Elder Series – Can You Hear Me?

M Dawn Thacker has compiled a series of short stories about elders, their experiences aging, and the challenges they face. M Dawn continues her series with Can You Hear Me?…

 

The light was red. Bobby nosed the Camaro to the line and eased off the clutch. He revved the big block, rocking the SS. A look to his right, and he sized up Crew Cut driving a beat up Ford. They were here to battle. Bobby didn’t know the score, but the two men kept meeting again and again. The score didn’t matter. What mattered was the moment. Taking a deep breath and centering himself, Bobby settled his heartbeat and squeezed the knob on the stick. He looked at the road ahead and revved the engine, anticipated the rush, the speed, the squeal, the smell of the burn, the thrill of leaving the Mustang in dust. He focused. Waited. Watched—and that’s when the buzzing got him. It was close to his ear. He knew the light would change in a second, just one more second. The buzzing stopped and an itch started. Bobby wanted to swat it, take his hand off the gear shift and smash his ear, kill the SOB, but he’d lose his edge. The Ford would win.

Anticipation evaporated and annoyance took its place. Bobby opened his eyes, trying to locate the little pest that interrupted his dream. He didn’t hear it anymore, or feel it crawling, but knew it was somewhere in the room. He was awake now and hated that. Waking hours were the worst. They meant slow, tedious boredom. His eyes moved to the left and he saw old Man Thompson slumped in his wheelchair on the other side of the room. Bobby didn’t remember the girls coming in to get his roommate up. The nursing home aides were never quiet, turning on the overhead light every time they walked through the door. Somehow he slept through it. Thompson was up, but the smell of his night’s output of urine still lingered.

Bobby was on his back in bed. His best guess at the time was somewhere between six and eight in the morning. The window curtains next to the bed were closed. It was hard to judge the exact time of day, not that it mattered much. The clock over the door was set at terminal 3:27 where it stopped months ago, its double-A battery dead. Bobby measured time by the amount of light in the room, the position of his body in bed, when his diaper was changed and the delivery of three so-called meals.

A sectioned plate with three scoops of pulverized slop was placed under his nose, and the strained fare was spooned into his open mouth by the nursing assistant of the day. She reminded him with every bite to tuck his chin and swallow, two things he was still able to do when the head of the bed was rolled up far enough. He remembered a time when meals were enjoyable, when he’d love a girl feeding him.

The fly buzzed into view, made a pass over his body and settled on the bedrail. In the years before the MS got bad, Bobby would have swept his hand out, capturing the fly in his fist, and shake it vigorously. He would have thrown it down on the table and watched it spin out of control before he mashed it flat and swept its body onto the floor. He looked at this one, perched on the rail, watching him with its compound eyes. It rubbed its front legs together like a mad scientist ready to experiment. The fly mocked him and his inability to move.

The insect lifted off again and flew in a circle over Bobby’s head, up to the light and back down again. It moved from one side of the room to the other and then back to the light. The fly circled his head a few more times and after a minute or so, left Bobby’s sight. He closed his eyes again, willing sleep to come. Sleep meant dreams, and dreams meant movement, freedom, travel, sensation, heat, cold, and sometimes, when he least expected it, sex.

Bobby floated on the lake in his Jon boat, holding the Shakespeare rod his grandfather gave him when he turned twelve. He cast the lure into the water and turned the crank on the side of the reel, feeling the slight pull of the water against the Rapalla as it dipped and dove under the surface. The sun was just rising over the water and the wind made ripples sparkle. Bobby reached up and pulled the brim of his cap down just a bit to lessen the glare. Honeysuckle on the lake bank smelled sweet.

Record size Large Mouth Bass lived in this lake and Bobby wanted one. He’d been trying to catch it since his twelfth birthday. He was patient. He liked the click, click, click of the reel as it wound the fishing line, the gentle rocking of the boat and the occasional call of a bird. He didn’t mind spending time at the lake without even one bite. Bobby enjoyed the solitude.

Suddenly, in the midst of his meditation, he felt a tug, then a hard pull on the line. He sat up straight in the boat. His rod bent and the drag on the reel complained as the line pulled in the opposite direction. He grabbed the rod with both hands and yanked back.

“Let the fish run,” he heard his Grandfather say. “Give the old boy some slack. Let him think he’s free. Let the drag wear him out. You’ll get him when he’s good and tired.”

Bobby took a breath and relaxed. “Alright Grandpa, patience, I need to be patient. I’ll get him this time.”

Still holding the rod with both hands, Bobby eased up, allowing the fish to take off again.

“That’s it son. That’s the way.”

Sweat ran between Bobby’s shoulder blades, trickling down his face, tickling his cheek. He let the fish take one more run. This time, it would give up. Bobby listened to the drag whine once more. It seemed louder this time and next to his right ear. No, it wasn’t the drag he heard, it was an insect close to his ear. He wanted to reach up and swat it away, but the fish on the line stopped him. Bobby tried to concentrate, reeling faster, pulling harder on the rod. He looked down and saw the bass right next to the boat. It was the biggest fish he’d ever seen. The damn fly kept at him though, buzzing in his ear, landing on his face. It crawled into his ear. He felt his patience give. Bobby let go of the rod with his right hand and smacked at the fly.

He opened his eyes. His fish, the boat, the lake, all vanished, just like that. The fly was the only thing real. He felt the nuisance crawling on his face. He winked his eye, trying to annoy the fly into going away. It didn’t work. The fly was moving down, toward his chin. He felt every step it took on its way through his night’s growth of whiskers. When it got to the middle of his chin, He tucked his lower lip over his bottom teeth and blew as hard as he could. The fly took off, carrying the remnants of Bobby’s record catch with it. Damn, he’d been trying to land that fish for thirty-nine years. Bobby gritted his teeth, and growled.

“Time for breakfast,” Sandy, the nursing assistant, called in a bright voice from the door. She placed the tray on the over bed table, and rolled the head of the bed up. “You hungry Bobby?”

Bobby looked at the woman. She had a nice voice, but she didn’t do anything for him. Of all the Nursing Assistants, she was his least favorite. She was missing a tooth when she smiled, and she reeked of cigarette smoke. Her uniform top was a dingy gray that used to be white and there were round, dark stains under her arms. She sweat more than most men Bobby had known.

“I’m not hungry,” he garbled out.

Sandy frowned, “What?”

He tried again. “I don’t want it.”

“Oh look, eggs, and I think this is sausage and maybe the other is a biscuit. It’s hard to tell when it’s all blended up like this,” she said with a giggle.

Bobby knew. He wanted to feed the pureed swill to Sandy. Bobby’s strength waned and Sandy wasn’t trying to understand him anymore. She picked up the spoon and dipped into the mound of yellow. Holding it up to Bobby’s mouth, she said in the whiney sing-song voice one would use with a two year old, “Open up, here comes the airplane.”
Bobby rolled his eyes and clamped his lips shut. He tried with every effort to shake his head.

“Come on Bobby. I don’t have all day. You need to open your mouth and eat. I have ten other people to get up, dressed, fed and ready for the day. Then, I have to make beds, clean rooms, get vitals, help with dining room duty and fill ice pitchers. Stop being difficult.”

Bobby clenched his jaws, closed his eyes, and waited for Sandy to remove the tray and her sweaty behind from the room. She finally gave up trying to feed him and slammed the cover over the untouched plate. She rolled the head of the bed down, and pulled the draw sheet under Bobby, turning him toward the window. Sandy opened the drapes and left the room with the tray and a “harrumph.”

Bobby sighed. Facing the window meant the time was between eight and ten. The sun was shining. It was another day. He closed his eyes.

The salt water was buoyant. Bobby leaned back, letting his arms and legs float. The waves rocked him. He flipped over and swam with strong arms parallel to the shore, turning his head every other stroke, pulling air into his lungs and looking over at the beach. His feet and legs kicked him through the water with ease. He turned around and swam back to where he splashed into the surf. Then, he stood on solid legs again, feeling the sand between his toes. He walked to the shore, slinging hair out of his eyes, watching the sun glint off of the droplets as they flew.

He walked to the beach blanket and lowered himself beside Jessie. She was lying on her stomach, her tanned skin brown from the sun and shining with coconut oil. Her hair was pulled to the side, and her sweet neck invited him to kiss it. Bobby leaned over, inhaling the scent of her lotion and nuzzled her. She giggled, turning over, and smiled up at me. She wrapped her arms around his neck and drew his mouth to hers.

Bobby heard the plane overhead. Sometimes planes flew over the shore, carrying long banners advertising restaurants and stores. They weren’t this loud though. It seemed to be flying too low. His attention diverted, and he looked at the sky. There was no plane, but the constant buzzing remained. He realized it was an insect near his ear. Bobby raised his hand and swiped at the sound. It wouldn’t go away. Jessie let go and Bobby turned in the direction of the buzzing.

Opening his eyes, he saw the damned fly. It stood on the windowsill, planning its next assault on Bobby’s pleasure. He stared it down, daring it to come near him, willing it to match wits, to win this game they played. The fly lifted from the sill and circled Bobby’s head, then landed on the pillow, six inches from his face. The insect raised its front legs and brought them up to its face, and scrubbed, like it was washing itself. It moved like Bobby couldn’t. The fly walked, turned circles, rubbed its legs together again, stuck its tongue out.

It took flight, then landed on Bobby’s nose, tickling as it traveled. He wrinkled his nose and blew out another breath to move the fly. It ignored his efforts. The tickle heightened Bobby’s senses like nothing had in a long time. He concentrated on the feeling, trying to focus his attention on each step the fly took, on each movement. He closed his eyes and gave complete thought to the experience. The fly grew larger in Bobby’s mind until the insect filled the entire space. Bobby opened his mouth slowly. He opened it like he opened his mind, giving up the space to the pest. It traveled around his nostril and across his upper lip, leaving an irritating tickle trail, making his eyes water. Bobby felt the fly enter the cave of his mouth. It walked onto his tongue and stopped. Snapping his mouth shut, Bobby closed his eyes and smiled.

He was back on the beach, snuggling with Jessie. No one else was there on the shore. He and his girl inhabited an inlet all their own. The sun was hot on their bodies and their hands traveled at will. Bobby closed his eyes, enjoying Jessie’s touch.

“Roll over Bobby,” she said.

He rolled over onto his back and waited. Jessie’s hand slid beneath the waistband of Bobby’s trunks. He held his breath.

“Still dry,” he heard Sandy say as he opened his eyes.

 

Can You Hear Me? © 2011 M Dawn Thacker. Read M Dawn’s latest on Now.readthisplease.com and check back for the next story in her Elder Series.

 


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