The Big Duke

by Lisa M. Scuderi-Burkimsher

Robert put the key in the door, turned the knob and entered the living room. His mother was on the couch, her pink robe half open from swatting the empty air. Black curlers in her white hair bounced as she moved.
“Hi, Robert, your mother is trying to catch a fly.” Robert nodded at the aide Jennie and sat down on the couch. He leaned back, crossed his arms and wondered if she’d ever catch that frigging fly.

Abby, his mother, slapped her hands together. “Gottcha! No bugger is going to get me.”

Abby cupped her hand, pulled a tissue out of her robe pocket and placed the imaginary fly in it. Jennie picked up the tissue and walked it over to the garbage pail while Robert sat and watched. He couldn’t believe that after months of trying she killed that damn imaginary fly. He rolled his eyes and decided to try and make some conversation with his mother. He leaned forward and spoke in a calm, low voice.

“Hey, Ma, isn’t it a nice day out? We finally have some sunshine after all the rain we’ve been having.” Robert hoped she’d answer positively, but he never knew which way her mood would go.

“What rain? It hasn’t been raining. Who the hell are you anyway?” she asked, irritated.

“Abby, that’s your son, Robert.”

Robert gave Jennie a nod and put his hand up.

“Abby, how about I turn on the television?” Jennie put on the Hallmark channel.

“Who are you? Who is this man in my house?”

“I’m Jennie. I take care of you. This is your son, Robert.”

“I have no son. I know who you are; you’re that big fella that’s coming to take me to a home. Well, I’m not going anywhere with you, Big Duke.”

Robert let her rant as she pointed her index finger at him. He was a big guy, but Big Duke? He couldn’t help but laugh out loud. That was new. Usually it was hey you or pain in the ass.

“What’s that noise? Is someone here?” She eyed the room.

“It’s just us, Ma.” Robert got up from the couch and sat next to her. He put his hand on her shoulder.

“It’s just, Robert, Ma. Your son.” He rubbed her shoulder and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“I remember you. You’re that nice boy that comes to see me.”

“That’s me, Ma.” He smiled. It was moments like that he cherished.

“Where’s that nice girl that usually comes with you?”

“My wife Laurie had to take our dog Lottie to the vet today.”

“How many kids do you have now?”

“We don’t have any kids, Ma. Lottie is our dog. Remember?” Robert gently squeezed her shoulder. “We were here with Lottie last weekend, but she’s our dog not a child.” Robert sighed.

“What? Who are you?” She pushed his hand off her shoulder.

“Now, now, Abby, it’s okay. Don’t get excited,” Jennie said calmly.

“You, shut up. You’re out to get me. I know you’re trying to bump me off. You’re all trying to bump me off.” She pointed at the television. “See that woman?”

Robert looked and it was a mother changing her baby’s diaper.

“She lives across the street. She steals my mail. I have to watch her. She can’t be trusted. You’re all in cahoots to get me.”

“Hey, Abby, how about a nice cup of hot tea and apple pie?” Jennie asked to distract her.

“You should’ve told me we had apple pie. I could never pass that up.”

Robert, as usual, helped Jennie put Abby in her wheelchair and rolled her into the kitchen. As his mother sat dazed, staring out the kitchen window, he thought back to when he was a kid in that same kitchen with his mother preparing apple pie. She’d flatten the dough, cut the Macintosh apples into tiny slivers and place them on the apple pie dish. He would wait until she’d give the word and then he would do his job, putting the powdered sugar on. Robert carefully sprinkled the sugar all over the apples with his tiny fingers. Then his mother would say: “Great job.” She’d kiss him on his forehead and squeeze his dimpled cheeks. He looked forward to it each time. When he helped with the apple pie, she’d give him a big piece after it was baked. His mouth watered for the taste of freshly baked apples. He licked his lips each time he swallowed the sweet taste of apples. But those days were long gone.

Jennie put the kettle on and walked back out to the living room with Robert.

“If you want to go, now is the time. You know what happened when you stayed too long two weekends ago.” Jennie spoke direct.

“How could I forget? I’ll never get that image out of my head how she pushed herself to the front door in her wheelchair, tried desperately to unlock the screen door to come with me and screamed that her parents would be mad if I didn’t get her home by nine o’clock. Thank God you were there to stop her. But I felt terrible driving away.”

“Hey, where’s my pie?” Robert’s mother asked from the kitchen.

“I’m leaving now. I’ll be back on Sunday.”

Robert waited until Jennie was in the kitchen, then he quietly opened the door and slipped out. On the drive home he wondered how much longer his ninety-two-year-old mother could go on. She was once a pretty, brown haired woman with sky blue eyes. Now her eyes were distant, along with her memory. Would he inherit Alzheimer’s? Those thoughts consumed him on the drive home and he wondered if that should happen, what would become of him?

Lisa M. Scuderi-Burkimsher

This story is fictional, but based on my experiences with a family member who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
I enjoy reading everyday. If I’m not reading a book, I’m reading the newspaper or a writer’s magazine. Reading helps improve my writing ability. I’m currently also involved in a writer’s workshop to help hone my writing skills and I just recently joined a local book club.

6 thoughts on “The Big Duke

  1. Well written piece about a devastating disease. I have yet to be burdened with it and I thank God. My wife does have short term memory loss and that is bad enough.

  2. The author touchingly portrays the impact of this illness on the many families affected by this disease. Very well written.

  3. Great story, Lisa. My mom recently went through this with my 93-year old grandmother. A sad story that many can identify with.

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