she said as she answered, throwing her briefcase down on the couch. “What’s up?”
Apparently, Judy Sullivan wasn’t in the mood to beat around the bush. “Your father wants to know if you’ve been to see your grandmother lately,” she said.
Lisa groaned. “I’ve been busy,” she said.
“Lisa,” her mother reprimanded, “your poor grandmother is there in that nursing home, just waiting for someone to visit. Would you want to be in that place, with no one ever visiting you?” Lisa thought to herself that she didn’t need video conferencing for conversations with her mother: she knew exactly what the look on her mother’s face was at that moment.
“Maybe she’d get more visitors if she hadn’t been so nasty before she went cuckoo,” Lisa said snarkily. She knew she shouldn’t have said it, and she felt badly as soon as she did, but she just couldn’t help herself.
“Lisa Danielle!” her mother said, shocked.
Flopping down on the couch, Lisa lay her head back against the soft cushions. “I’m sorry,” she said contritely. “I shouldn’t have said that.” But you know it’s true, she thought to herself.
“So when are you going to go?” her mother asked.
Another groan inadvertently escaped her lips. “I don’t know. Soon,” she promised.
“Fine. I’ll go tomorrow morning after I go to the gym, all right?” Her mother murmured something along the lines of a thank you. “I don’t know what the point is, though,” she said. “She hasn’t once known who I am for the past three years.”
Her mother sighed. “Lisa, that’s not the point. I know it’s hard to see her like that, but she’s all alone. No one should be all alone. Not at that stage in their lives.”
“Then why don’t you move her in with you and Dad?” Lisa asked. She knew the answer, she was just being a brat, but the whole conversation was bugging her. She hated being guilted like this.
“You know that your grandmother needs more care than your father and I can give her here. She needs medical care.”
“I know, I know.” Lisa stared at her gym bag waiting in the corner of the living room, by the front hall of the apartment. “I’ll go tomorrow, after my workout, all right?” She sounded like she was arranging her own execution. “I’m not staying long, though. I’m not good at this. I don’t know how to sit there and have conversations by myself.” She paused. “When was the last time that DAD was there, anyway?” she asked.
There was a long silence. “That doesn’t matter,” her mother said. That pretty much gave Lisa the answer to her question. She wouldn’t even ask about Aunt Barbara. Barbara hadn’t been home from Texas in over two years.
A slight feeling of pity for her grandmother softened her. She still wasn’t looking forward to this visit, but she did have to admit that her mother was right. It was awfully sad that she was stuck in that place, not even knowing who she was, or who any of her family was, and no one came to even talk to her except the nurses. But damn, she really hated these visits.
“I promise, Mom,” she said. “I’ll go tomorrow.”
The next morning she grabbed her gym bag and headed out. Her workouts were one of her favourite parts of the week. She spent most of the week surrounded by people: students, other teachers, her boyfriend, her friends, his friends, her roommate. At the gym, despite all of the other people around, she could feel alone. She put on her earphones and no one bothered her. There were no tests to mark, or assignments to grade. No letters to write to upset parents. No kids asking for bandaids or tissues. No messy art projects. No one wanting her attention. Just her, her music, and the machines. She wasn’t an exercise class kind of person.
She selected a playlist on her iPod, strapped it to her arm and put in her earphones. A nice, long warmup was in order this morning, she thought. She stepped on to the footrests of the elliptical and looked up at the televisions on the wall in front of her. Closed captioning was on. No need for the sound. Just news anyway.
She tried not to think about going to see her grandmother when she was done. It wouldn’t be a long visit. She’d been upfront with her mother about that. She thought about the woman she had known as a child. Lillian Sullivan had been as far from “grandmotherly” as you could get. Nothing that Lisa ever did was right. She was too loud one minute, and speaking too quietly the next. Her grades were never good enough. Lillian wanted a polite young lady for a granddaughter, and that wasn’t Lisa. Jason, her older half-brother, was definitely the favourite grandchild, but even he didn’t always escape her ire. Neither of her children were close to her. Her husband, Lisa’s grandfather, had died when Lisa was barely a month old. Her grandmother had never seemed to need or want anyone, and in the end it seemed, no one wanted her, either.
Lisa was glad that she’d grown up with the influence of her mother. Her mom’s family was so completely different: warm and caring and inclusive. Her mother was there at every recital, every play, every concert, every t-ball or soccer game. Lisa grew up always knowing that she was loved. She doubted that her father or her aunt could say the same thing.
Her warmup over, Lisa kicked into high gear and made her workout count. She finished strong, just as the music on her iPod, perfectly timed, of course, started to slow down. A song she hadn’t heard in a while came on.
Is it all in that pretty little head of yours?
What goes on in that place in the dark?
Well I used to know a girl, and I would have sworn
That her name was Veronica.
Well she used to have a carefree mind of her own
And a delicate look in her eye.
These days, I’m afraid she’s not even sure
If her name is Veronica…
Elvis Costello. She’d always liked that song. She slowed the machine to a stop and wiped it down. Time to do her duty to God and the Queen, she thought to herself.
She didn’t hurry in the shower, or getting dressed. She finished her makeup before grabbing her bag and heading for her car. The nursing home was about 20 minutes away, but she stretched it out, taking side streets, and it was about 30 before she arrived.
Just being in the parking lot was depressing. She had noted, when her parents first brought her there, that it was rather macabre, building a nursing home beside a cemetery. Her father hadn’t been impressed. He told her – again – about all of the wonderful facilities that the home had to better take care of her grandmother. Lisa wondered now how much her grandmother cared about any of those wonderful facilities. At least when she’d first come here, she’d known her own name.
She signed in at the desk and was lead through the locked doors to the wing where her grandmother lived: the wing where all of the potential escapees were. Not that there was much potential for her grandmother to try and escape now.
Lillian sat in a chair, facing the window. The television was on in the corner, but there was no sign that she had any idea it was there. Pictures of Jason and his boys, of Barbara and her children, of her father and mother, and of her, adorned the bulletin board on the wall. Someone, most likely her mother, had taken the time to type out the names of the people in the pictures in large font, and tack them below each photo. The thought that it must be scary being surrounded of pictures of people you can’t recognize occurred to Lisa.
“Hi Grandma,” Lisa said loudly as she went a little further into the room. There was no flicker of recognition. No indication that she had even realized she was being spoken to. Lisa sighed and sat down in another chair. “How are you today?” she asked. No answer.
“It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” she said, launching into what she knew was going to be a monologue. “Nice and warm. Has anyone taken you outside lately?
“We’re getting close to the end of the school year. My students are starting to go a little stir crazy. They’re good kids, but it always happens at the end of the year. I thought it might take a little longer, though, but then again, most of them are only six or seven, and it’s been a long year for them. I can’t believe that my third year of teaching is almost done. I really like my school, Grandma. The kids are great, mostly, and the parents, too. Of course, there’s always a few who cause problems, but this year there wasn’t anything that major. Well, this one boy, he has really bad ADHD, everyone who’s come into contact with him can see it, and his parents just won’t acknowledge it. He’s a good kid at heart, but he really needs some help, and right now he’s not getting it. They won’t even let us test him. He’s really really smart, but he’s just barely going to get into the third grade next year. By the skin of his teeth, as they say. If they’d just let us get him some help…
“Anyway, everyone at home is good. Mom, Dad, Jason, the boys… Sandra… Adam, he’s my boyfriend, he’s doing really well, too. Just got a promotion at work. He’s in finance – investments and that sort of thing. You’d really like him, Grandma. Very proper, well-educated, well-brought up. Probably not at all who you pictured me with, but maybe I’m not as wild as you thought. I think you’d like him a lot. I should bring him with me next time.”
Lisa paused. She was running out of things to say already, and she’d only been there a few minutes. She couldn’t leave again already, could she? Her grandmother really seemed to have no concept that anyone was in the room with her. Lisa felt another wave of sympathy. It wasn’t right. No one should have to live like this, she thought. She looked at her grandmother’s close-cropped, snow white hair sticking up all over the place, and remembered the way she had worn it before, long and wound around and around in a beautiful chignon. She suddenly wished that it hadn’t been cut. At least if she could brush it for her, it would give her something to do.
At that moment, an orderly brought in her lunch tray. “Oh, hello,” he said. “I didn’t know that Lily had a visitor.” Lisa smiled at the nickname. She had rarely heard her stuffy grandmother called anything but her formal name.
“I’m her granddaughter, Lisa,” she said by way of introduction. “I can go, if I’m in the way…” She secretly hoped that he would want her to leave.
“No, no, of course not. She’ll likely eat better when she has some company,” he told her. “She hasn’t had much of an appetite lately.”
Lisa bit her lower lip. She hadn’t intended to stay much longer, and she didn’t know anything about getting her grandmother to eat. She didn’t want to admit to this man that she knew nothing about her grandmother’s care, though. She nodded and brought her chair closer.
Whether she wanted him to know or not, though, he seemed to, and he started to help her find the food on her plate. “Here you go Lily,” he said gently. “Some nice fresh green beans today. I picked them especially for you.”
Lillian’s eyes darted towards him as he spoke. “Walter?” she asked, her voice a mere croak.
The word startled Lisa. The very fact that her grandmother had spoken at all was shocking, but she thought that the orderly was her husband? Her husband who had been dead for 26 years?
“No, no Lily,” the orderly said. “Not Walter. But Walter will be here soon, he told me, and he said to tell you that it was VERY important to him that you try and eat your lunch, okay?”
Her grandmother opened her mouth for a forkful of food. She chewed slowly, as if every bite took concentration. He helped her take a few bites, and then turned to hand the fork to Lisa. “Lisa is going to help you finish your lunch now, all right?” he asked. There was no response. The orderly smiled at her and then went on his way.
“Wait!” she called after him. “How long does it usually take her to eat?” she asked.
He shrugged. “That depends on how much she’s willing to eat. I suspect that since Walter wants her to, she may eat more today than usual. That’s good.”
Lisa put the fork up to her grandmother’s lips. Good for whom? she thought, but she waited there, forkful after forkful, while her grandmother ate. She couldn’t help but think about that one word: “Walter.” She hadn’t heard her grandmother’s voice in over two years. She hadn’t thought there were any thoughts at all behind those cloudy eyes. Now she supposed that there must be a glimmer of the person that she once was, in there.
What goes on in that place in the dark?
These days I’m afraid, she’s not even sure
If her name is Veronica…
What goes on in there? she wondered. Is there really nothing anymore? Is it all gone? Or is it all there, just buried so deep that no one can find it? If Walter were here, would you know him? Are you really just a shell that used to be Lillian Scott-Walker-Sullivan? Or is Lily in there?
Her grandmother closed her mouth tightly against the fork. “Don’t you want any more?” Lisa asked. No response, the lips pursed. Lisa picked up another forkful of food, curious. “Walter really wanted you to finish your lunch, Lily,” she said, wondering if there would be any response. The lips softened, but didn’t open. The eyes were staring through her at the wall behind. “Lily?” she asked again. No response.
Lisa put the fork down on the plate and sighed. “Don’t worry,” she said gently. “Walter will be here soon.”
Was there a flash of recognition? She could’ve sworn there was a twinkle, albeit a brief one, in her grandmother’s eye. Now, though, there was nothing. “What do you think about?” she asked out loud. I think there’s more in there than you’re telling us. I kind of think that you hear us, you’re just ignoring us. Somehow that wouldn’t surprise me.”
There! she thought. I’m sure it was there, but now it’s gone again. What’s really going on in there?
But Lillian was as silent as ever.