|We also took pictures in the big curved mirror.|
I used to make slight fun of an old lady who walked her big dog and seemed to address all comers—the world at large—by way of her dog’s implied persona. She would speak to people only by speaking to him: “Say HI, Murphy. Tell him he’s doing a good job, but he should salt the sidewalks with something that’s friendly to doggie paws!”
Now I sometimes do the same thing with a baby: “Say bye-bye! Okay, baby, here we go.”
We gathered at a nursing home in Marionville for the death of my wife’s grandmother. It happened very quickly, while everyone was in transit. All we could do was see her too late, with a washcloth rolled under her chin, failing to keep her mouth from falling open. Once more, Baby Penelope saw her great-grandma, Rose Mary, for whom she is middle-named: Rose, then touched her face which no longer looked quite like anyone, certainly not like someone alive only minutes earlier. Then, a family talking, and not much to hold a baby in check. We would take a walk. “Let’s go look at the birds.”
The place smelled worse, in room-by-room pockets, than ever before. I sometimes tell myself that the biting chemical agents they use to mask the urine and dying are actually worse than the urine and the dying, but I could be wrong. I was not there before someone deployed the chemicals. Most rooms silent but for TV. Passed one dark room where a seated, dementia-haunted lady accused no one: “I do not love you!” As guaranteed by the laws of womanhood, every nurse and wheelchairbound old gal in the hall took a shine to the baby I toted, commenting delightedly, sometimes reaching out toward her the same way the baby reaches for food or toys.
We hit the universal relief-zone in the building, a broad entryway with large padded chairs, brochures, and birds: several flighty finches and two meek doves in a big cage with a glass front. One assumes that the birds are there for the residents to enjoy, but I’ve never seen a single elderly person paying them any attention. By default, they are there to entertain visitors, who can say, “At least they have these pretty birds.” Possibly, the seniors there avoid the birds out of pity, as they have a way of shivering in terror, then zipping to the far end of their six-foot chamber with heart-attack desperation if onlookers move.
Eventually depleting the bird diversion, we wandered back, explored the vacant cafeteria, considered pumping soft-serve ice cream out of a dispenser, thought better of it, then braved the hall again. Felt lucky not to encounter the nurse who looks to be 30 but with a raspy 70-year-old hillfolk-voice who will greet Penelope, then touch her skin-to-skin with no germ precautions.
Turning a corner, we rediscovered Mike’s bulletin board: a collection of cartoon art from the markers of small children, except it is all signed by Mike. We have enjoyed his art a few times before. Today we would meet Mike.
We leaned into a big room with Andy Griffith on a large TV. This was actually the same room where we had recently celebrated Rose Mary’s 90th birthday, but it was now cleared of all furniture and dotted with Valentine’s decorations. I considered the baby-mollifying potential in getting closer to the TV. In the middle of the room stood a guy watching Andy Griffith, loosely. He immediately sensed our presence and headed our way.
He was grinning and saying something, and the word “baby” was the only word I caught. He looked to be older than me, but his face bore the unusual combo of mature age over the rather childlike features of a classic Down Syndrome dude. I believe he also had some unfortunate toothlessness, giving his grin a sort of disturbing quality, like Blaster unmasked after Mad Max defeated him in the Thunderdome. With a little shame, I admit that I momentarily worried he might scare the baby; to my relief, she took him in stride and bounced him back some smiley teef.
“Yeah, baby…” I said, and some other generics like, “This is a nice room,” and “You’re havin’ fun.” The guy unloaded a solid 10-20 syllable sentence that went right by me. Then he said something that was definitely a question. After some awkward, smiling pauses where I didn’t know what to say because I couldn’t decipher a lick of what he said, he took a step closer, looked me square in the face and said with some concern, “You need to shave.”
I smiled and said, “Yeah, it’s definitely time for me to shave.” He must have said the “primer” or coughed up the Rosetta pebble, because then I began to grok him better—at least, well enough to translate when he said, “Did you look at my art? That’s my art by the door.” Oh, this was Mike! I kind of wanted to go discuss some of the pieces with him, especially the totally bizarre Spider-Man with no torso. But I didn’t know how to approach that, so I kept using Penelope as a social buffer. I lifted her up to some spiral-y Valentine hearts-on-helixes, letting her reach for them, and blowing on them for delightful rotation. She dug ‘em. Mike and I both reviewed her enjoyment with pleased monosyllabics. I had to keep her from actually grabbing the decorations, though, because she likes nothing better than to abuse and devour anything in the paper family. Luckily, I am still more spatially clever than she; I was able to keep her from destroying anything, while still providing her the buzzy feeling of near-grab-and-shred. She got a little revenge by getting ahold of my glasses once, which gives her brief but total power.
Mike said “cute baby” in various verbal casseroles. I switched Penelope to floor routine—in this case, planting her feet on top of mine and holding her hands while baby-stepping. Human exo-suit. This took us across the room, nearer to an open door of an office. Inside, a lady working at a desk heard Mike telling her to look, it was a baby!
“Is that Penelope Rose?” asked the lady. “I know ALL about her from her great-grandma! Oh, she was so excited about that little girl.” The lady kept on task and did not emerge from her office, but she clearly had a handle on the local denizens and lore. She was probably responsible for requisitioning the top-drawer lettering above the bulletin board that made Mike look like a big wheel: “ART WORK BY MIKE WALTON.”
Soon came a text from my wife, wondering where we were. “There’s your mom calling,” I said. “Say bye-bye!” I puppeteered baby’s hand for a round of bye-bye action, and we hit the mean streets.
|If someday I must be mercied into a home, please let it have menu literacy.|