Mrs. Helperton is trying to kill me. She insists that I eat and eat,
and although I say no thank you over and over again, she won't listen,
I say it again, she doesn't listen, she wants me to eat all that is in the
fridge at every moment, and when I don't she tells me that I must. I am
just trying to work.
Auntie is on the couch. Her jaw never stops pumping, pumping into a space, a curved in space where teeth have been, at 97 years of life, she responds well to a warm smile, returns a warm smile, can not move from the couch, looks into space, looks you directly in the eye and asks questions from a memory 15 years out of date, wonders when we are going home, when we are going to be with her mother, with her sister, long ago buried in the Earth, wonders when we are leaving for the Isle of Wight, her home, where she is now, on the couch, in the Isle of Wight. Where, in her mind, is she to find her mother and sister, then who is going to drive? Are you sleeping here tonight? You are not leaving are you? The doctor said that I am not to be alone. I am not to be left alone in the house. Her eyes begin to water, tears, she balances her lunch tray very well on her knees, she feeds herself, the glass of raisin juice does not fall off her tray, it is held by compassion, understanding of her age, her tongue is there to meet the tiny pre-cut pieces of food as they methodically approach her mouth, one after the other, at the end of a fork held by long stick fingers, skin tired of hanging so long onto the bone.
At night, Auntie has nightmares, calls into the darkness, "Help! Call me a taxi, take me to the Isle of Wight, I need to go home. No, this is not my home. Where is my mother? Where is my sister? Where is my purse? Will you be driving? Are you staying here ... ?"
I continue to work at the table, Auntie drops off to sleep, with only the sound of the cool rain to disturb me, I focus my thoughts, my imagination, bring myself to Mexico, to the morning of my arrival into Cabo San Lucas, I am alone on my boat, Mexico just fills my mind, Mrs. Helperton asks me if I am thirsty, to which I reply, no. Do you want a glass of Port? No, thanks very much, I am not thirsty. A beer? No, thanks, really, I am content, I want for nothing. She gets the bottle of Port wine, and a glass, I tell her, No, really, I am not thirsty, you are very kind, but I want for nothing at this time. She explains to me that she cares for me no more than she would her own son, and that I am like a son to her, and that a mother wants her children to be warm and fed. Thank you, I am very well cared for, you are very kind, thank you. Oh, no, it's not true, what can I get for you? Are you hungry? No, I'm just happy and content at the moment and completely engrossed in my work. Do you want me to put on the television for you? No! I rarely watch television. When do you want lunch? Well, for the moment, all I am thinking about is the writing that I am working on and am not at all hungry. What do you want for lunch? There are pork chops, steak, ham, salad, would you like an omelet with ham? Really, I'm not in the least hungry! Well, make yourself at home, you are like a son and you know where everything is. Thank you, I feel very at home, but I have to be careful, I'm starting to gain weight! Smiling.
I return to writing, rereading the part where I was five minutes before the one- way stream of questions to which no is always the unacceptable answer. Auntie, now finished with her lunch asks me when we are leaving. I tell her that we are going to spend the afternoon here. Auntie looks away as if that was the wrong answer, tells me that she wants to go to the Isle of Wight. I tell her to wait until Jack arrives and we'll discuss it. Mrs. Helperton returns, says, Clyde, listen, you have to eat, you haven't eaten since yesterday! Yes, but I'm not hungry. In fact I'm gaining weight, and gaining weight doesn't make me happy. Let's see what there is, she continues, as if I had not spoken. A ham and cheese omlet? How about a salad, Mrs. Helperton? Oh, Clyde, No! That's not enough! Listen, really, a salad would make me Very happy. I can't find any other way to tell her that I want NOTHING, I must some how get her to stop pounding me with these questions and there is already salad made up in a bowl. How about with hard boiled egg, hoping the mounting quantity of ingredients will somehow trigger the food quantity approval level. She agrees, sets to making me a salad, pleads with me to go back to work now and leave the cooking to her. What about you, I ask, you have work to do also? No, this is my work, Clyde, now go!
I return to the table, reread the part where I was five minutes before, tap a word or two, Mrs. Helperton comes in, visibly upset, tells me that she is going to throw away the lettuce -- it is no good, look, I'm going to throw it away, what else can I get you for lunch? Mrs. Helperton, really, the lettuce is fine! It's great! I really want THAT lettuce! I have my heart set on it! Please, I want that lettuce with hard boiled egg, like we discussed! It's not right, Clyde, it's no good! Yes, really, it's just fine, please?! No, it's not OK. Mrs. Helperton goes back, unhappily, to the kitchen, mumbling regrets about being forced to poison me with this lettuce.
I look at the computer screen, try to sigh away the knot that is now twisted in my stomach. Another sigh, I look at Auntie, we exchange smiles, she goes back to looking at the ceiling, looking out the door, the rain is turning to hail, there may be people coming through that door, now there is only rain, she breathes heavily, her shoulder pumps, her chest heaves, she is out of breath, oh god! I hope she is not dying, please don't die now! I just want to get a bit of work done!
Mrs. Helperton returns, would you like corn in your salad? Carrots? A bit of corn would be wonderful, but no carrots, thanks. Wow, she seems content with that answer, she goes to the kitchen, but returns with the open can of corn, presents it to me for approval, makes sure there are no errors in communication. I nod approval, place my hands on the keyboard, she says, I'm going to listen to the radio in the kitchen, do you want me to close the doors? No, that's OK, Mrs. Helperton, the radio doesn't bother me. She begins to close the doors. Really, it doesn't bother me, I like the doors open, I feel more connected, go ahead, leave them open if you like. She leaves one open, closes the other, puts on the radio in the kitchen, continues preparing lunch.
Auntie finds a new spot on the ceiling to gaze at. My computer spins down, puts itself to sleep, I tap on a key to revive it. Auntie asks, Where is my sister? (Dead, 15 years). Your sister? Uh, she's busy at the moment, but I'm sure she's thinking of you. No, replies Auntie, her eyes begin to water, she's not. Oh, god, what have I done? I've made the poor old woman cry. Mrs. Helperton places a tray before me, a setting with plate, knife, fork, glass, a length of baguette, spoon laid crosswise along the top. Another tray arrives with an enormous serving bowl of lettuce, tomatoes, corn, corn, egg and corn. The dressing is already on in generous quantity, the bottle of dressing arrives with the tray. What would you like to drink?
Is there a drop of wine left over from last night? I ask, having seen it earlier, knowing it is there, knowing it is only a drop, hoping it will please her that I am accepting something. We go in the kitchen to look. Ah, that's perfect, I say, smiling, happy. No, Mrs. Helperton says, that's not enough. Here, open this bottle. Puts forth the bottle obviously on hand for tonight. No, really! I can't drink more than that and expect to get work done! Clyde, take this one, open it. No really, this bit here is just perfect! I smile, take the bottle, rejoin the corn mountain next to my computer in the dining room.
I serve myself some salad, Mrs. Helperton asks if I want anything else. This is just perfect. I am very happy. I turn the computer screen towards me to read while I eat, she asks me if I want the television, I decline and plead with her that I am happy, really, and she smiles, with tearful, smirking overtone of sadness, failure, retreats to wash dishes in the kitchen, tells me to call her if I want anything.
The salad is very good. I like corn. Auntie and I exchange smiles. I even take a second serving of corn, I mean, salad. I am asked periodically about my needs, go repeatedly through the ritual questions, declining everything, pleading for my happiness, read a couple more words, make a change or two on the computer while chewing, when not answering for my needs, when not pleading my contentment. Strawberries arrive, unannounced, as does crème fraîche, a dessert plate crowds out the remaining space, leans half on my lunch tray, half against the computer. A tube of powdered sugar. A tiny fork, another spoon. Clyde, you must finish the salad! There is nothing else! You must eat it! Thank you, I am actually still eating, and it is all Very Good, thanks!
Mrs. Helperton goes upstairs to rest. Tells me again to call her if I need anything. I clear away the chaos, silently return all the things to their places: the unused dessert plate, clean spoons, knives, the salt and pepper, I make some space. I finish my drop of wine. I begin to contemplate that port wine in the kitchen - no! I get mineral water, go back to work, the corn is finished, I orient myself in front of the computer, pick at the strawberries, she comes down stairs, automatically puts the things back that I have cleared away, I say nothing, smile, smile at Auntie, the cat, heavy, heavy, fat, doesn't move, can't move from the floor, looks up at me, gives me those cat eyes, that damn knowing cat smile ... ha! Now it's your turn!
Modified: November 29, 1997