by Ginnah Howard

 Ruth carries

always a small bottle of

nitroglycerin; and tissues, wads of

tissues; two Tums (for calcium, she tells me),

Tic-Tacs in a little plastic box that snaps; often several

Smith Brothers Lemon Licorice Throat Drops. Pocket portage:

pajamas to robe to sweater. Mornings, beneath her pillows, I find

these nested, plus, a butterscotch ball; her bedside flashlight; for under

her breast where it itches, baby powder—Giant-sized with Cornstarch—though the list for her daughter said small, so Ruth could manage it better prone, in the dark. Maybe I can just dump some on the sheet and roll in it, she says.

Ruth resists

bathing and changes of

her Cuddl thermal bottoms.

Her daughters have abandoned all

hope of showers. Ruth hasn't said No (No

is not how she does it), but any bath-manipulations

hunker down her jaw, dead-weight her round-bellied body,

and, given her bathroom, it would take me and her night lady both

to step her up over the tub and lower her down onto the rubber seat of

the stool, and one of us to get in there to hoist her back to standing. The

main in-charge daughter tells me they're backing off on personal hygiene, but

could I perhaps dampen her hair with a washcloth, then give it a touch with the

curling iron. When I suggest to Ruth perhaps the dirty clothes for her pajamas after a week she says, Why I've never been so clean.


Ruth desires

horseradish mustard,

pickle relish, ginger sauce.

She hills these little pick-me-ups

around the edges of her Meals on Wheels,

the mounds of Swiss steak and carrots, rhrrrred

to mush in the new little chopper—her dentures lost

two months ago, the night her husband of sixty years died.

More maple syrup on your oatmeal, more honey in your tea.

Yes, oh yes. Sweets and the local newspaper. Much is a blur,

but print, squinched at through just the right part of her bifocals, fills

her morning. She reads me random headlines while I iron: Man Charged

With Cow Neglect, and random phrases: finally a cure for the common cold.

We both agree we are not going to follow the story about the baby abused at his daycare. And greeting cards: Ruth has dozens for every occasion. For years she's been the Sunshine person for her D.A.R. I say, We might be able to go to their luncheons.  Oh no, she says, finally I have an excuse.


Ruth worries

about her daughters:

driving at night, using a

riding mower. Things men

do that aren't safe for women.

Be careful, she tells them. Do you

think you should try that? Her daughters,

nearing sixty, look heavenward. And she worries

about catching something: pneumonia or flu, regards

me with suspicion if I cough or sneeze. Her daughters

worry about her feet: poor circulation. For Christmas she

got a little foot whirlpool. Could I toothbrush her toes? And

what horny nails she has, yellowed with white spots and threat-

ening to curl in upon themselves. I check my own as though early

detection might improve my chances. But the night lady and I worry

about Ruth on the stairs. Ruth, how about using the portable toilet in the

dining room? Her walker does not change direction. Five perilous journeys

on my watch. Going up: me behind her, with a tight grab on her waist—fall forward if you start to go. Descending, when she starts to list, we sit side by side, and come down on our rears. Ruth on recent falls: My body goes where it will.

Ruth fears

Tuesdays and

Thursday afternoons

when she must be in her

house alone. All right you're

all set: your nitro's in your pocket,

your lap blanket's right here, your book

with everybody's numbers, your lifeline's on,

the remote, this little tub of fudge. I'll leave the

kitchen light. Would you like Anne Murray or Miss

Read? Remember all you have to do is push the red

button with the X if you want to stop the tape. Ruth claims

she cannot figure anything out, she never could. I say, Oh that's

just what women do when there's a man to fix things, but if you had

to, and you were willing to stand there in the cold and puzzle out how

this little gizmo hooks up over that little whatsit...in order to free this, you're

going to have to do that...eventually you'd get it. But she never lets that through. I put on my coat  and  make  my  final  entry  in  the  log.  See you tomorrow morning.  Have a nice evening, she says, and don't you worry about me.