Everyone used to call her Bea. Now they called her Beatrice, if anything at all. The stroke changed her into an “overly demanding witch with a capital B”, Mildred had told the Canasta group. The ladies tried to deal with Bea, to be understanding. They even began meeting at her home, but Bea’s demands got worse, changing the rules to suit her—probably because she couldn’t remember them any longer—making the ladies change partners after every game—so she wasn’t stuck with Clara, the weakest player—and not allowing the “stupid chit chat” to continue. Finally, she was told the group was taking a break, that they’d get back to her when they started up again. The truth was the ladies never stopped. If it weren’t for Bea’s daughter, Sara, Bea would be alone.
Sara slid out of the car and grabbed the bag of groceries from the back seat. It had become a twice-weekly routine. Her mother insisted. Sara took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and headed up the sidewalk. She knocked on the door and waited.
“Who the hell is it?” Beatrice rasped. Sara cringed. Her mother never used to swear before the stroke, at least not in front of Sara. Bea yanked the door open, as if confronting a neighborhood kid who kept ringing her doorbell and running away. She wore brown slacks that stopped above her ankles, a blue and white striped blouse, white socks, and the slippers Sara had given her for Christmas. “Oh, it’s you. I thought you were coming this afternoon.” Bea tottered to the living room. “My show’s on. You’ll have to wait.”
Sara knew this would happen when she had to stand in line at the grocery store. She hadn’t planned on so many people stocking up before the snow started falling later in the day. The storm was also why she came to her mother’s in the morning, instead of after lunch. Bea watched Dr. Phil every day, and nothing else mattered for that hour. Bea missed a show while in the hospital after Sara found her on the kitchen floor and called 911. The doctor pronounced it a mini stroke and admitted Bea for observation. The first morning a nurse’s aide took Bea for tests, and she missed Dr. Phil. When Bea realized what had happened, she tried to bite a nurse. Things hadn’t improved much since then. Bea appeared bitter and uncaring.
Sara put the groceries away, checked out the house, tidying up a few things, then stood in the doorway and waited for Dr. Phil to sign off. Her mother sat in a dark green recliner with stains on the arms and headrest and a rip in the seat exposing the inner padding. Sara’s dad had sat there before he passed away from a heart attack two years ago. Sara had tried to get her mother to replace the furniture. With the drab walls and mahogany floor, the room seemed more like a dungeon than a place to live, but her mother wouldn’t consider the idea. Bea reminded Sara that the matching chairs and sofa were a present from “my Harold” on her fortieth birthday and how they reminded Bea of her life with her husband and how much in love they’d been, even after thirty seven years of marriage. Sara smiled and nodded in response.
“How are you feeling today, Mom?” Sara sat in the other chair and adjusted her posture as the cushion sank beneath her.
“How do you think I feel, stuck in this house all day? It’s not like you take me anywhere.” Bea crossed her arms over her chest and looked out the window at a blue jay perched on an empty feeder.
“If you’d use your walker, I’d gladly take you to the store, or even a movie.”
“I don’t need a damn walker. I’m still young.”
Sara watched her mother continue to stare out the window, avoiding eye contact. They had this conversation every week, and the result was always the same.
“You know you can’t walk far on your own. I’m surprised you haven’t fallen in here.”
“Maybe you’d be happy if I did. Then you could put me in one of those homes where they take all your money.”
“There are some very nice places you could live in with people your own age. You wouldn’t have to cook, or clean, or do laundry. And they have all kinds of activities.”
Sara’s eyes widened thinking about her husband and three boys, all athletes. “Boy, that sounds good to me.”
“Yeah, well, you’re not the one who would be stuck there. And how come you know so much about…wait, are you going to force me into one of those places?”
“No, Mom. I’m not going to force you to do anything, but you should think about it.”
“I wouldn’t be happy there, and they wouldn’t be happy having me. I’m too grumpy all the time.”
“Maybe you’d improve.”
“I doubt it.”
“Well, I should leave before the storm begins. It’s supposed to be a doozy. I’ll see you in a couple of days if the streets are passable.” Sara struggled out of the chair and straightened her wool skirt. “Maybe you could come over for dinner on Sunday. Stewart could pick you up after church.”
“You sure you want an overly demanding old witch with a capital B around your kids.” Bea stared up with a defiance Sara hadn’t seen before. “I wasn’t supposed to, but I heard what Mildred Miller said about me. And she was right.” Bea had told Sara about the Canasta ladies dumping her. The defiance on Bea’s face melted to sadness.
Sara rested a hand on her mother’s shoulder, leaned down and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Think about dinner and let me know,” she said.
Bea fidgeted with a loose button on her blouse, her head bowed, as Sara walked to the door.
“Sara,” Bea said, continuing to look down. “You know I love you.”
Sara smiled. “Yes, Mom, I know.”
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Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. His stories have appeared in ComputerLit.com, Liquid Imagination, Ink Sweat and Tears, The Story Shack, and others. Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog (http://sixquestionsfor.) provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is”. You can read more of his stories at http://jpharrington.blogspot.com.