This is not a new story. I wrote it a number of years ago and published it in one of my short story collections. An event today reminded me of it. So, thought I’d share. The story, in its entirety, is more than 14,000 words. So, over the course of the next few days, I’ll share it a couple of chapters at a time. Hope you enjoy it. (By the way, that event today has given me a thought for another piece to add to this story. We’ll see if I do anything with it.
Chapter 1. 100 Years
On his 100th birthday, it begins when he doesn’t put his dentures in. For twenty-two years, after rising from the pillow in fits and starts into a sitting position on the edge of the bed, he had reached to the nightstand for the porcelain representation of his age. Creaks and pains in his joints complicated the process until now, when he must catch his breath before grabbing for his false teeth.
First, at the side of the bed, covered with the comforters and thick blankets preferred by Elisa, it did not trouble him. The wearing of dentures. The daily ritual continued through the years. When Elisa passed shortly after her eighty-second birthday and three months before their 58th anniversary, it went on, from the bed at Shady Acres Home, where the bed was covered with nothing but a sheet and a couple of thin blankets. Upon Elisa’s death, his children insisted that he move to Shady Acres. Bless them for they knew not what they were doing.
It was only recently, confronted by the end of the first century of his life – let that roll around on your tongue for a bit, a century of life – that he began to struggle with these stark and daily affirmations of the deterioration of his body. False teeth. Hearing aids. A walker. And every once in awhile, a wheelchair pushed by one of the nice young ladies in the nurse’s whites.
Once upon a time, he landed on the beaches of Normandy and fought the Germans, the toughest SOBs at the time. Well, almost. The good ol’ boys of the U.S. of A showed the Krauts who was really tougher. He boxed in the army. His fighting name was the Stone. Yes, even in the military, fighters have such names. His represented his body and mind, his character and will.
At least then. But, as all such things must, his stone eroded with age. Worn by years of work, of drink, of abuse he could no longer recall.
Now, he protests, beginning with his dentures. The faintly chemical taste of the cleaner that they soak in is something he will not miss. If he cannot chew his food, he will gum it into submission.
Once he has refused the habit of his dentures, he will move on. When Mackenzie comes in, he will reclaim another part of his soul. Five days a week, for several years now, she has bewitched him. Her black hair, blue eyes, and pale skin, remind him of Elisa so many years ago. The way her breasts fill her uniform and her hips move when she walks. The white nylons that cover her legs. Her quiet laugh that fills her conversation.
On his 100th birthday, when Mackenzie helps him stand up, he will put his arm around her narrow waist and feel the curve of her hip under his hand. “You are ravishing, my dear,” he will say to her with a wink and slide his hand down to her ass and give it a pinch. He hopes that she blushes with embarrassment. Maybe she’ll even bat his hand away. Or better yet, maybe she won’t. Might she look at him, in that moment, smile, and recognize that he’s not just a dirty old man looking for a cheap thrill. That there is something more to him than the old sack of bones that he has become. He may be 100 years old, but he is still alive. Who knows? She may even let his hand stay there for something more than a few seconds. He has no dreams or hope of anything more, but he will do it anyway. To show Mackenzie that he is still a man.
When his interlude with the lovely Mackenzie is over, he will engage in the third and final protest of the day. Once cleaned, brushed, and dressed, he will refuse his walker and a wheelchair. He will walk. Without assistance. Without any form of physical support. It may take him three hours. He may fall and break a hip or dislocate his shoulder, as he did the last time he walked without any help. But he will not be afraid.
Mackenzie may insist on holding his elbow for support. He will refuse her help. One foot in front of another. Each step taking him past other units, down a hall, around the corner, through the quad, and into the dining room, where a table and chair await him. His bones tired, his lungs burning, he will sit down and eat his breakfast. He will destroy it with his dentureless jaws, confident that he is a man. He will remember the feel of Mackenzie’s hip under his hand. He will feel more alive than he has in years, knowing that another one hundred years await.
Tomorrow. On his 100th birthday, as his first century draws to a close, he will reverse the tide of deterioration. The beginning of a second century of life, demands a statement. It will begin with his dentures.
Chapter 2. Feeling a Chill
“Ma, what are you doing?” She sat buck naked on the sofa. It was a good thing Stephanie had closed the door. Stephanie shuddered at the thought of a nurse or orderly walking in on her mother. Or worse, one of the old guys who was constantly having walker races out in the hall.
“What are you eating?”
“A cupcake.” Ma giggled then and held it out for her to see.
“Ma?! A cupcake for dinner?” Stephanie walked further into the room, ready to take charge. First, she had to flip the blinds closed behind her. “And why don’t you have any clothes on?”
“Mr. Robertson, that nice man in 17C, it was his 100th birthday today. I decided to wear my birthday suit in his honor.”
“You can’t sit here without any clothes on. Let me get your robe.”
“Why not? If I want to sit and enjoy a cupcake as our dear Lord made me, why can’t I?”
“Because … because … well, you can’t. Where’s your robe?”
For a moment, Ma’s face darkened before she giggled again. “Don’t know and don’t care. What time is it, Steph?”
“It’s almost 5:30.”
“You know what Mr. Robertson did? He walked in here a little bit ago and brought me this cupcake.”
“That was very nice of him.”
“No. That’s not all.” Ma took a bite of her cupcake, leaving a bit of white frosting on her upper lip. “He walked in here all on his own. I haven’t seen him without his walker in years. But, he came right on in here with the cupcake in his hand and handed it to me.”
“That was very nice of him, but Ma, you need to put some clothes on.”
“He told me I take his breath away.”
“Mr. Robertson. When he handed me the cupcake, I wished him a happy birthday. He placed his hand on my cheek and said, ‘Betty, you take my breath away.’ He’s such a sweet man.” Ma slowly licked the frosting off her lip and, opening her mouth wide, stuffed the last half of the cupcake into her mouth. “Ummmm,” she mumbled through her mouth full of cupcake. “He almost fell when he was walking out. That would have been a shame. Such a nice man, but so old. Probably would have never got up again.”
“You didn’t take your clothes off while he was here, did you?
“Of course not!”
“Good. There’s still hope.”
“Well, not completely anyway.”
“Oh, Steph, don’t you worry a bit. What’s a 100-year-old man going to do?”
“Jeez, Ma. What did you do?”
“N-o-t-hing,” she sighed. In the gloom of her room Stephanie could just barely make out that her mother had rolled her eyes.
“Mama? Listen to me.”
“What time is it?”
“It’s just about 5:30.” This is what Stephanie hated most. Some of the quirks she could handle, but the endlessly repetitive questions were tiring.
“Do me a favor.”
“Uh-uh.” Ma wiped her lips with her thumb and then licked it, looking for the last bit of sweetness from the cupcake.
It was pointless really. She was going to do what she wanted now. The woman whose hair was always perfect, whose home was a shrine to the human existence, and who ruled her two children with a list of rules set in stone, no longer had the inner guide that had controlled her life. “Nothing. Never mind,” Stephanie sighed.
“What time is it?”
“It’s 5:30. I just told you that.”
“Honey, I’m feeling a chill. Where’s my robe?”