By DB Troester
Someone’s been coming in here and eating my butter, taking it for grilled cheese or toast or a hard roll. Love it on toast or waffles, rye bread, pancakes, melted on Cream of Wheat. Mmm, every Sunday, gobs of creamy butter. Those were days. I can just see that lackey spreading my butter on toast or English muffins, dropping crumbs on my floor, licking his fingers and wiping them on my drapes, touching my things. Sprawling on my bed and getting crumbs on my duvet. Going through my closet. That explains the dress on the floor. Using my toilet. No wonder my roll’s half gone. Have to count the squares. Taking note of every object in the room so he can leave everything just as he found it, fluffing my pillows, pulling the duvet tight and brushing away the crumbs, leaving everything just so.
For heaven’s sake, knock on someone else’s door and let a lady linger in bed on Sunday. A man with matted black hair pokes in his head, smiles and walks to the window. Keep your grubby fingers off my drapes. Maybe I like it dark, maybe I like lying in bed on Sunday. Thinks I don’t remember, but I remember. Steals my butter, probably sticks a couple pats in his mouth and sucks them. I’d buy him butter for Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanza or whatever holiday he celebrates. I’d get it for his birthday. But no, comes in here and steals mine. I see right through your shifty smile, Charlie.
She’s looking kinda mean today. I better get her meds before she starts slapping. Can’t take another shift like that. It ain’t right to restrain old ladies, not right at all. I'll keep my eyes on the tray this time. Heather said screw her if she dumps it, screw her if she don’t take her pills, just don’t feed the bitch. I couldn’t starve an old lady who don’t know no better. Heather’s the only bitch around here. Supervisor my ass! Doesn’t know left from right. No one suffers more than the residents and me. Hard work, feeding and toileting old folks, changing wet sheets, getting slapped, restraining old ladies. Sad business. All of them just sitting around waiting to die. Can’t even die in peace, not with some ignorant supervisor making it worse for everyone. Don’t know why they linger. Never does no good for no one. One day I’ll get me a real job and won’t have to see old folks waste away. Poor Stella needs to get out of this room, get some human contact. Haven’t seen that bleach-blonde bimbo in weeks, forgets her own momma. He takes a paper cup from the dispenser, fills it at the bathroom sink and sets it on her nightstand. He grabs another cup from his cart.
There he goes putting his grubby fingers on everything. God knows where those paws have been. Steals my cups, smudges my faucet, wipes his hands on my drapes. Can’t a woman stay in bed on Sunday? Totters in here with that gap-toothed smirk, putting his grubby fingers on everything. Don’t think I don’t know, Charlie. Come in here all nice and friendly. Don’t think I don’t know you’re messing with my things. Butter thief. I’m watching you real close.
He reaches gently to pull back her duvet and she clenches it with her hands. “It’s all right, Stella. I just wanna help. We got a fine breakfast today, Cream of Wheat, your favorite.” She squints and releases the duvet: Don’t think for a moment I’m taking my eyes off you. He helps her to sit and swing her feet to the floor, and holds out the first paper cup and rattles two pills. She frowns, takes the cup and raises it to her lips. He hands her the water and she takes a sip. He watches the pills move slowly within her spindly neck and prompts her to take another drink.
Those meds are gonna kill her if she don’t die of crazy first. I should ask Heather if they make them liquid. Shit, she don’t know nothing. Don’t never leave the nurses’ station and always on the phone with her old man. A resident could be dying and she’d be like: Let me put you on hold, Reggie, one of my clients just keeled over. How she got to be supervisor, I’ll never know. He gets down on one knee, grabs Stella’s open-toed slippers and places them on her feet. He holds out his arm and helps her to stand and she shuffles toward the bathroom. He places her pillows on the chair next to her bed and begins to strip the sheets. Must of been something, a real beauty once, judging from that photo: Good looking couple. Time done took its toll on poor Stella. Sad business, old gal like that just needs more contact. Maybe her daughter will show up today — and maybe I’ll win the lottery. I could wheel her down to the craft room, make some jewelry, play bingo, have herself a fine time. Staying in this room is gonna kill her.
She reaches the bathroom and looks at Charlie over her shoulder. Keep your hands off my pillows and don’t touch my sheets. Come in here and yank me out of bed on a Sunday. Can’t a poor woman stay in bed on Sunday? The bathroom door closes behind her and she sits on the toilet and examines the roll. Touches my things, manhandles my duvet, promises breakfast, Sunday breakfast. I remember. Don’t think I don’t, all that creamy butter, no-good thief, leaves me alone. She hears him through the bathroom door: “Be back in a minute, Stella.”
She finishes her business and totters to her closet. Someone’s messed up my order, mixed my colored blouses with my whites. Can’t keep his hands off my things. She takes a light blue housecoat and puts it on over her nightgown and lowers herself into a vinyl recliner.
“Here we are, Stella,” he says, rolling a cart into her room. Oh no, not again. Some kitchen flunky don’t read the meal chart and next think you know, her cholesterol is through the roof. I can hear Heather already: Why you feeding butter to that old lady? No-good supervisor, don’t never do her job and monitor meals, then goes and blames me. Wouldn’t lift a finger if her life depended on it, much less Stella’s. He snatches four restaurant-style pats and closes his hand around them. I’ll just set that spoon in her hand and let her do the rest. “Charlie, I need you in 205,” a voice blurts from the talkie on his belt. He looks at Stella, who dips her spoon into the bowl and slowly slurps the Cream of Wheat. He unfolds a napkin on her lap, and she smiles a wide grin. “On my way,” he replies into the talkie.
Steals my butter right in front of me on a Sunday, then leaves me here all alone, just me in this empty old house. What’s Cream of Wheat without butter? Cream of nothing, cream of no one. Steals my breakfast in bed and leaves me all alone without any butter for my Cream of Wheat. Where have you gone? I need butter, gobs of creamy, melted butter, maybe a soft-boiled egg, all warm and runny. By God, he loved those eggs every Sunday with Cream of Wheat and butter, toast, breakfast in bed. Those were fine days, one hell of a man, leaves me here. Frank, where’d you go?
“Oh Stella, I can’t turn my back for a minute.” Now I gotta clean this mess and get you more breakfast. I shoulda known better. I”ll have to
feed you by hand, thirty minutes at least. Late on my rounds. Sad business. Oh Stella, what the living hell is going on in your head?