Weekly feature by: Robert McCready
I counted the brown spots on the fruits as they swayed in their basket. It dangled next to the kitchen television whose radiation had been multiplying the dots faster than normal. Papers rustled on the other side of the set and a teeny, tiny cockroach climbed out from under a power bill.
Mrs. Grace kept bug spray in the cabinet under the sink. The structure was pressboard and damp and in need of repair. To keep the whole thing from collapsing, I held one door closed while pulling the other open. The spray was hidden in a dark corner next to a small trash can lined with plastic bags from my work.
I heard a thwop. Mrs. Grace was behind me whacking at the stack of papers with a yellow fly swatter. “Dag blasted dirty sons of bitches.”
I saw a bug escape the stack and flutter to the orange linoleum, where it could better camouflage itself. Before it scooted behind the refrigerator, I sprayed it.
Mrs. Grace stopped swatting and tossed cards and bills into the black plastic bag in the middle of the floor.
“Some of that isn’t trash,” I said, walking towards her. She held a yellow legal envelope and a white one with a dying horse on the cover. A pink card, with a picture of a basset hound on the cover, stuck out between them. Mrs. Grace did not hear me and threw them into the bag.
“See there. You put a card in.”
“It’s covered in bug guts.”
“No it isn’t.”
“I killed one with the swatter.”
“It went under the fridge. I sprayed it.”
She dug into the bag. “May Jesus help you if that things gets on me when I dig through here.”
“Help me? You’re the one sticking your hand in.”
She pulled her spotted hand out of the bag, holding the card. “Did you or didn’t you get it?”
“I did right before he ran under the refrigerator.”
“We gotta shred these papers one day,” she said and dropped the bag.
Mrs. Grace displayed the card on the stack by the TV. I held her elbow and walked her to the kitchen table where she adjusted her kimono over her sweat pants and sat down. “Get something to drink.”
“I don’t have time to sit today because I came so late.”
She sipped her coffee.
I said, “Since we already started, I can go through these papers and take them back to the shredder at work.”
“I’m too tired to mess with it today.”
I set the bag next to the entertainment stand and walked into the living room. Next to the recliner was an old pickle jar filled with chaw. It had not been rinsed out in days. I grabbed it around the middle, a sturdy grip, so as not to slosh it, and headed down the narrow hallway to the bathroom.
There were no scattering roaches when I turned on the light, but the hotels I had set out were untouched. One by the toilet had collected dust. When I emptied the jar, some phlegm splashed on the rim and I had to wipe it off with a thin square of tissue.
I set the jar back in the living room on the floor next to the recliner and called out to Mrs. Grace. She didn’t hear me over the faucet. I heard it squeak off and then, “What did you say in there?”
“I said that I would be turning out soon.”
Mrs. Grace appeared in the door frame. “I hate to see you run off.” She held a red dishtowel in her hand.
“I’ll be back again in a couple of days. As soon as you run out of granola bars or Ensure.” A drop of liquid fell onto the linoleum and stayed there. It was a deeper color than the floor.
“Mrs. Grace, what happened to your hand?”
“That’s a lot of blood.”
“Only a scratch.”
“Let me see it.”
She lifted the balled-up rag to my eye-level. Blood trailed her arm and dripped off where it bent. The streams moved quickly down her wrinkled skin, not hesitating over the folds around her elbow. “This is more than a little cut, Mrs. Grace.”
I led her to the recliner where she propped her cane to one side and slumped back. She rested her arm and I used two of my fingers to tug at the bloody cloth. I lifted it up enough to see blood welling in her hand.
“This needs stitches. How did you cut yourself?”
“On the door.”
“Let me call someone.”
“I can’t find my remote control,” she said.
I walked to the TV and pressed the biggest button. The volume rocked me back. I went into the kitchen to use my phone. There was no signal out here. I looked for a landline. The sink cabinet door was open and splintered, but I could not see any blood on it. A beige phone was on the wall over the kitchen table. There was a dial in the center of the hand piece where a keypad should have been. My fingers crunched up and twisted, dragging the numbers for 911.
“Joe,” Mrs. Grace called from the other room. She said something else, but I could not decipher it over the opening of “Bonanza.”
“What is the address of your emergency?”
“Joe?” Mrs. Grace said louder.
“She’s calling for me. Please hang on. She’s bleeding.” I laid the phone down.
Mrs. Grace’s lips were moving, but I still could not hear her. I ran to the TV and pressed the biggest button again. She got up from the chair, balanced on her cane. “I can’t afford an ambulance. You’ll have to drive me.”
“They’re on the phone now.”
“Hang up on them.” I noticed red dots on her sweat pants and old lady shoes.
“Nevermind,” I said into the phone back in the kitchen. “I’m taking her to the hospital.” I hung up and looked in drawers for a clean cloth. The first had utensils, another had screwdrivers, used ChapSticks, and pens, and the last one contained old diapers that were now used for dusting.
“Mrs. Grace,” I said, catching her in the transfer from her cane to the door handle. “Let me give you a new one.”
I placed the new rag on the clean, wide cut, and I put the bloody rag in the sink. The bug I sprayed was in the middle of the floor on his back. I made Mrs. Grace hold onto the deck rail while I got my car and drove it up to the front. After she sat inside, I kept looking at her hand, watching the rag turn red.
“Nice car,” she said.
“It’s my granddad’s. He can’t drive it anymore. He bought a new one kinda for me.”
“I won’t get blood in it. It smells new.”
“Oh, I’m not worried about that.”
What kept going through my mind was getting back to the pharmacy. The car flashed 4:05 and in a few more minutes, if it were not happening already, the pharmacy would be slammed with customers, stopping after work. I wondered if Mrs. Grace had family I could call.
I parked in the lot, nearest a red and white sign that read, “Emergency.” I helped Mrs. Grace get out of the car, and I closed the door as she made her way through the shrubbery. She was steady without her cane, but when we sat in the waiting room, I brushed leaves off her sweat pants.
“Oh, my,” she said.
“It’s from the bushes. You walked through them.”
She placed her hand on top of mine. Her skin was transparent, thinly covering a system of blue veins and bones. Their softness surprised me. Mrs. Grace’s watery eyes grew red. She looked at our hands as she rubbed the hair on the back of mine. “Oh, my.”
“Mrs. Grace, are you in pain?”
She rubbed the back of her hand, the one holding the diaper, under her eyes. A spot of blood got into her grey bangs. She patted my hand and cleared her throat. “No, honey,” she said. “Not that kind of pain.”
My phone vibrated in my pocket. Mrs. Grace didn’t notice.
She sighed. “I’m an old woman now, walking around with a cut hand. When you get old, your skin tears as easily as paper. I’m covered in dead leaves like a fool.”
I didn’t know how to respond.
“I wasn’t always like this you know.” Her eyes seemed different than they had before, like she was looking through me.
“It goes by fast. I used to be in pageants. I was pretty. I never thought I’d be an old woman.”
“You’re still pretty.”
She flushed. My phone buzzed again.
“What was that?”
“It was my phone. I guess work is looking for me.”
“Do you have to go?”
“I’ll need to call them back.”
“Grace?” A nursed called from the double door. I could tell from her tone that this was not the first time she had called the name.
“Right here,” Mrs. Grace said. “It takes me awhile.”
Mrs. Grace hooked her arm through the nurse’s. “Don’t you want to come back with your grandma?”
“Yeah. I need to call work. I’ll find the room.”
I stepped outside and checked my phone. All the missed calls were from the pharmacy and the four texts were from one of the techs whose number was not yet saved into my phone. I called and pressed 2 twice for the pharmacist.
“How’d you know—“
“Where the hell are you? We’re swamped and all I have are new people.”
“I’m at the hospital. Mrs. Grace cut her hand.”
“Is she okay?”
“I drove her here.”
An ambulance pulled in. The siren covered what the pharmacist said. I walked to the smoking area. “Yeah, yeah,” I muttered. But I had no idea. The siren stopped. I watched paramedics move to the back of the ambulance and open the doors. They pulled out a stretcher with a person on it. The person did not move, arms strapped under a belt, under a blanket.
“Are you still there?”
“Yes,” I said. “And I may be here for a while.”