Karen Brennan

Home is Where the Heart Is

 
Mary Beth

Strictly speak­ing, as a licensed prac­ti­cal nurse (LPN), it is not my job to man­age the table décor, but I do it because I’m good at it.  Each res­i­dent gets a rose they are wel­come to pass on to their valen­tine-du-jour.   Though that’s kind of a sick joke, when you think about it.

Myself in a red sweater cov­ered with pink and laven­der hearts, myself in red fas­ci­na­tor designed by moi, fea­tur­ing life-sized and very real­is­tic red hum­ming­bird.  Real enough to devour, said my hus­band, who is a smart a___.  (To Whom It May Concern in My Creative Writing Class:  A “fas­ci­na­tor” is a kind of hat. )

Someone sug­gest­ed can­dies with say­ings on them like “be mine” and “love stuff, ” a sprin­kling on each table like man­na from the gods of love, but that per­son was vetoed.  It is not a good thing to ply the res­i­dents with can­dy.  Also, I can name one or two off the top of my head who have loose den­tures.  The den­tal insur­ance plans are not good.  Once a month, the den­tist arrives with his hygien­ist, a blond-haired girl with a wan­der­ing eye—frequently mis­tak­en for a resident—who is per­pet­u­al­ly chew­ing gum, set­ting a bad exam­ple for our clien­tele.

Today’s Valentine fes­tiv­i­ties, how­ev­er, do not include the den­tist or his hygien­ist, thank the lord.  Instead some fam­i­lies have come.  Missy’s moth­er has seen fit to join us, for exam­ple, for which we also thank the lord.  Missy is prone to fits, not seizures, but spates of uncon­trol­lable anger where­in she swears and tries to ram peo­ple with her wheel­chair.   Some, not all, of these melt­downs have to do with whether her moth­er shows up or not.  Her moth­er:  one of those senior women who tries to look younger than she is.  I am not fooled, though some may be.  Tonight her nails are paint­ed black and her dyed red hair is cut in bangs across her fore­head the bet­ter to hide her wrin­kles.  She sits next to Missy and they are hug­ging and kiss­ing.  Now Missy has got her moth­er in a head­lock and is pulling her to her chest.  The moth­er looks awk­ward in this arrange­ment, not least because her dis­turb­ing cleav­age is sud­den­ly vis­i­ble, on dis­play for all to see, I say out loud, only because it’s true.   Who wants to see that?

I see she has brought Missy a bag of gifts, one of which is the straw fedo­ra not quite fit­ting Missy’s big head.   Missy was the vic­tim of a brain injury and is the youngest res­i­dent.    She her­self claims she is the youngest by “a good sev­en­ty five years”—quote-unquote, mean­ing to amuse us.  Missy has no short term mem­o­ry, but she is con­sid­ered wit­ty.

As a writer, I have many sto­ries to tell about this place, not the least of which is the sto­ry of Missy and her moth­er.  Not real­ly a sto­ry, per se, but char­ac­ters who could be in a sto­ry, when I com­pose the sto­ry.   Our teacher reminds us (and I am remem­ber­ing!) that sto­ries have to be about some­thing; they have to have ten­sion.   So be it.  I pick up my pen.

Daniel

To steady my nerves, I nip into the Safeway, pro­cure a pint of Jack, guz­zle-up, stash in glove com­part­ment, have sec­ond thoughts, re-stash in gig bag.  Then I betake myself across the way where “one man in his time plays many parts.”

Although I am the offi­cial pianist for the Immaculate Heart of Mary Elementary School, I am not a gig­ger.    In a lit­tle while (22 and a half min­utes)  it will be just me in the spot­light, all eyes trained my way, the ring of applause, per­haps some nos­tal­gic weep­ing on the part of the old­sters, peo­ple in wheel­chairs like Aunt Joan.  And me, singing and play­ing like Frank Sinatra, though Sinatra nev­er played as far as I know.

I owe it all to Aunt Joan, she who insist­ed they hire me since she is liv­ing back in the past cen­tu­ry, way far back in her poor dement­ed brain, and, along with the shears she remem­bers my moth­er try­ing to stab her with when they were teenagers, is also stuck there a cer­tain event at the com­mu­ni­ty cen­ter where­in I played a solo piano piece and sang a song with the mid­dle school orches­tra.

I think a brain must be like a ginor­mous apart­ment com­plex you encounter in a dream where all the rooms are inside one anoth­er.   To get from one room to the next are ran­dom cor­ri­dors like worm holes and most of the time, knock wood, they lead you to the place you had in mind.  But some­times they don’t.  I’m sure my aunt had not planned to be trapped wher­ev­er she is, in that era of god knows, Dwight D. Eisenhower, but there she is nonethe­less, hav­ing some­how tak­en a wrong turn, wound up in a place she was not meant to return to, and fall­en asleep.

Neurotransmitter.  A word I like the sound of because it calls to mind an old fash­ioned radio and the father­ly voice of an announc­er back when life was pleas­ant.

There are many like my Aunt Joan in this place, this home for the who­ev­er they call them­selves these days to be polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect, and now as I sign my name and receive my visitor’s badge which I clip to my tie, I real­ize my hand is trem­bling.  Nerves again.  More guz­zle ups required.  I am not, by nature, a per­former, I am more some­one who accom­pa­nies class­room after class­room of inat­ten­tive, despi­ca­ble chil­dren.   Who knows this may be the begin­ning of a whole new me?

Missy’s Mom

Oh look, we are to have enter­tain­ment, says Missy’s moth­er to Missy.  That small man with the mous­tache is set­ting his up his ampli­fi­er on the piano and look, now he’s plug­ging in a micro­phone.   And now, you should real­ly turn around, he’s scratch­ing his butt, he doesn’t think any­one is watch­ing.  God help us, says Missy.  Despite the fedo­ra bal­anced per­ilous­ly on her head, she is look­ing espe­cial­ly beau­ti­ful with her hair pulled back in a black plas­tic claw and wear­ing wood­en ear­rings shaped like leaves.   I know, says her moth­er, do you sup­pose he’s men­tal­ly ill since he keeps scratch­ing the butt?  And now, he’s pac­ing in back of the piano and let’s face it there is not much room for pac­ing.  Oh now he’s sit­ting down and blow­ing into the micro­phone, now he’s up again fid­dling in that bag for some­thing, maybe his crack pipe.   Do you sup­pose that’s a fake mous­tache?  He can’t seem to sit still—it’s all the crack.  I guess they’ve hired a tiny men­tal­ly defi­cient dope fiend to play the piano tonight for every­one.  I myself plan to cov­er my ears.  Shall I turn you around yet?

Missy thinks her moth­er is hilar­i­ous and so she laughs until her face gets very red and Missy’s mom loves when that hap­pens so she keeps it up.   I dare you to go up and offer him a can­dy, says Missy’s mom.  Maybe he’ll ask you on a date.  I’ll do it, how much will you give me, says Missy, laugh­ing.  A mil­lion bil­lion dol­lars minus nine hun­dred nin­ty nine bil­lion mil­lion.

The mom has giv­en Missy a card, a heart-shaped box con­tain­ing five choco­lates and some blue ear­rings, as well as the fedo­ra.  The hat and the ear­rings are re-gift­ings, culled from the mom’s store of pos­ses­sions.  The hat still had the tag and this wor­ries the mom who thinks she may be head­ing into hoard­erism.  One of the signs of a hoard­er is buy­ing things and for­get­ting you bought them and/or leav­ing them in bags all over the house and/or not remov­ing tags for years since nev­er worn.  Yikes.  Unlikely as it is, she has a per­sis­tent fear that the hoard­er tv peo­ple will one day show up with their crew and want to tele­vise her glut of mean­ing­less, for­got­ten, still-tagged and bagged pur­chas­es.

Missy is dig­ging into the box of five truf­fles, var­i­ous­ly shaped.  Mom eats two, one of which is an orange cream.     The hoard­ing and the com­pul­sive eat­ing are the same pathol­o­gy, she mus­es, as the deli­cious choco­late cov­ered orange cream fills her mouth.   She wish­es she had pur­chased a big­ger box.  Maybe a stop on the way home is in order.  What about the piano dude, should we offer him a sweet­ie?  says the mom.   I think not, says Missy, laugh­ing at the word “sweet­ie.”

Mary Beth

Joan sits in her wheel­chair and smiles so know­ing and wise a smile that any­one would swear she were com­pos men­tis.     That she has not, for a long while, been com­pos men­tis must be weird to those who knew her way back when, one of whom must be Daniel her nephew, who she does not recall, even though he just greet­ed her duti­ful­ly with a kiss on the cheek.   To the kiss she gave no response except to swat peev­ish­ly at her own face, as if at a mos­qui­to.

There’s Daniel, I say, turn­ing her chair so that she can see him set­ting his sheets of music on the piano.  There he is! I say again, point­ing.  Joan looks away and down at her plate of cook­ies, one of which she has begun to devour method­i­cal­ly, nib­bling around the edges like a mouse until there is noth­ing left but crumbs on her fin­gers.  Not too many, dear, I say out of habit.  She has snow white hair that she wears short and wavy which makes her look youth­ful, I always tell her.  After all, she is not that old, only maybe 70.  It’s hard to tell with some of these, part­ly because they have in a way stopped advanc­ing and so are stunt­ed some­where back when they were advanc­ing.   That’s not a very nice way of putting it, “advanc­ing,” said my hus­band when I shared this the­o­ry with him.  Well, he is not a trained pro­fes­sion­al.   Also he has not met Missy who is forty some­thing and looks sev­en­teen.  The truth hurts.

Joan is giv­ing Missy a thumbs up re the fedo­ra.  Missy nods, grate­ful for the com­pli­ment.  They are not com­plete­ly gone, this lot, thank the lord, they still have man­ners and some form of where­with­al, though the where­with­al part is dimin­ished.  Tragically.    I think I will write about the fedo­ra, since we are told that specifics always make a sto­ry come to life.  I will call it the “jaun­ty fedo­ra” and I will omit the part about it not fit­ting.

Oh look, dear, I say to Joan, there is your Daniel get­ting ready to play some­thing.  Look he is sit­ting on the piano bench, oh no, he is up now and get­ting some books to sit on.  Was he always so short?

Daniel

I sup­pose this is to be expect­ed, this clus­ter of inmates—can one say inmates?–, not your usu­al per­son in the street, I can tell you that.  The most nor­mal ones are that pret­ty blond and her boyfriend or hus­band with the han­dle­bar mous­tache and the check­ered shirt, prob­a­bly relat­ed to that mor­bid­ly obese woman in the wheel­chair.  That woman has a mouse-col­ored braid run­ning down the back of her head like Fu Manchu and a stretched unpleas­ant face.    Her friend or sis­ter, the high­ly attrac­tive blond, holds the rose on her lap, as if she were Miss America, and turns her chair so that she is fac­ing me, The Entertainment.   Her hus­band or boyfriend with the han­dle­bar mous­tache also turns his chair, so now that whole table is fac­ing me and wait­ing for me to start.  It is not time yet, I want to tell them.  Look at the clock.  I have been hired to play at 5:30, People, not 5:20 or 5:25.    My hands are sweat­ing.

At the next table sit two women, a very young one with a sweet face and freck­les wear­ing a hat and a red-head­ed old­er woman who is half-naked and talk­ing loud­ly as if her friend were deaf.  Perhaps they are les­bians.  All they do is laugh, kiss and eat, these two, and I am keep­ing my fin­gers crossed that they will not be dis­rup­tive.  Another guz­zle up of Jack would be just the thing to calm me down.

Then there’s Joan and her care­giv­er of the evening, Mary Beth, who has the small­est eyes I’ve ever seen on a human and is wear­ing a tru­ly hideous red sweater and some kind of coör­di­nat­ing head­gear.  Joan is eat­ing cook­ies and Mary Beth is star­ing at me with those tiny bul­let hole eyes of hers.   I’m not sure what to make of that.  Perhaps she thinks I’m attrac­tive.

I am attrac­tive.  There are many women, past and present, who have thought so.   I have large, soul­ful eyes, a dap­per mous­tache and, despite my small­ish stature, I pos­sess a good-sized sch­long.  The sch­long has been an asset on many occa­sions.

Should I grow a han­dle­bar?  And pur­chase one of those belt buck­les like the blonde’s hus­band or boyfriend?   That blonde is a babe and she is look­ing at me.  You can always tell when a woman is intrigued.  But it is not 5:30.  The obese, incar­cer­at­ed rel­a­tive of the blonde is shov­ing cake into her mouth and the hus­band or boyfriend of the blonde is stand­ing up show­ing off that belt buck­le which is embossed with a pick­up truck I can see from here.  He is not as hand­some as I am, by a long shot. His sch­long is like­ly medi­um-sized.

Missy’s Mom

Five foot two, eyes of blue, coochie-coochie-coochie coo, sings Missy’s mom to the music.   She has turned Missy around and they hold hands while singing.  Missy has not been blessed with a good singing voice, but she sings loud­ly any­way, and the mom who believes she has been blessed with an excel­lent voice also sings loud­ly.   Between us, we are wreak­ing hav­oc, says the mom.  It’s our favorite thing to do, agrees Missy.

That piano play­er plays a one-two-three-four rhythm with each song; it’s annoy­ing, says the mom. It’s as if he were play­ing for a group of kinder­garten­ers.

Which in fact he is, says Missy, with a sly grin.  Missy doesn’t miss a beat either.

Missy and her moth­er sing Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey and when they get to the part about the fine-toothed comb, Missy’s mom inter­jects:  Do you sup­pose Bill Bailey had lice?  Missy laughs.

They are always laugh­ing because Missy’s mom believes that the more they laugh they more they have a shot at staving off their sor­row, which is a deep well.  A Deep Well of Sorrow is how Missy’s mom express­es it.   During most days, she repeats this phrase com­pul­sive­ly, think­ing that to name it A Deep Well of Sorrow will have the effect of mak­ing the well of sor­row less deep or less sor­row­ful.   Missy who will not remem­ber that her moth­er vis­it­ed.  Missy who can no longer write her name.

Mary Beth

Daniel is in full swing, pound­ing out the oldies but good­ies. “ Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” at the moment.  Joan smil­ing, Ray tap­ping the side of his nose with one fin­ger, fat Pamela rock­ing in her chair.  Missy and her mom scream­ing I don’t care if I ever come back and some of us would like to tell them to put a sock in it, if you know that expres­sion.  My hus­band says it some­times:  Put a sock in it!  As if I have extra socks around to stuff into my own mouth.  Ha ha.

My hus­band:  he is home at the moment parked in front of Law and Order, as is his wont.   I hate that show.  I hate that skin­ny girl and I hate her bald-head­ed part­ner and the fact that they all talk in the same gloomy voice.  What’s so hot about real life?  I want to say.  But then I remem­ber where I’m com­ing from, this place and its one-card-short-of-a-full-deck pop­u­la­tion.  I can just hear­ing him say­ing, That’s not a very kind way of putting it.  Mr. Law and Order.  But I am a writer.  We have to be hon­est.

Wake up Joan, I say, because now her head has fall­en for­ward and she’s clos­ing her eyes.     Say what you want, but in this world, in the world I most­ly inhab­it, which is here in this place because my shifts are long, peo­ple do more or less exact­ly what they feel like doing, which I admire.   Wake up, dear, I say any­way, and I shake her shoul­der.

Daniel

Blue Moon/ You saw me stand­ing alone/ with­out a dream in my heart/ with­out a love of my own.  I am in splen­did voice tonight, if I do say so.  I aim my words at the blond woman who has begun to fin­ger her rose, tear­ing at the out­er petals.   The only draw­back is that my sheets of music are in keys for the chil­dren at Immaculate Heart of Mary and so a few times I am unable to hit a note.  What do they want for $35?

That rose must be slow­ly dying is the thought that occurs to me in the mid­dle of the song.     This is such a sur­pris­ing and unwel­come idea that I stop singing and let the piano take over.  We are all dying.  The rose is just a man­i­fes­ta­tion of what’s hap­pen­ing every sec­ond to me you every­one.  I am sweat­ing now on the fore­head.

The hus­band or boyfriend or who­ev­er he is and his blonde are hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion and laugh­ing with their heads togeth­er and for a minute I think they’re laugh­ing at me.   At the next table the les­bian cou­ple are singing loud­ly, even though I myself have stopped singing.   Those two know all the words, with­out a dream in my heart, with­out a love of my own. There’s a part of me, if I’m hon­est, that would like to smash their homo­sex­u­al heads togeth­er until they crack like eggs and all their brain goo spills out over their clothes but since, along with the rest of us, they are doomed any­way I don’t both­er over­much with this fan­ta­sy, admit­ted­ly mor­bid.

Daniel, why are you so mor­bid?  I can hear my moth­er say­ing.  Because I’ve always had a mor­bid streak.  Perhaps that is why I don’t have a girl­friend.  Correction:  I have had very suc­cess­ful sex­u­al inter­course from time to time but those girl­friends have fall­en off.  People tend to fall off you, Daniel, I can hear my moth­er say.  My moth­er:  Dead.  Aunt Joan:  Bonkers.    Who’s falling off now, Ma?

Missy’s Mom

In her real life, her life away from Missy, Missy’s moth­er is not near­ly so cheer­ful and fun­ny.    Why is that?   In truth, being with Missy wears her out.  Keeping Missy laugh­ing wears her out.  At home, Missy’s mom col­laps­es onto her bed, exhaust­ed as if after a per­for­mance.  She doesn’t even take off her shoes.  But here, wag­ing war with the Deep Well of Sorrow (DWS), in the trench­es with it, so to speak, and armed to the teeth, she is gen­uine­ly hap­py.  The sweet cho­rus of freck­les on Missy’s shoul­ders makes her hap­py and hold­ing Missy’s bad hand—they call it the bad hand because it’s par­a­lyzed– makes her hap­py.   The bad hand is warm and soft, as opposed to the good hand, which is damp.  In the past, before the acci­dent, Missy’s hands were always clam­my and Missy’s mom would tell her they felt nasty, even as she held them.  They always held hands, those two.  Before and after, the hand hold­ing per­sist­ed.   Persists.

Well, what do you think?  Missy’s mom asks Missy.  Boyfriend mate­r­i­al or not?  Not, says Missy.  I don’t like a man with a mous­tache.    But such spright­ly play­ing would be a plus, no?    I think he’s more your type, says Missy, laugh­ing.  You could drown him out with your stu­pen­dous voice.  Bitch, says Missy’s mom.

For din­ner, Missy has ordered her mom a piece of salmon and her­self some chick­en cor­don bleu.   The cor­don blue looks like a kitchen sponge and the salmon like a club foot garbed in a soiled ath­let­ic sock.   I think pos­si­bly the chef has been over­ly ambi­tious, says the mom.   Oh eat it and shut up, says Missy affa­bly.

At home, Missy’s mom sub­sists on rye toast and can­dies.  It is the DWS, she tells her­self.  Her shop­ping may also be due to the DWS.  She shops as if in a dream, cast­ing about in stores for some­thing to take home, speed­ing through aisles with her cart, as if she were a par­tic­i­pant in that tv con­test where who­ev­er stuffs her cart with the most things in 20 min­utes wins a prize.     Only the real­ly repel­lent item is off-lim­its, every­thing else is fair game:  pothold­ers, cans of gin­ger snaps, tee shirts with glit­ter,  high heel san­dals she will nev­er ever wear.  Ditto the coral lip­stick and the vio­let eye shad­ow, the rum balls (hates rum), the yel­low patent leather overnight bag—how cute is that?–but she nev­er goes any­where except to vis­it Missy or to meet Missy some­where for an out­ing.

Mary Beth

At the next table Missy’s mom is pok­ing at her food with her fork as if it were a dead ani­mal.  Well I guess it is a dead ani­mal, but geez, we do try our best here and we don’t need some smar­ty pants look­ing down her nose at what we try our best to do for them and theirs.  Perfectly good salmon with hol­landaise, you couldn’t do any bet­ter at the Olive Garden.

Of course Pamela con­sumes all.    Her own cor­don bleu as well as her sister’s salmon. Pamela is on a restrict­ed diet but she finds ways around it, goes off next door to the Safeway and stock­piles cook­ies and cup­cakes in her under­wear draw­er.  Do not think we don’t know this, Pamela.   Missy is not allowed to go to the Safeway unac­com­pa­nied.  When her moth­er comes, off they go togeth­er, but alone she is prone to wan­der and for­get on account of her short term mem­o­ry deficit.  We’ve installed an alarm on her chair in case she gets it into her head to go to the Safeway unat­tend­ed, but she hates the alarm and some­times the alarm is the sig­nal for Missy to have a melt­down.   You learn all the ins and outs of these peo­ple, all the ups and downs of their idio­syn­crasies and moods and toi­let­ing habits.  Which I am plan­ning to incor­po­rate into a fun­ny sto­ry enti­tled “Get Me Off this F___king Toilet,” which is an actu­al quote from Missy.

Just now Joan lurch­es in her chair and lets out one of her famous moans.  I can see it has made Daniel stum­ble on the piano keys.  He looks up and blinks his eyes a few times, then stops play­ing, mops his fore­head with a hand­ker­chief.    I’m think­ing he is prob­a­bly hun­gry and maybe I should order him up a plate of food, he might want to eat a snack before going on since he is sweat­ing a lit­tle, maybe feel­ing faint from lack of food.  And all around him peo­ple eat­ing and saw­ing their chick­en cor­don bleu and lick­ing up the hol­landaise on the salmon.  Must be hell for him.  I am like that.  I feel for oth­ers.

But when I go up he says no, no food, but wants to know, in re to the hum­ming­bird in my fas­ci­na­tor, is that a real stuffed bird?   Then requests a bath­room break.

Daniel

In the stall I remove the Jack from gig bag and guz­zle up.  Burns going down and if I’m hon­est I have to admit that even at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Elementary School, I some­times nip into the Boys for a guz­zle up.  It is calm­ing to me.  The chil­dren are often rau­cous, which gets on my nerves, but here with this brood, who are not rau­cous, the prob­lem is hav­ing to look around, hav­ing to fill up eyes with the spec­ta­cle of inmates.  Not big-eyed sec­ond graders with hair plas­tered on fore­heads and chirpy voic­es who when you say shut up you could hear pins drop, but hunched over and moan­ing fat­ties or cra­zies, star­ing into space, or eat­ing with hands, thump­ing on table out of time with music or because requir­ing more food, it’s hard to say which and to say shut up to these.

An addi­tion­al guz­zle up of Jack, oh yes, and now in the mir­ror I admire my mous­tache and am glad again for choos­ing to sprout one, which was not always the case.   Without a mous­tache I am less attrac­tive there being a lack of upper lip, as my moth­er often informed me.  No upper lip just like your dad, true, gave me a look that made peo­ple go off me.

I am already plan­ning my finale of songs to include I Wish You Love and Moon River and  Old Black Joe for the African Americans in the audi­ence.  But no My Funny Valentine, since I don’t know that one, sad but true.

Missy’s Mom

Missy’s mom leans over and asks if she has to pee because just yes­ter­day there was an inci­dent.  I’m wear­ing a brief, Missy whis­pers to her mom.

Missy was wear­ing a brief yes­ter­day, too, and they were at the nail salon run by the Asian women who had always been so kind to them.  Always hold­ing the door so Missy’s mom could push Missy inside, always allow­ing mom to hold Missy’s bad hand open for the pol­ish, which was hard on the mom’s back hav­ing to bend over Missy’s shoul­der and forc­ing the bad hand open and hold­ing it still for what felt like an eter­ni­ty so the pol­ish would not get ruined.  But this day, yes­ter­day, in the mid­dle of the afore­men­tioned pro­ceed­ings, appeared a pud­dle under Missy’s wheel­chair and the Asian ladies nor­mal­ly so kind and friend­ly, became sud­den­ly dis­tressed and hor­ri­fied.  And Missy’s mom ran to fetch paper tow­els out of the ladies room dis­penser but the hand­ful of thin paper tow­els were no match for the steam­ing pud­dle of pee that had poured from Missy onto the floor.   So to no avail did Missy’s mom on hands and knees in front of oth­er nail cus­tomers try to swab up Missy’s pee, hands get­ting all full of pee.  Missy say­ing sor­ry sor­ry to every­one and every­one, mean­ing the Asian ladies, say­ing noth­ing but becom­ing in the face more and more frozen-look­ing, the nail oper­a­tion halt­ed, the imple­ments gath­ered up, the lit­tle bowl of warm water with the glass balls in it, tak­en to the sink, etc.

The Asian ladies now mak­ing a motion with their hands, as if waft­ing a stray dog out into the street from whence it came, at the same time hold­ing the door for Missy and her mom to leave.  We get mop, you go, one whis­pered to the mom and this one smiled show­ing all her teeth, like a jack­al, thought the mom.  Sorry, said the mom again, push­ing Missy out­side.  Sorry, said Missy again.  And Missy all wet down the front of her pink slacks and the mom put her own jack­et on Missy’s lap to hide the mess.

Once in the park­ing lot and wait­ing for Handicar, Missy has already for­got­ten the episode, the Asian ladies, even her incom­plete and ruined laven­der man­i­cure strikes her as per­haps some­thing she chose for effect.  The mom, on the oth­er hand, feels the DWS ris­ing up and, as soon as the Handicar has fetched Missy, she plans to appease severe­ly ris­ing DWS by cruis­ing down the aisles of Ross Dress For Less.

And just then they see in the dis­tance an old friend wear­ing a straw fedo­ra, not unlike the one fruit­less­ly occu­py­ing a shelf in Missy’s mom’s clos­et.  And because Missy’s long term mem­o­ry has not been affect­ed by her acci­dent, she cries, Robert! –so over­joyed to see him that her eyes brim with tears.  I like your hat!  And Robert kiss­es each of them on their cheeks and they all chat as they wait for Handicar, Missy still with the mom’s jack­et cov­er­ing the wet spot on her pants.

Where are you liv­ing now, Sweetheart? An inno­cent enough ques­tion posed to Missy by Robert.   And Missy, who can’t remem­ber that she peed on the floor of the nail salon or the look on the Asian ladies’ faces or her own repeat­ed heart­felt apolo­gies or why in the world she is hold­ing her mom’s jack­et on her lap, Missy will quip, dead­pan:  At a resort.

~

Karen Brennan Ph.D. is the author of sev­en books of vary­ing gen­res includ­ing poet­ry col­lec­tions Here on Earth (1989) and The Real Enough World (2006), both from Wesleyan University Press; AWP Award-win­ning short fic­tion Wild Desire (1990), U Mass Press; The Garden in Which I Walk (2005), Fiction Collective 2; a mem­oir, Being with Rachel (2001) Norton, and poems, lit­tle dark, (2014), Four Way Books. “Home is Where the Heart Is” is from the sto­ry col­lec­tion, Monsters, forth­com­ing from Four Way Books.   Her fic­tion, poet­ry and non­fic­tion has appeared in antholo­gies from Norton, Penguin, Graywolf, Spuytin Duyvil, Michigan and Georgia, among oth­ers. A National Endowment of the Arts recip­i­ent, she is Professor Emerita at the University of Utah and teach­es at the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.