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October 24, 2016 | Fiction

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Tanner Lee

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I kissed Jesus up the neck until his hearing aid caught my gums like a chicken bone. 

“Just put it anywhere on the floor,” he said. My lower back tinged as I stood back up. “Gracias, Mami.” His hair was wet and he smelled like menthol. 

“Anything for Jesus.” He got mad when I called him Gee-zus. “It’s pronounced hay-soose. But call me Chewy,” he’d said. 

His pecks cradled a gold Christ. He saw me looking, so he lifted the cross and kissed it. In the corner of his room, la Virgin Maria watched us. I winked at her, took off my shirt and popped Chewy’s finger in my mouth. 

“You look hermosa,” he said.

“You too.”

Our cold, hairless bodies touched until the nurse knocked.

 

*

 

The next day he found me at breakfast. “Sorry about last night.”

“Well.” 

“I haven’t gotten it up in weeks.”

“That’s great.”

“Did you have a good time last night? I had a good time.”

“Yeah. You gonna be at the dance.” I said.

“Do we have to wait til then?”

 

*

 

My daughter Susan visited after breakfast. She never came during visiting hours, which frustrated the nurses. Thank God her garbage sons weren’t with her. Annabelle, the daughter, was the saving grace in that family. “Did you get my letter?” I asked.

“You’ve been in here for three days.”

“Four,” I lied.

“Has Annabelle visited?”

“Where are your sons?” I said.

“Soccer.”

“Thanks for coming. Say hi to Annabelle.”

I rolled over in bed to suggest a nap. Susan left after ten minutes, but not without leaving a picture. I had pictures of her family all around the room. Once I tried to throw them away, but the janitor wouldn’t take them out. “Loneliness is the worst disease,” he said.

I nodded my head. Not worse than children.

After a quick nap there was still time for the pre-lunch luncheon. The gals invited me because every so often I’d say, “those fuckers” and sip coffee and smoke. Laverne started organizing these after her husband died and she could pay off the nurses with settlement money. It was expensive to smoke indoors. 

“God I hate it when they say ‘get well soon,’” said Laverne. “I’m not sick. I’m old.”

When Laverne wasn’t picking at her hair and face, she was watching CSI and quilting. Everybody in the home had one of Laverne’s quilts. Most of the men had two.  

“The boys came over last night with some more of their bullshit, so I was up late,” said Diane. “When they left, I heard talking in Chewy’s room.” Before she could ask I said, “We had a sleepover.” 

The women howled. “Are you going to see him again?” 

“Probably. If not, Diane will have her way with him.”

Diane spread a greedy grin. “Let me know when you’re done.”

 

*

 

I ate lunch alone in the puzzle room. Around the room, residents talked and ate with visitors. Nobody had any puzzles yet, so I had the first choice. I chose Van Gogh’s At Eternity’s Gate. Slowly the other residents trickled in. Every day there were new faces and somebody was missing. The home was an endless cycle of death and visitors. Nobody came and talked to me, giving me time to finish the puzzle the way I wanted. First, I collected three corner pieces, then I made the perimeter. I filled in the middle, but left out a corner. I want the corner to be the last piece. 

Laverne pushed her walker to my puzzle table. Her turkey neck wobbled before she talked, so I knew she was warming up. “I’m glad you’re with Jesus now. He was good to me. He’ll be good to you.” She slowly turned and hobbled towards another table where she took out a puzzle and picked out the corner pieces. I turned back to my puzzle. In the center, the old man with blue pajamas held his face in both hands and leaned forward in the chair. His wooden shoes clicked against the hardwood floor as he bounced his knee tap tap tapping away his sanity. I passed Chewy on the way out, but he didn’t see me.

Sophie and I ate dinner together. She was forty-five and pretended to have dementia so her family would leave her alone. Mental illness makes everyone uncomfortable. I fed her bites of enchilada and talked about my day. The dementia unit was a prison. Buzzing florescent lights plotted with the shadows, and occasionally, someone would scream. Sophie smiled and clapped her hands, spilling salsa down her bib onto her overalls. “You don’t have to pretend around me. I won’t tell,” I said.

“You won’t?”

“Can I tell you a secret?”

“Please.”

“I checked myself in here.”

The nurses came around for Sophie. She winked at me and then disappeared behind the hinged doors to dementia prison. I walked back to my room to get ready for the weekly dance. Annabelle was sitting on my bed reading The Stranger. “This place smells like fun,” she said.

“It’s not as bad as you think.”

“Come back. Live with me.”

“Well.” I closed the bathroom door and messaged my scalp with a hair pick. 

 

*

 

The next morning was my daily spa treatment. The nurse held up the clipboard. “It says here you need bathroom assistance.”

“Does it say that? Well, sure, go ahead,” I said. The nurse emptied the bed pan and scooped bile with the other.

 “Why did you check yourself in?” she said.

“To try it out.”

“I hope you enjoy your stay,” she said and left. I hopped up and smiled and stretched. Not even the queen of England has somebody to wipe her shit.

I threw on a dress and stopped at the door because an old wrinkly hag caught me in the mirror. I walked over to the vanity, put my face close, squinted and adjusted my smile to hide the crow’s feet and frown lines. I stepped forward, turned sideways, lifted my shirt, and pinched my gut. Then all my clothes were off and I held myself and waltzed around the room--one two three, one two three--looking back occasionally at floppy breasts swaying as I stepped. My ass flaps clapped against my legs and I twirled and swayed like a doughy octopus. I put on my clothes and stopped again at the door. The fat old hag in the mirror winked. You still got it.

 

*

 

I clicked down the hall to the dance floor where Jesus’s grandson played mariachi music for the Feliz Navidad theme. Red, green, and white lights lined the snack table. Chewy poured tequila in the punch bowl. His sweat formed tacos under the arms of an old bowling shirt. Laverne looked from side to side. “That’s enough Chewy.” He stopped pouring and saw me.

“Ay mami hermosa.” Chewy took my hand. “Wanna dance?” I conceded and we stepped to the dance floor. Forward back forward back moving with the music and Jesus’s hands. He twirled and dipped me. My hip ached. I kissed Chewy on the neck, leaving some lipstick on his collar. He squeezed my ass, this time with both hands, and then we walked outside.

“I have some Jose Cuervo down by the pond.” 

The Arizona heat was as dry as saltine dust. Even the wind couldn’t stop the sweat from growing out my neck and chest. Chewy left a wet handprint on my back. We continued forward, stopping every minute to take a breath.

“Chewy, you know how to treat a woman,” I said and kissed him on the neck. We licked and rolled the rest of the way to the pond. “Hold on one second.” I popped out my dentures and put them in my dress pocket. He kissed me again, riding his tongue over my gum tracks. I felt him against my leg and grabbed and pulled. He coughed, “Gentle, por favor.” His belt came off easy, and so did he. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“Don’t worry. Most people can’t handle the gums.”

“Can I have a turn?” He lifted the front of my dress. While he spit and flittered, I thought of Annabelle’s offer to live with her. There’d be no more mariachi parties, no gossip girls, no existential puzzles, no sex in the wind, no ass wiping. 

He finished and pulled up. “See you at breakfast tomorrow,” he said.

“Do we have to wait until then?”

 

image: Elle Nash


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